Leila Samarrai: A good author is he who isn’t afraid to speak his mind
Interviewed by Tamara Lujak for the online magazine Afirmator.
A master of the short story form, Leila Samarrai is a published award-winning author. She loves writing, stating that literature is her life, she dreams of having her own manager, like American authors do. Inspired by the Pythons, Charlie Chaplin, as well as everyday events in Serbia, she writes brief, jocular, satirical short stories, filled with anger and bitterness of relief. Delve for a moment into this world of hers.
What is the author’s mission?
LS: His mission is to be a good writer and that’s about it. I think this was the main thesis of Joseph Brodsky.
Why do you write?
LS: I write out of pleasure, and because I think I have something to say.
Where do you get your ideas from?
LS: It’s simple, I bang my hand against the table, a genie appears from the magic lamp, bows and says “What’ll ya have, oh Magistra Ludi?!” I then make a wish that gets instantly fulfilled.
What makes good poetry or art and how would you define the craft of the poets?
LS: Art is a game. Poetry as well. At the end of the day, you either know how to play it or not…
What, according to you, is a good author?
LS: A good author is he who isn’t afraid to speak his mind; he who dictates the art of the verse. A scribbler who merely keeps quiet and enjoys being lauded is nothing but a reader with nothing of importance to do. He whose written word trickles from his wounds into the world and onto paper is not afraid to both praise and criticize, this is what he strives towards.
What is literature and the purpose of art to you?
LS: Survival of the human species.
How did you come to the idea of publishing Boris K. (Everest Media, Belgrade, 2013)?
LS: In the age of absurd events in Serbia, which clash common sense, it wasn’t all that difficult to be inspired, to write an absurd satire in the manner of Monty Python, or even Chaplin or a science fiction space-time traveler, which would reflect reality in the mirror of old woman Valentine. Pythonesque burlesques interspersed with a Kafkaesque atmosphere reflected in the name of the titular hero are merely some of the references that build up the overall feel of the novel. Why Kafkaesque? Because Boris K. is, even with all of his Johnny Bravo capabilities, merely a regular, tiny man in a sophisticated cog of the system which makes mincemeat of the sophisticated, but grinds it well. The Johnny Bravo effect, the muscles of the superhero are but a part of this comedy of the absurd, because the hyperboles I like utilizing, sometimes to their upper limits in order to strengthen the absurd and highlight it in the process, are but one piece of the comedy and that comedy, so to speak, gets more comical.
At International Belgrade Book Fair, with Zoran Stefanovic, the reviewer of my book “The Adventures Of Boris K”
How did Boris K. come about?
LS: First of all, if we don’t take into account the scientific theories of existence of parallel universes, in the present day Serbia as it is, unfortunately, we can notice that in order to merely survive the people need to live in some sort of personal universe, to be ‘deluded’, as the British would say. Those with more creativity can craft up to five-six roles… Don’t many of the Munchausens find refuge in their own lies? Still, Boris K. moves through worlds of alternative history and his fate is resolved in a satirical science fiction novel which is in the process of creation, and all of this close to the encounter with the aliens of civilization number 5. But more on this some other time…
Can we expect a sequel to Boris K.’s adventures?
LS: As someone who feels at home with long form writing, I admit that would be rather easy work were it not extremely difficult to someone whom struggles with rationality, mathematical focus and dramatic precision, but let’s say it takes time for the plot to come together, the answer is as follows: you can, the ideas are everywhere (I agree with Plato on this one), maybe not as soon as I would want them to. Boris K. is not just a short story, he is an omnipresent avatar and a portrait of an undisciplined, yet witty cosmopolitan man. And he demands only the best of plots, a beginning, plot points, my favorite peripety and a witty resolution with hints of bitter irony aimed at the society around us.
What are you working on at the moment?
LS: Like a sculptor I chisel away at a novel made of tangled tales waging wars for each individual sentence. This work does not demand precision in the sense of a well-rounded plot, it is fantasy in and of itself, a fantasy where the awoken sleepwalk. The novel fits my narrative sensibilities which focus both on the plot and the character nuances and has the attributes of magical realism, therefore I’m good at it and enjoy working on it. I hope to leave a footstep in the snow with it somewhere in the distant north, where the plot is happening…for the future storytellers of the same genre (magical fantasy). Officially this genre does not exist, or rather is not named as such. There is magical realism, but this is a work of magical fantasy.
Any advice for upcoming authors?
LS: Don’t walk the same track as others. Break patterns and remember that Kafka was extremely insecure. He considered himself a bad author, which he masked with hysterical laughter (a sort of compensation for shame) whenever his friends were talking him into reading his works aloud. Also, he wrote them late at night. This is not the type of advice you should heed if you’re an early bird.
My theatre play “Cats” is published in web literary magazine “Eckermann”
A decade of day-to-day agony was behind Boris K. , of traumas, anxiety, grosses of emptied liqueur bottles and millions of diazepam cases downed. Boris K. decided to burn all of his bridges, to retire from the grotto, get a new job, a new vocation, new surroundings, in his quest for a bright sunny day, and not a raise nor severance pay, he followed his heart and made way straight to Tibet. After he had met the Lama on his way to the Multicolor Monkey Temple, he decided to become a Buddhist.
First he started his pilgrimage. He made his way towards the Buddha’s Ropes region, the gate of Himalayas, where, dead center in the rainforest, was the Temple of Positive Serpents. At the top of this magnificent building’s stairs, he spotted a Tibetan monk clad in dead leaves-hued garb reciting the Kama Sutra. It all happened in an instant. He himself didn’t even know how.
Suddenly Boris K.s initiation started, along with rooting, prayers and spiritual music. Boris K. finally thought that he had found his life’s purpose, when Dalai Lama suddenly said:
‘Let’s just carve out the third eye on your forehead, so that you can become psychic.’
Boris K. started sweating profusely. Completely astonished and terrified, he grabbed the first available canoo and went jungleward. Breaking through the thick foliage, he found the sacred monkeys. They saluted him by extending fingers on both hands. As they hung from the trees, chanting sutras, down came Hasan from the tree, a monk initiate and Dalai Lama’s personal bodyguard – he was sent to get Boris K. back to the temple.
‘Fear not ,Boris, they will not prod you with a switchblade’, the monk said, and briefly explained the Buddhist meditative techniques of opening the Third eye.
‘It is, in fact, a seat of universal wisdom.’
‘Alright, if all I have to do is sing,’ Boris valored up.
For a while they travelled across the mountain chains, along what seemed to be endless space. In the distance one could hear Tibetan sutras saluting the newly-born Sun.
As Boris K. went down the cold, marble hallway, so did the monks, with their characteristic muffs on their heads, welcome him.
‘Boris K., you’ve reached the very end.’
Then they chanted. This is where Boris K. felt something cracking on his forehead and opening…
‘Ouch!’ Boris cried, and the world went murky before his eyes… In an instant he viewed the past and the future of all monks. One monk, for instance, he saw, will utilize the money taken as charity for his personal benefit – building a cottage in the Swiss Alps – and that he will, as punishment for this, be reincarnated in his next life as bindweed on the fence of that selfsame cottage. He also saw himself, how he will, should he participate in this fraud, become roof moss. In a different instance he saw how people, seeing him begging for food clad as a monk, gave him meat – which he accepted in accordance to Buddha’s teachings – but also how he will, in the next life, be eaten as a bull because of this. In the third image he saw himself how, while mowing the lawn in the Lumbini garden at the border of India and Nepal, he kills an earthworm – due to which he will himself, in his next life, become an earthworm cut in half. At long last he realized how he didn’t need the all-seeing eye. He decided to put some ointment on it and gave up on the monastic life.
‘The Adventures of Boris K.’ was already published in Serbia, but I’ve decided upon the expanded Kindle edition to have the cosmopolitan protagonist live through cosmopolitan fate, to have him read and loved not only in the isolated space of the Balkans, but also among the aboriginal tribes whom he, often, breaks bread with on his travels.
Won three awards on the story competition “3-5-7” as a part of the “Helly Cherry” competition
Ljubodrag Stojanović, author, http://www.alma.rs/autori/lj-stojanovic.html
A review of the short story ‘The Bitch’
THE POETRY Leila Samarrai is an exceptional poetess. Hence why the lyricism is so excellent in her works. Consciously or not, whatever the case might be, ultimately it is irrelevant, the verses flow from her sleeves, fingertips, quill, making up a powerful waterfall of verses which floods us readers, therefore we, occasionally, while disappearing into the colors and verses of Samarrai, get the impression that we are reading a poem, a poem that akin to sound (of whistling) gets stuck in one’s throat.
THE PLAYS I have had the honor of reading Samarrai’s plays. Perhaps some would call me subjective on this, but her plays are equally as good as her poetry. What’s more, Samarrai’s poetry and plays often are intertwined, making up an antique literary fatherland. Samarrai’s erudition mixed with imagination creates and destroys worlds and universes, leading us through epochs and vast spaces as if in a dream, or rather, in a moment. Is ‘The Bitch’ a type of play? Very much so. This story yearns for an adaptation, and it might happen if an open and ingenious enough person reads it and feels its bark or voice as an invitation for casting of a role of roles.
THE FARCE Speaking of playwrights, farce is the one thing that must not be avoided in Samarrai’s works. However you identify with her protagonists of either sex, with their realistic – and in a way our own, too – basic and easily recognizable problems, we are left with the other side of Janus’ face, partly smiling, partly grim. It is enjoyable to wander around the light and darkness of Leila Samarrai. Her humor can also be quite vocal, with many a hahaha within, and it can also, in the blink of an eye, turn itself into a very sharp and even shredding satire of human and less-so characters. Samarrai is what Branislav Nušić could have been had he ever wanted to dabble in horror.
THE ABSURDITY Mentioning Samarrai’s works, and glossing over the absurdist tinge of it, would religiously speaking be blasphemous. Even though it seems easy to write of absurdist literature or to write absurdist literature itself, I would disagree that everyone can do it with a little bit of imagination packed into the zeitgeist. Samarrai’s absurdist tendencies are not there for absurdity’s sake, nor does it adorn itself with it, spraying it all over the letters, nor amateurishly summon it like the Dodolas summon the rain. The absurdity is there, it materializes on its own, popping out of the situation, has a face and form of engaged literature, it is strong and loud, it chides and accuses, it awakens and sobers…
COURAGE Leila Samarrai is without a doubt a courageous person. I will not go into the minutiae nor explain why I think so. It will be enough for you to take one of her works, read it from start to finish, and it will all be clear. Without literary courage, there is no literary quality, or rather, it remains unfinished and silent, which in literature is a death worse than death.
METEMPSYCHOSES AND METAMORPHOSES IN ‘THE BITCH’ All of these characters might in a Borgesian, Alephian way, all be one. Peter is Ana and is Pipi and Fifi, and…The whole work itself. And not just him, but each of them separately. Dismantling, rearranging and transforming of characters is in particular a great treat of this all-encompassing work. For instance, Pipi is 2×3.14! An amazing solution out of which Pipi becomes Lazarus who is raised back from the dead. Also, the amazing ‘woof woof’ ending, with its greeting or saying goodbye, stultifies any character division to humans and animals, men and women, protagonists and antagonists. A top notch work of fiction alongside which you grow and learn.
LJUBODRAG STOJANOVIC WAS BORN IN GNJILANE ON APRIL 22ND, 1972, WHERE HE HAD LIVED UNTIL JUNE 1999. HE WRITES APHORISMS, POEMS, ROCK LYRICS, PLAYS, SHORT STORIES, AND NOVELS.
HE IS CURRENTLY LIVING IN NIS.
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY: ‘THE SERBIAN STORY’ (2002), COLLECTION OF APHORISTIC PROSE ‘BOTH INSANE AND CONFUSED’ (2009).