“It’s like you had two lives”. R.I.P. Arnošt Lustig

The great Czech writer Arnošt Lustig passed away, aged 84. I cherish what I read of his work, but I read too little. Below, a piece from an interview he gave to Central Europe Review (CER)

CER: It must be difficult to forget your experiences from Holocaust.

AL: No, not at all. I’m not thinking about it. I’m writing about it. It’s very different. It’s like you had two lives; one “literature…life as a writer” and one real, existential.

CER: So when you write about the Holocaust, it isn’t a process of coming to terms with your experiences?

AL: I’m not writing about it. I write about a lot of other things. It’s only set at that time. Look, every writer can write only about what he is familiar with, what’s under his skin. So I write about what I really know. I could write about anything. But why would I write about everything when I can write about something in-depth? Literature tries to discover something that is invisible in a man, something mysterious: his impulses, his incentives, the causes of his actions. Why he is acting the way he’s acting. Unexplained things. In that case it doesn’t matter if you write about a concentration camp.

A writer cannot cover the whole world; a writer is a small stone in a big mosaic that tries to reflect a panorama of life that is unusually broad. And so I have my small stone. For instance, Joseph Conrad writes only about a sea about people on the sea—you could also take it against him. There was a writer named Anderson and he wrote beautiful fairy tales and his friends told him stop writing fairy tales and write a novel. So he wrote six novels. Nobody knows about his novels but his fairy tales are still being read. So each writer needs to ask himself: “what is my best ‘track’ where do I run the fastest”…so this is my track.

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