Two Interviews with Naja Marie Aidt

Baboon-294So you may have heard that we’ve got Naja Marie Aidt’s Baboon publishing next month, October 14 to be precise. (Although, psssst, if you pre-order the title, we might just send it to you right away.)

Some of the marvelous people who have already read Baboon have seen fit to discuss this subject with Naja. And the results are proving, I think, interesting.

First up is Emily Wilson at SF Weekly. First up, Naja shares some interesting remarks about her interaction with her translator, Denise Newman:

“I’m grateful that Denise wanted to involve me in the process,” she said. “or years we’ve worked to transform the stories into English in a way that felt natural and kept the tone. For example, in Scandinavian it’s very common to have short sentences one after the other. But in English it looks weird. So we had to find a new rhythm for the stories.”

If you read the book, you can definitely see what she means. Short sentences abound, and it creates a very madcap, chaotic feel, as, for instance, in “The Car Trip.”

Naja also talks about her upbringing in Greenland, where she was in fact born:

Aidt says that spending her first eight years in Greenland, before moving to Copenhagen, influenced her writing.

“I grew up with all the fairy tales,” she said. “There’s a strong oral storytelling tradition, and it’s a rough and harsh place. Then going to Copenhagen was like home to me with my grandparents there. I think the landscape and life of a place shapes you somehow. We have these long, dark winters and light, beautiful summers.”

Our second interview with Naja is courtesy of Asymptote. There’s a whole lot to read in this interview, but I’ll just highlight this one section. I’m choosing this because the stories in Baboon are really, really strange, although also quotidian and familiar, and I liked Naja explanation of how she arrived at her own interesting approach to this aesthetic.

One of the subjects I was interested in exploring or scrutinizing when working on Baboon (and something I am always drawn to when writing) is the absurdity and survival instinct that we live our everyday life as if nothing would ever change or threaten it. And when something does happen—your lover leaves you, you get sick, you lose a close relative, you find yourself in a car accident, or someone attacks you, you realize how vulnerable you are, how weak you are and how easily everything you trusted to be forever vanishes within seconds. It fascinates me to dig into those few seconds and to write about characters’ reactions to sudden changes, whether coming from the inside or the outside world.

Baboon was written while the economic boom was at its peak in Denmark, and that exaggerated everything. It made people feel like they didn’t need anyone anymore. You could feel the change in the streets. No politeness, no kindness, no community feeling. A lot of stress and egoistical behavior was activated. A terrible blooming racism. Fear that immigrants would come and take away our privilege. And also a new focus on the body. It was now possible to spend a lot of money to gain the perfect body, to get a pair of new breasts, to work out seven days a week, to make sure not to eat or drink anything that was not “guaranteed” to be healthy and so on. The body was worshipped as a temple. And the fear for diseases and sickness drove people mad.

I wanted to combine the materialism in society with the focus on the body and I spent a long time trying to invent a new kind of writing that not only described this but that in its way was the materialism, the body, the fear, and the intolerance. That’s why you will find very little in the way of psychological portraits, as in classic psychological realism. Instead, there are a lot of bodily reactions and the stories are written in the present tense to catch some of the “now and here” stress to force the reader to experience what the characters experience at the exact same time. The stories are mostly composed as a sequence of scenes with very little information on how the characters feel. Like a clash between person and surrounding. The story “Mosquito Bite” is an example of this method. I wanted to combine a literary poetic prose with a tight Steven King-like horror/suspense feeling in order to get that clash. A clash of the unpleasant, unexpected.

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