The Alecart meetings on Saturday brought before the young readers the writers James Meek (United Kingdom) and Fabio Stassi (Italy). During the event moderated by the teacher Nicoleta Munteanu, the two answered the students’ questions, sharing stories from their personal lives that were used as material for their texts, and talking about the past, about nostalgia, translations and the journalist-writer relationship.The Alecart meetings on Saturday brought before the young readers the writers James Meek (United Kingdom) and Fabio Stassi (Italy). During the event moderated by the teacher Nicoleta Munteanu, the two answered the students’ questions, sharing stories from their personal lives that were used as material for their texts, and talking about the past, about nostalgia, translations and the journalist-writer relationship.
After reading an excerpt from each of the authors, Nicoleta Munteanu invited the students to ask questions. James Meek spoke about the relationship between the work of a writer and that of a journalist, as well as about the one between the work of a journalist and the reality it presents. “I’d like you too look at me as I were a fictional character, a character that sits in front of you, a unicorn,” he told the audience. He then talked about Adam Kellas, the main character in We are now beginning our descent, who shares a resume with the author, but is a different person. The author admitted that some parts in the book were inspired by real-life incidents and he gave as an example the scene in which the main character asks the mujahedeen commander about a Taliban convoy he had spotted in the distance, and the mujahedeen orders the convoy attacked and destroyed. “Fortunately, in real life the tank shot three times, but missed. In the book I used this situation, but in it the shells hit the trucks and the Taliban die. The difference between reality and fiction in this case is of just 50 metres, and an immense burden on my consciousness had the tank really hit that convoy,” recounted James Meek. The journalist-writer said that it was at that moment that he realised how certain conversations or innocent questions, asked in countries that are considered “safe” can have much more serious consequences when asked in a place like Afganistan.
Fabio Stassi stated that one of the topics he writes on is nostalgia, “an ambivalent feeling”. He quoted the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, who said that we must reclaim the territory that is nostalgia, but we must not allow ourselves to be confined in the nostalgia of the territory”. “I understand what he means,” admitted Fabio Stassi. “When you come from a family of immigrants, the nostalgia of the territory means always living in the past, with your head always turned backwards. You tend to talk about a place that no longer exists. However, to reclaim the territory of nostalgia means to put dynamite under it and make it explode. Exploding nostalgia can give birth to music, literature or cinematography.” The author believes that, in terms of memory, writers would indeed like to preserve memories. On the other hand, writing is a protest against the past, against the way things have happened, and authors “would like to change even the past”. “Writing is a way of embracing the past, of preserving it, but at the same time it is a rebellion against time,” Fabio Stassi added.
James Meek told the audience that, after writing The People’s Act of Love, it was interesting to see how the title was translated into various languages. Editors from several Northern European countries told him that they could not translate it as such into their languages because it sounded like the book was about an orgy, while in the countries in Southern Europe – France, Italy, Romania – a simplified version of the title was used, leaving out “People’s“, a fact that, in the author’s opinion, “lends it an attractive ambiguity”.
America, the carnivorous Promised Land
Fabio Stassi comes from a poor Sicilian family. His grandmother was born in Buenos Aires, his grandfather in Tunisia, and he also has Carthaginian, Catalan and Albanian ancestors. In his parents’ home, the word America “had a double musicality: on one side it was honey, full of promise, it was the country where one went to find their fortune. On the other side it was venom, it was a land like a carnivorous plant, eating people”. The Italian writer told the audience that his grandmother used to call immigrants “uprooted people” and that every year for Christmas dinner she would save a seat at the table for those who went to America and never returned, for those who went to Africa and for those who had died. She also saved a seat for Charlie Chaplin. “Every year at Christmas I would have dinner with Charlie Chaplin, sitting next to his shadow. Because he was the mirror of their situation, he was the artist who had told their stories, who left an island, crossed the ocean at the age of 20 to go looking for his own talent, and when he got older and finally found it, he was exiled,” the writer said.
Fabio Stassi has told the listeners that he has made it his habit to write while on the train, but only on Italian, noisy and uncomfortable trains. In the beautiful trains that run fast he cannot write one line, because they’re too fast, too quiet and too comfortable.