I’m really thrilled to have been asked to be a part of Adnan’s blog tour, supporting his novel, ‘Thinner Than a Hair‘. Adnan, who blogs here, is a terrific writer, thoroughly good bloke and has plenty of interesting things to say.
And here he is…
Welcome to the blog, Adnan. It’s a pleasure to have you here.
Thanks Nik. Good to join the company of other writers you’ve written about.
So, your latest book, ‘Thinner Than a Hair’ – Who’s it for? What’s it about?
Thinner than a Hair is about a feisty Bosnian girl Fatima and her attempt to retrace her missteps, and understand what led her to prostitution in Germany. It doesn’t deal with prostitution per se, but the history which pushed many Bosnian girls in that direction. Most importantly the book is about intimacy in a wider sense of the word. That is, not just intimacy between a woman and her bloke, but between people in general, between people and things, people and ideals, if this makes sense. From my experience the war was a great ‘separator’, it even split people from themselves. This book is then an attempt to find this basic, essential intimacy.
The book is not for Bosnians primarily, if at all. Since I have become estranged from this motherland and ‘her’ history, I wrote the story trying to make sense of it all. It is mostly for people from other countries, such as the UK, who have been connected to Bosnian history vis-à-vis their country’s foreign policy and engagement but to whom it is still an alien place, even though it is so close. It appeals to a rather wide range of readers, from young adults who can identify with Fatima’s coming-of-age story to older readers who perhaps better grasp some intricacies and subtleties of the lives I dramatize.
Why did you write it?
Mostly to explore how intimacy comes about and is destroyed. The Bosnian setting, which is of course important to me, and material for the story, is still secondary.
What does Bosnia mean to you?
It’s that place and history tied in some past time that keeps invading me. I don’t have a particular nostalgic yearning for Bosnia because I know the place that carries that name now is not the same place where I grew up. It is a part of me insofar it reminds me that I remain a foreigner. In fact, if I returned to my city of birth now I’d be even more of a stranger than I am in Sweden. That is why I write about the people that come from that place and a particular time. Not because I want to reconstruct it, describe its essence, or some such nationalist idea(l), but because I want to explore its wider sense. On 11 July, speaking at a manifestation about the genocide in Srebrenica, I stressed that there are things that are a part of a more general history that has made us all and that we have made. For me the genocides in Srebrenica and Dachau (where Fatima from Thinner than a Hair lives) are OUR history, not someone else’s. This is one of the things I wanted to accomplish. Otherwise, I’d probably write in Bosnian, for Bosnians only.
I’d like to add a few words about the language of Thinner. Some readers have commented on Fatima’s language, assuming that it is a bit special because she is Bosnian. Some suggest that I use Bosnian the way Conrad used Polish to introduce innovation into English. This isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, every story I write has a language of its own. I think it has more to do with the way I chose to dramatize a character’s mind-set, the way the stories are structured to reveal a different kind of personality. Fatima has a special character and that has to penetrate her expression.
You also write short stories. How does ‘Thinner Than a Hair’ compare to your collection ‘[Refuge]e’?
[Refuge]e, which we could call a collection of short stories, is to me a form of a novella. Yes the stories are separate, but also connected, either through a recurring character or theme-wise. It was always meant to be read as one piece. It was an experiment with form. Once you read three stories in a row, which are about the same character and chronologically ordered, how do you know these are not three chapters in a novel or novella? Then, you find a story that disrupts that sense of flow, and a poem that is tied into it all and yet displaced. I seem to have trouble writing shorter pieces that are totally unconnected. I’m a little like Alice Munro in that sense. I also have a few pieces which should have been in the book, but which I didn’t finish in time for publication.
Thinner than a Hair is more conventionally novelistic in terms of narrative.
Length aside, what do you think the differences are between novels and short stories?
Since I teach undergraduate courses, I can tell you that the first university course in my department is an intro into different literary genres (novel, short story, drama etc). Despite everything I know, I’d say I don’t see much difference. Some would say there’s a difference in density. I honestly don’t think you need to make novel chapters less dense than short stories of the same length, say in order to have a flow. The question is, if we can say what we want in 400 words, why write 80,000? Recently a friend of mine won Bristol prize for a story of 350 words, which tells me more than some stories that are ten times that length. Yet that story could be expanded into a novel. What would happen? We’d get more details. But would we get more action, more emotional impact? Maybe, maybe not. Would the author water down her prose in order to create a better pace, more flow, a page turner? Why do it? I guess some authors make short stories denser, but I don’t. I pack as much as I find necessary, regardless the length. So, length aside, I don’t see major differences when I write myself. Or rather, I don’t feel them.
Which do you find easier to write?
No difference, except in terms of time.
What ingredients does a story need for it be great?
I’m a big fan of Ondaatje’s work. I find his prose great. Why? Because it gives me the sense of raw life, history stripped naked. Not overtly intellectual, showing-off the author’s erudition, but his ability to pay attention to life. I find this great.
Any tips for people wanting to be published?
I wish I had tips. That’d be fun.
What’s next for you?
New novel, of course. Possibly a screenplay about Stockholm.
Anything you’d like to add?
I like to hear from readers, what they like or dislike, and most importantly how they interpret things, scenes, or imagery that don’t seem to reveal any single meaning.
Thanks for having me over at your blog.
Adnan left Bosnia and settled in Sweden in 1993. After a few years in a small South-Eastern town, he relocated to Stockholm to work as a personal special-needs assistant. This employment of thirteen years financed his further studies in English literature and philosophy. In May 2010 he was awarded his PhD in English literature. He has published a collection of short stories and poetry, [Refuge]e, and two novellas, Illegitimate and Thinner than a Hair. His website can be found here.