Nora Ikstena & Margita Gailitis: 2016 National Book Festival

>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, DC.>>John Van Oudenaren: I’m
very pleased to introduce to you today Nora Ikstena. To give a few biographical
details about Nora, she was born in 1969 in Riga. After obtaining a degree in
Philology from the University of Latvia in 1992, she took courses in English literature
at Columbia University. In 1998, she was guest
editor of “The Review of Contemporary Fiction” issue
dedicated to Latvian fiction. Nora Ikstena is the author of
a number of novels including “Celebrating Life”, 1998, “The
Virgin’s Lesson”, 2001, “Amour Fou”, 2009, “Besa”, 2012,
and she has a new novel out called “The Mother’s Milk”. And so, I think that’s five novels. Is that what– is that the count? But she’s also written books of
fairy tales, biographical fiction, nonfiction, essays and so on. She’s won many, many literary
prices which I won’t name them all. Her books have been translated and
published in Lithuania, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Georgia,
and Canada and I also heard that she’s just been translated
to Hindi for the first time.>>Nora Ikstena: Yes–>>John Van Oudenaren: So,
that’s quite an achievement. She has one book that has been
translated into English and that is “Life Stories” and we’ll
be hearing more about and from this book in a few minutes. And with that, I introduce the
translator of “Life Stories” which is Margita, who
is Margita Gailitis. A few details about her. She was born in Riga, Latvia. She’s a poet in her own right and she’s the translator
of many Latvian works. She immigrated to Canada as a
child, hence, her bilingual ability in both Latvian and English. And she returned to Riga in
1988 to work at the Translation and Terminology Center as part of a Canadian International
Development Agency initiative. So, we have both author
and translator here. And we have the book
that’s available for purchase down in the sales area. Now, your program list, it says,
this is going to be an interview but we have a pleasant
surprise for you. We are going to actually
have a reading. This book, this briefly, is a
collection of eight short stories. And Nora is going to read one of the
short stories here, a part from it.>>Nora Ikstena: So, the
two of us are going to read.>>Margita Gailitis:
Two of us, yeah.>>John Van Oudenaren: Together. That is so much the better.>>Nora Ikstena: Good evening,
it’s an honor to be here. So, we will be reading from
my story “White Handkerchief” and this is a story about old man
living in a suburb in America, who went exile from
Latvia after World War II. And it’s a kind of
story about living with your own language
in a different context. When your– Language is around
is different and you need to be in your new context but somehow
you fail your own language as your own home. And I think this is a very important
case because I think not only for the writer, for
human beings in general, language is their only home. And of course, it’s also about the
freedom and the cage in the same– as a same thing, like
you are feeling yourself in a cage being trapped
in another language and you feel yourself free being in your thoughts with
your own language. And we will be reading
together with Margita. Margita will read the English part and I will read some
Latvian words just for you to hear this very old
and poetic language. The roots come back to Baltic
languages Indo-European languages and also to Sanskrit. So, we will read that
kind of a part. Almost all short story and then
we will make some conversation. So, enjoy.>>Margita Gailitis:
“The White Handkerchief”. The morning mist drifts as
yet slowly over [inaudible]. Soon, very soon, the
sun will cut through it. That’s how it is, at
least, until Martinmas, the day that marks the end
of the period of all souls. After that, the mist vanishes
somewhere, it turns colder and sometimes, the first snow
falls even before Christmas. Alone, he does his morning
chores in the large empty house. Only Bagar [assumed spelling] the
large black tomcat rubs himself against his legs. Bagar came to them from the woods. In the beginning, he
was timid then kept to the machine shop devouring the
food left for him only at night. Then slowly, he grew friendlier, until finally he became
a regular house cat. [ Foreign Language ] He talks to the tomcat in German. Alzheimer’s has made his
German wife’s mind childlike and she is now in an
old folk’s home. The home is not far,
only about 10 miles from Vanattan [assumed spelling]. He often drives there but there’s
not much sense in his visits. She just sits in her
comfortable wheelchair and stares at some distant point. The doctor says that her brain
is like a moldering autumn leaf. But the care she gets there is good. He had tried to look after
her right here at home but she fell and broke her hip. It can’t be helped. Each of us must carry our
own cross to the bitter end. The mornings and evenings are sad. The days he feels in somehow,
now and then his sons visit him. With them, he has to speak English
because they’ve forgotten German. When they were small, his wife tried
to teach them German but as soon as they started to attend American
school, the language vanished. He talks in Latvian to himself. No one else in his life has
had any use of his Latvian. That’s how it’s turned out to be. He lost his legs serving
in the Latvian legion. Latvian women didn’t
want a cripple like him. [ Foreign Language ] So many words for cripple
in Latvian. He found himself a German
woman and took her to America. She was very much didn’t want
to go but whoever asked her. On the whole, he hates the
Germans as much as the Russians. Deep down, he can’t rid
himself of the feeling. Between them, they
made minced meat of us. His inner voice bluntly tells him. The worst was the first half
year in the New York suburb on the other side of
the Hudson River. The days spent on those stones with
the blacks who hated the whites, the whites who with hate
turned away from the blacks. On Sundays, he was able to meet
with some old work [inaudible] who would then stuff themselves
with sauerkraut and sausages, get drunk in wine about the past, but nothing could be
changed anymore. So, he stopped meeting them. He started looking for
cheap land in some remote out of the way American
village, and he found it, the mountainous Manhattan. He came here for the first time
in autumn, pristine countryside, farm colored fields, mountains
clad in purple and gold. A heavy mist momentarily pierced by the sun not a house
for miles around. This was the place. He bought land here and
started to build a house, everything would be their own. Fall asters, potatoes and
black currants in the garden, a piglet in the sty, roosting
chickens, two dogs and a cat. Having fried up two eggs with bacon and brewed some chicory
coffee, he feeds Bagar. And then goes out on the small
terrace to eat his breakfast. There’s still no one
in the vicinity. Sometime, after buying the original
piece of land, he had bought more so as not to be disturbed. Across the fields and the corner
of the forest, the view looks out directly to the mountains. He had merely cleared
some bushes and tidied up. On the other side stands
a gigantic lilac, which he had planted
that first spring. [ Foreign Language ] The many names for lilac in
Latvian roll off his tongue. A jumble of words clutter
his head not allowing him to eat his breakfast of
eggs and bacon and peas. That language has him grab by
the short hairs asleep or awake. Later, he was lucky enough to
get good work repairing cars. His bosses understood
nothing about engines and were ready to pay
for golden hands. Later, still, he set up
a machine shop at home and they came to him then. From time to time, he had a
good luck to buy an antique car which he repaired to look like new. Now he can, in a given week, drive out with three different
cars worthy to be museum pieces. They set right there in the shop. Once on Christmas day, his
wife wrapped in a cloud of gingerbread wafers, entered
the workshop and said in German, “You’ll live under cars.” In German, he replied, “I’m coming.” He only had to tighten
that last screw. He turned the screwdriver, while in his head words turned
round and round. You live, I live. No, I live, he, she leaves. You live. No, we live. “I’m coming, I’m coming,”
he shouted twice in German so that the screw would
stop tightening in his head. On the way to the store, he
also stops at the church. He doesn’t even know the
denomination of the church. Generally, he never used
to attend to church. But once he came into the church because his oldest boy
was ill then he entered to light a candle for his son. He sat by himself among the
rows of church pews listening to how the burning
candles sputtered. At that time, upon
living the church, he stopped at the wooden
pulpit covered in red velvet. To it were pinned small white notes. On all of them, something was
written each in a different hand but all of them started with
a phrase, “Please remember in your prayers,” followed
by the name of a person. Deep down in his heart, he
didn’t believe in such help. But he picked up a pencil and wrote
on piece of paper about his son. The next time, when his
son was already better, he stopped here again. Going to light the candle, he
stopped at the pinned notes and saw his own among them. He had written his
request in Latvian. Since that time, he now and
then stops by at the church and writes a request for someone
to be remembered in prayers in a language which no
one understands here. This time, he just sits
in the church for a while, maybe it’s useless to write the
hundred and first note asking for prayers for his wife. Perhaps, she’s on that
path that doesn’t lead back where one can only go forward. He should go, but in the
meantime, it has started to rain and the black skinned woman and
who cleans the church cleaning against the door says to
him, “What a heavy rain.” Yes rain, he thinks. [ Foreign Language ] Down pour, dew, drizzle, smothering,
orphans, tears, heavenly, dew, rainfall, rain and scrawl. The rain soon seizes he drives on. The drive is lovely. It’s still warm in there in a distant field
white oxen are grazing. Further away, there’s a river
where he occasionally goes to fish. The bigger ones for themselves,
the smaller ones for Bagar. Those were very happy
times for the boys. His wife did delicious
fry-ups while he made fish soup with betel and potatoes. Since he’s on his own, it seems
to him increasingly that all of this has never happened. There’s only the wind
in his head that carries with it words only
him and that wind. He knows every corner
of the Vanattan store. The bread here, the milk and buttermilk there,
bread here, meat there. Everything always the same
and in the same place. Only the turkeys and pumpkins appear
on their respective festive days and as quickly disappear. Does he heed anything? He takes a bag with
red skin potatoes; they can come home, keep at home. “Well, what have we here?” The cashier mumbles to
herself, “Red potatoes.” She drags the bag over the
squeaking cold registering surface. “Yes. Potatoes,” he pulled out
a somewhat worn shabby wallet with carefully folded
dollar bills, potatoes. [ Foreign Language ] Potato spuds. No. He won’t go to the barber. In truth, there’s nothing to cut. He’ll drive to the nearest town. He’ll just drive around a bit,
maybe stop at Wendey’s for a coffee, maybe going into Wegmans to buy some
fresh fish for himself and Bagar. He parks his dodge
at the bus station. The station isn’t particularly
large but it stopped over– it’s a stop for greyhound
buses on route from New York to and from Buffalo. Sometimes, he comes here
and sits down on a bench for no particular reason, looks at the young people
traveling to and fro. Since he moved from
Germany to America, he hasn’t traveled anywhere. His wife had invited him to
come with her to Germany saying that he would be far from
his home wouldn’t be far from his homeland there. But he didn’t want to go. Everything was strange
and changed there. What had once been
lived on in his head, the wind that brought the words,
could it really be that there in that place, there was anything. In Wegmans, he buys
some good fresh fish, a couple of onions
and a bunch of deal. He could drink coffee right here
but the weather in so lovely. He places his purchases
in the trunk of his car. Buy some take out coffee at the
bus station, sits down on a bench between the bus stop piles, and with
pleasure, lights up a cigarette. Then suddenly, he hears in
Latvian, “I’ll come to New York.” What does his inner
voice want to tell him? He turns sideways and sees that it
isn’t the usual wind in his head. A young woman with a backpack slung
over her shoulder, a traveling bag at her feet is talking clear
Latvian on a small telephone. She looks precisely the same as
all the rest of the travelers. “No, no don’t come to meet me. I’ll take a cab,” she
say’s in Latvian. And then she bids a
very Latvian farewell. [ Foreign Language ] “Well then, Godspeed. Goodbye.” And there she
stands not very far from him. Having finished talking, eats
an apple and then blows her nose and searches for something
in her pocket. [ Foreign Language ] She’s right here only
two steps away from him. Not the wind in his head but
she has said these words. Already a minute later, the bus
has hidden her from [inaudible]. He waits for a brief moment
then goes on to the platform. He sees that she has
settled into her seat. He’s standing right
in front of the woman. When the bus starts to move slowly, he pulls from his breast
pocket a big white handkerchief and dragging his prosthesis leg
hurries along beside the bus, waving his handkerchief in farewell. He sees the woman’s surprised face
in the window, how she continues for a long time to
look back at him, him, who dragging his leg
along is wailing farewell with his white handkerchief. On the way back, he
decides to visit his wife. The care keeper at that moment
is feeding her mashed mango. “Perhaps you would like
to feed your wife?” she says, yes oh yes, his wife. [ Foreign Language ] Mine, my girl, my wife, old
woman, biddy, life’s friend, he takes the bowl with a
mango and feeds his wife. She eats mechanically staring at
the wall and not recognizing him. The mango mash mingled with saliva
dribbles from a corner of her mouth. He pulls out the white handkerchief, wipes the corner of
her mouth and says. [ Foreign Language ] Godspeed.>>Nora Ikstena: Thank you. [ Applause ]>>John Van Oudenaren: Thank you. That was very nice. I’m glad you decided to do that
and get a flavor of your story. Well, there’s a lot in that story. So, it’s hard to know
even where to start. But maybe we’ll stick
with the language but– especially, as it relates to
the character, to the man. I don’t believe you ever
actually give his name anywhere.>>Nora Ikstena: No.>>John Van Oudenaren:
Yeah, he’s never– he’s he.>>Nora Ikstena: Yeah, he’s he.>>John Van Oudenaren: He’s he. I don’t think you ever
give his name. But this is a complex character. I mean, he’s fought for the
Germans basically in Word War II but doesn’t have any
love for the Germans. And then, he doesn’t like
the Germans or the Russians. He can’t really live in Latvia because the Russians
would come after him. He’s living in the United States. He marries a German, a German woman. So he’s living in an
English speaking country. So, he is– So, the
language, I guess, is I mean, you could elaborate on this, the language is more
than just nostalgia. It’s what’s left of
his past; I mean, maybe you could elaborate on that. And then just– I don’t know if
you like to do this as an author. But talk a little bit about your own
experience with the Latvian language because you’ve lived at least in
two regimes, he’d lived in several. But you lived in, you know, the old
soviet one and then the Latvian one, the independence and the meaning
of the language must have changed for you as a writer and as a person.>>Nora Ikstena: Yeah. I should say, I think the
language is the most amazing thing in this world, so. And it kind of shows your inner
strengths in hidden places because you are not,
I mean, as a person, you can live in all
the circumstances like all the historical
circumstances, all the historical context. But your inner voice is
in your language, so. And I’m feeling very
close to Latvian language. I know that I will never
switch to another language, write in another language. I love English language because
it opened me Anglo-Saxon world, as well as the literatures
that I can read in original. I love Russian language
because I can read also and I speak fluently Russian. And now I also love
Georgian language because my husband is Georgian
and he writes in German. He’s a writer too and I– in the
age of 40, I learned Georgian, which is not easy at
all I should say because they have their own
alphabet and it’s a very, very complicated and
difficult language. And I think that the
other languages, speaking different
languages, it opens your world, it opens your new experiences
in everything. But as a writer, you need to
stick to your own language because that’s your home, that’s when you are
feeling yourself very deep. And for Latvian language, the mind– so to say, my source when
I was looking every time for my writings is
Latvian folks songs because it’s a huge poetical world where you can find all the
synonymous, as you heard also in this English translation. And I’m very, very happy
about my translator, Margita. She’s a poet herself too. And I think it’s very important because you cannot be only
translator if you translate fiction or poetry that you somehow in this
translation you show also the levels and the depths of this
original language, so. And this is very important for me. So, when I was living in New
York in 1999 to 2000 and being in Columbia University, you
know, time by time I thought, maybe I need to start to write in
English because it opens you more. Of course, the big
audiences never think and visit translation,
it’s always very hard. But I couldn’t imagine to do
this, because I feel like I’ve– that with Latvian language,
I feel this real– that of thinking of
poetical world of– so I feel so free in Latvian
language that there is no boarders. So, when I’m writing now, I don’t
feel any boarders in this language and that’s amazing feeling.>>John Van Oudenaren: Very good. Did you add an anything
on the Latvian language?>>Margita Gailitis: Yes. I have two languages
obviously, Latvian and English. And I started writing
poetry in Latvian. And it has a totally different,
very– I would say, very, very spare haiku type quality
and also a childishness which reflects my Latvian childhood. And then I switched to
English and I basically write in English– my poetry in English–>>John Van Oudenaren: OK.>>Margita Gailitis: — and have
grown up in an English context. But I should say, I
always dream in Latvian.>>John Van Oudenaren: OK.>>Nora Ikstena: Yeah. And the thing what I want to add,
when you are like, of course, English for me is a language of
communication, language of education and also language of
the big literature. But I’m always so afraid to
fail in English language. I’m not afraid to fail
in Latvian language. And I think it’s also a very
nice feeling that you can win and you can fail too, so.>>John Van Oudenaren: Very good.>>Nora Ikstena: It’s
a nice feeling.>>John Van Oudenaren: Let me
shift the focus a little bit to something else that’s
in the story. And that is your seeming
fascination with illness, both mental and physical. Here, you have the wife, the man
is healthy although he does– he did lose his leg in the war,
but his wife has Alzheimer’s. And then in your other New York
story, the New York City story, there’s a dementia
case of the woman, the main character has dementia. And then you have cancer and the
woman who thinks she has cancer but really doesn’t in so on. I shouldn’t spoil it for–
those who didn’t buy the book. So, where did this fascination
with– and I would just say, one of the– it seems to be that
illness ties the families together. You have these families and
they’re sort of united by caring for each other and so on, where did
this fascination that you have come from and is this real
or is this metaphorical? Maybe say something about that.>>Nora Ikstena: Yeah. I don’t think that it is a
fascination about illnesses but I just think that– nevertheless, that the
title is “Life Stories”. So– But I think just– there
are moments in our lives like when you are first
facing some illness or death or losing your very beloved. So, you are turning– You’re
having another point of view. So, it opens you something,
what you did not expect, what you didn’t know
before that, so. And I think it’s like in a good
drama, you need this turning point, so– and maybe, in my stories,
these illnesses and maybe these not so positive things are kind of
opening the other dimension, so. And I also need to say that
in our world, in magazines, in yellow press, you always
have this positive thinking. And you need to be positive and
you need to be the perfect women, you need to be perfect man,
need to be perfect, so. But it is not like
that in real life, so. And I think that’s good to
understand that we are not perfect. Human beings, we are not perfect. We have our hidden– the places
and we are dealing with this and we are living this wonderful
life, so in spite of the illnesses, in spite of the deaths, in
spite of the terror act, so we live this wonderful life.>>John Van Oudenaren:
Yeah– Go ahed.>>Margita Gailitis: Excuse me. I’d like to add to that because I– in having translated all
the stories, they’re– most of the characters living here, were living during the
Soviet occupation period or had actually left
Latvia during that. So for me, the illness here
is relatively metaphorical that shows an eroding society. And I think, there’s a
metaphorical value to it. I don’t think I have translated her
fairy tales et cetera, et cetera. And I’ve translated many Latvian
writers and this erosion comes through in a lot of
Latvian literature.>>Nora Ikstena: And the thing is
when you are writing the story, I don’t know about all the
writers, but I think it don’t think about this symbolical level,
really, I don’t think about it. And sometimes, I’m very
surprised at the end. So, when I’m reading my
stories, it has this some kind of a symbolical level too, because
it’s– but the writing process, as all you know, it’s
very complicated. And sometimes, you don’t
know what will come. And then Joyce Carol Oates said
today that she always knows what is in the beginning and
what is in the end, but she doesn’t know what
is in the middle, so. And that’s how it happens. I think it’s pretty as
this writing process.>>John Van Oudenaren:
So, just to be clear. So, you’re saying it is
metaphorical as you said but that it isn’t intentional–>>Nora Ikstena: But I
like your interpretation. Margita–>>John Van Oudenaren:
But isn’t intentional, it just happens that way.>>Nora Ikstena: Yeah.>>John Van Oudenaren: Yeah, that’s
what– how I read this metaphorical.>>Margita Gailitis: And I
think if people read this book and the short stories, it
gives a bit of a perspective on what this world is like. People don’t really know Latvian. And the Latvian of 50
years being occupied– the Soviet occupied and so on,
don’t really know this country. And the goodness of
traveling literature and translated literature is that it
opens the door to different worlds. And perhaps gives us Latvian’s
an opportunity to be known to have our history
and our context known.>>Nora Ikstena: And I should
say that it is a very long and difficult, right,
actually, also with translation. So, because today, when I
was standing in the basement in the book signing and almost
nobody came, so I said to me, don’t worry Nora, because before
Joyce found his publisher, that he had 17 publishers refuse
“The Oasis” so, don’t worry. This is your first
steps in America, so.>>John Van Oudenaren: I’m sure,
yeah, that’s– that will improve. But let me get back to
your own autobiography or you own biography if I may. You were born in 1969. So, you can basically came of age,
you grew up in this Soviet system and then really started writing just
in the early time of independence. What difference did independence
and the collapse of, I mean, suppose the Soviet Union
hung on another 10 years, which it could easily have,
under a different scenario. And so, you would have been
maybe 30 or 32 or whatever when the system collapsed. Would you still become
a writer, I mean, did you always want to be a writer? How did that momentous event
in the life of your country, in the life of everybody
who lived in that country? How did that affect you as a writer?>>Nora Ikstena: I should say thank
you to my parents that I was born in 1969 because it
was a perfect timing. So, for me as writer, because I
spent my childhood and also use under Soviet regime and then
we had this independence and completely changes everything. And how did it affect
literature, very, very seriously because in Soviet times although we
had brilliant nice poetry and prose, that was the saying under lines and
that this truth about independence of Latvia, what also was
tried to say on the lines. And somehow, it also traps them because it was not literature
written because of literature but literature return also because
of saying something under lines and run– then my generation
started in the beginning of ’90s–>>Margita Gailitis: Subtext.>>Nora Ikstena: Yes subtext, yeah. When we started, we
started to write literature because of literature,
we felt ourselves free. And also, we had this access
also to English literature also to exile literature which was
not possible during Soviet time. So, and I should say, it
is really perfect timing because without knowing
the Soviet system, the Soviet [inaudible] regime, I would not be a writer
as I am now, so. And also, without not having
this possibility to live in a free democratic world is also
the difficulties and mistakes. So, I would not be a
writer as I am, so.>>John Van Oudenaren: Very good. But it’s interesting that
you do write sympathetically and understandingly about
some Russian characters, you have at least two,
you have Olga–>>Nora Ikstena: Yeah.>>John Van Oudenaren: The
mistress or girlfriend or whatever of the man who’s– Francis, the
man who spent time in Syria– in Siberia, rather, I’m sorry. And then you also have Nadejda
[assumed spelling], the fog woman or whatever who’s Russian. And you write very
sympathetically about these Russian.>>Nora Ikstena: Yeah, because
I mean, it’s a real stupid thing to hate language or to hide a nation
or peoples because of regimes. So, I never did that
because I’m very happy that I know this rich Latvian–
Russian literature and culture. And then, I can speak
Russian and it was also regime because Stalin deported not only
Latvians, Estonians, Lithuanias, he deported the Russians,
Byelorussians, Polish people. It was a regime who made it. So, of course now,
speaking politically, we have really big troubles being
neighbors with Russia but also because of regime not because of
people and not because of culture and not because of language.>>John Van Oudenaren: I
wanted to ask you about nature. You also seem to be
a great nature lover. And it seems like everybody
lives on the edge of the woods.>>Nora Ikstena: Yeah,
because I’m a witch.>>Margita Gailitis: That’s true.>>Nora Ikstena: I’m a witch.>>Margita Gailitis:
You’re very observant.>>John Van Oudenaren: And
I– This is very– I know– It probably ties in with the fairy
tales, yes– which I haven’t read, but you’ve done several
books of those.>>Nora Ikstena: No,
because you know, Latvians are crazy about nature, so. And we are mushroom pickers. So, we are crazy mushroom pickers. We go to the woods and pick
up mushrooms and pick herbs and teas and everything, so. And it’s still like this, so it
comes from tradition in families but I’m– I really, I feel– nature, I feel myself
that everything is opening and so very close to nature really.>>John Van Oudenaren:
That’s very nice. We’re– OK we’re actually up. Sorry, sorry we’re
getting involved here. Are there questions
from the audience? I want to make sure we have
a chance to get questions in. Anybody? Yes, please?>>Well first of all, I’d like to
thank you for bringing, you know, Latvian literature to the
United States in translation. I think, it’s a reach
opportunity for those of us who know a little bit about the
Baltics to see the inner life, a little bit of the Baltics. And the story that we read
this evening and I think some of the other stories in your
book relate very much to the– I think, the idea of identity. And I know that the idea of identity
in Latvia right now is very fraught. And as you touched upon the Russian
identity, the Latvian identity, you know, previously, you know, the
Hanseatic identities that you have. And I think it’s a rich
vein to mind in terms of what is it to be a Latvian. And I’m wondering if you
could touch upon that and how you approach
it in your writing.>>Nora Ikstena: You know, we
are being the small nation. We have this, I think, the bad
things that we are always telling that we are a small nation
and we are struggling about our identity
and so and so, and so. But look, we are still
here in about 2 million. We are speaking Latvian, we are
in EU, we are more than society. And I think that’s how it goes
and being Latvian feels like, I don’t know, being English,
being German, being Finish. So, I think it’s a very
interesting place to live actually. So, because you are
coming from a small nation, you have to be very open, you
have to learn many languages, you have to lead many literatures. And it just, you know,
it opens you up and you– or you are becoming richer,
richer and richer, so.>>John Van Oudenaren:
Other questions?>>And so, I had a question about
the story and about the encounter between the unnamed man and the Latvian woman
speaking on the telephone. I was wondering as you were reading
whether the man was going to strike up a conversation with
the woman on the phone. And that’s not what happened. Could you talk about
that part of the story?>>Nora Ikstena: I didn’t get.>>John Van Oudenaren: He sees her
on the– it’s not on the phone, he sees her at the bus station.>>Yeah.>>Nora Ikstena: He sees
her at the bus station and he hears Latvian language
first time in his life live, so. Because before that he was living– the Latvian language
was living inside him. So, he didn’t speak in Latvian
with his sons and the wife, so. And now, it becomes that the
language is alive somehow. He hears his language
and he’s like, you know, he’s like amazed that
it is possible, so.>>John Van Oudenaren: But
the question, it’s a question, why doesn’t he talk to her?>>Nora Ikstena: Why
doesn’t he talk to her? Because he’s a shy man. He just, you know, he
just shows her the sign.>>John Van Oudenaren: Yes.>>Nora Ikstena: But
I needed it for story.>>John Van Oudenaren: Yes.>>Nora Ikstena: Sorry.>>I can see that.>>Nora Ikstena: You know, because
if he starts to talk with her, it’s another story, so sorry.>>Yes, it could have
been another story. You’re right. Well, thank you.>>John Van Oudenaren: Very good. Please.>>This is your fifth book,
so I have two questions. One is why did you choose this book to be translated as
oppose to any other. And second question is, what
are your other books about?>>Nora Ikstena: Yeah, so actually,
I didn’t– it was like, you know, I had my first novel, “Celebration
of Life”, which was a kind of a national bestseller and
then I had many translations but not into English. But when we started to work
together with Margita so she said that short stories,
although it’s very hard to publish short stories,
because novel is easier. So she said that she liked this book
very much and that’s how it went. But now, I’m expecting
in 2017 my novel, my latest novel “Mother’s
Milk” published by very good publishing
house in London by Ana Press [assumed spelling] and
Margita already did the translation. So, that will be my
second book in English. But my other books so it’s, you
know, a celebration of life, “Life Stories”, “Mother’s Milk”. I think about essential
things of life so, in short. So, it’s hard to, you
know, to talk more now but that’s how its, you know.>>John Van Oudenaren: Very good.>>Thank you.>>John Van Oudenaren:
We have another question? Maybe– Oh, go ahead.>>I’m first going to ask how
much communication was there in the translation process? What did you just [inaudible].>>Margita Gailitis:
I didn’t hear, excuse.>>John Van Oudenaren: How
much communication was there in the translation process?>>Margita Gailitis:
Actually, I only– I have translated poets and
Nora, quite a few writers. I only communicate with the writer
at the end of the process and odd as it may sound, I try initially,
to find the music of the book because even prose has a certain
music and a voice and so on.>>Nora Ikstena: Yeah. But for as the author, I should
say, that I have this experience like working with Margita that
I know English and then we are– it’s much more easier because we– sometimes, we can work
together and so and so. And this is a very interesting
process for the author too, because know I have
two books in Hindi. And I don’t have any clue of what’s
it translated and what it look like so– and what is it about. So, and you can be
really lost in translation and that’s the worst
thing for writers, so. But I was enjoying so much
working together with Margita of “Life Stories” and also
“Mother’s Milk” because it’s like re-writing your own novel
and also what translators sees in this text, you didn’t even
expect that you wrote something which is not so good, so perfect. You just said it like, you know,
ta-da-da-da-da-da in Latvian. And then you need to
translate it, you need more– be more precise more
perfect and so and so. It’s very good for a writer, too.>>Margita Gailitis:
It can be tough, too. There are things in Latvian that are
non-translatable in English and so.>>Margita Gailitis: Like
I asked today Margita, how can you translate
[foreign language] in English. You cannot translate it, it is
something that protects you. But this odd Latvian word [foreign
language] you cannot translate it in English. So, you have to some how to tell
the big story going back to history about one small thing, so.>>John Van Oudenaren: Very good. OK. Well, I think we’re–
really quick John, we’re– I got my red sign coming here.>>I’m very sort of fascinated
by the creative– I’m very– always fascinated by the
mystery of the creative process. And I’m sort of wondering, what
stimulate your sort of creativity? What creates the idea
for the next book? Could you touch on your
creative– what creates– generates your creative juices?>>Nora Ikstena: You know, I
think of course, in general life but also memories because I
believe in memories and I believe that only real historical true facts
what we relay on our old memories. So, that stimulates me.>>John Van Oudenaren: Well that
is a perfect way to end a session– a wonderful session with
the writer Nora Ikstena and her primary kin and
talented translator. So, thank you very much
and lets join in a–>>Nora Ikstena: Thank you.>>Margita Gailitis: Thank you [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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