Monday, 02 July 2012, 08:05 GMT
Masifi: We have a collection of good stories; no one has the guts to translate them

Kurdish novelist Didar Masifi./GLOBE PHOTO

The Kurdish Globe
Interview by: Shorsh Ghafuri

Kurdish Globe Interview with Kurdish novelist Didar Masifi

Globe: Is a novel the mirror of the novelist, i.e. is it the place where we can find the image of the novelist?

Masifi: Once I was reading a work by Mawlana Romi. It says: "You only clean a mirror, whether in daily works, writing or anything else. So the better you clean the mirror the better you will see yourself inside it."

Globe: But sometimes, if we clean the mirror too much, it will show the ugly side of our face, which might force us to lose our hope and stop writing?

Masifi: We need to face this reality.

Globe: But reality is very hard for man and he might not tolerate it?

Masifi: Let me talk about my novel like a mirror. In fact I was not intending to write a novel. I was feeling that there is something in my soul that makes me write it. Some things happened that I decided to disclose them when I finish my novel. In Canada I was only writing short stories. The story of my novel was about a simple person called Dilshad. I created parents for him, but I left it after a while. When I came back to it I named his father Nabi. I was sitting in a park in Masif, and was again thinking of stopping it, because I had some other commitments and could not spend all my time with the novel. In the past the Bastora River was as large as the Badinan River and one could not cross it.

The parents of my novel's character die in the river in the 1970s. Next day, my brother suggested that we go to Erbil. We passed by the river and on the bridge there was a black banner about a funeral for the death of someone called Nabi. There I felt that the beauty of arts is that it makes the artist to use imagination and gain anticipation power. What you write is related to your soul. Once I went to a seminar by a famous person called Deepak Chopra who has two novels.

In fact he is not a novelist, but a neurologist who has a center for helping people in California where he gives lectures. He does not much involved with arts. During his seminar, I thought that those who are involved in writing can do great works. Novel is one of these things. The world is full of events and stories and it is really nonsense if one just reads it. There is an immortal secret in that.

Globe: Do you agree with the idea that arts is for arts?

Masifi: No, I don't think so. The sample I gave you exactly shows that Kazantzakis did not write for arts I feel that arts is a message, like the religious books. It has a message that purifies the souls.

Globe: You mean that writers and artists give people advices?

Masifi: No, arts is a very big humane process. I cannot give absolute labels to things. For instance the salad we are now eating has different ingredients, each of which has a different taste and a message. But novel is part of the beauty that currently exists on earth.

Globe: Arts does not work for arts and novel should tell the truth to reflect our childhood shocks and our life's reality. In your opinion, in which Kurdish novel are these aspects reflected?

Masifi: In fact, this classification has not been made for the Kurdish novels. In the past, I have read the novels of Yashar Kamal and Arabi Shamo and they have stayed in my memory as good novels. I have also read a novel by Khasraw Jaff, "Zhani Gal" and some others, but since there isn't a clear classification for the Kurdish novel, one cannot easily make such a decision. I feel that Kurdish novels, like the foreign novels, have these aspects. The problem is the language, which Kurds, like anything else, do not dare to work on, otherwise we have good novels with these characteristics.

Globe: Why you haven't worked on your novel. You know everything about it and about its hidden feelings from A to Z, Your English is also very good; so why you have not tried to translate it to this language?

Masifi: When I went to Canada I tried to write in English, but unfortunately I did not have the chance to go to an academic place where I can learn academic writing in English. I have only tried this and I still have the dream of writing in English, but translation is not the job of a novelist. I can't understand how novelists do translations. This rarely happens elsewhere. For instance Orhan Pamuk knows English very well as he lived in the US since he was young, but he did not write his novels in English. Another Turkish novelist called Zulfu Livaneli, who had a TV program at the Turkish Channel A.

He wrote a novel in English, and I saw it in many libraries. But it did never become famous. But Pamuk writes in Turkish and he became very famous. A woman called Maureen Freely translates Pamuk's novels. She is a professor in English language and she is fluent in Turkish as well. After translating Pamuk's novels, Freely wrote many novels, but they did not become popular, because she is a translator and not a novelist. Besides, I do not like to work on many things.

Globe: Does a novelist need a person or an organization to help him arrange his works or he needs to do everything by himself?

Masifi: The first option is better, i.e. the novelist should not do everything by himself. He should develop the novel, tell the story and leave the rest to specialized people or institutions. Publishers have editors and proofreaders who should take the linguistic responsibilities. Now English, German and French have universal standards which they follow. For instance, a novelist might use some words that are not suitable with today's market, so the editors and proofreaders change these words to more fit ones.

For instance Pamuk has a character in one of his novels called Blue, who is a terrorist, while Blue does not exist in the original version of the work. This is done by the publisher. But the publisher gets the permission of the author for doing that. But unfortunately Kurdish novelists are deprived of this and they strive so that their works is published in any way even with mistakes. Some people do not bother with these issues. In some publishing houses, the owners do whatever they want to do and some put a large sign reading "we do not publish poetry books."

We need people to do these jobs and use their creativity and pure language skills to improve the Kurdish writings. Hence I believe that only 80% of the mistakes and shortcomings of a novel belong to the novelist, but the rest belong to publishers, editors and proofreaders.

Globe: To what extent you are satisfied with the language of your novel "Ilisha"?

Masifi: If I write is again now I will write it in a different way, since when one writes a novel at the beginning he writes it in a simple way, you don't know anyone and beg people till you publish it. But if you have more time, you can improve it, edit and proofread it again, you can republish it in a better way, because I am satisfied with the story-telling and all its images.

Globe: If a writer expresses everything in his mind in writing, will he be relaxed?

Masifi: In reality it is different. Man is always in a process of change and will never reach this peace of mind and relaxation that he needs. Although this help release the problems in his soul, but new things will come into existence. And one does not only write one novel. I have always thought that if I write I will calm down and that's it, but it is not that way and things repeat as you live and read and see. Sight has large impact on writer. When you walk and see an image, after a while this image enlarges in your mind and becomes a novel. What shall I do with it? If I kill it, I will not be happy, and if I don't, it will not leave me alone.

Globe: In an interview with Hanar Magazine you have said the title of your novel is one word. Many novel titles are one sentence or even more. Is it important and possible that the title of the novel is not related to the content of the novel, or you should create a link between the title and the content?

Masifi: No, I think they should be related. The name should be the mirror of the content. You might lose in this, like my novel, which the reader might throw it away at the first sight. Name is the identity of a person, and I think everyone should either go in the direction of his name or in the opposite direction. Novel's name is like peoples, name. I tried to do this several times, but in the end I came back to the name which has relation to the character of Dilshad. There is a well-known person whom my brother had given a copy of my novel. After a while he met me and he said: "You have done a very good job but it has a very unpleasant title." He said this in a bad way, which I like most, since the meaning is related to the character in the novel.

Globe: Character is the main artery of a novel, and the very characteristics of the characters that attract people to the novel. Have you spend a lot of time and efforts with the names of your characters?

Masifi: As I always said, at the beginning this novel was a story and I already had the names of some of the characters, and along with writing I was choosing more names and I was naming them after people who I knew. For instance one of the characters is called Sarhang, which in fact is names after a person who I knew at the college, who tried to go abroad through an illegal way, but in the way he was killed.

Although the stories are different but as I could not forget this person, I used his name. The incident creates the name, just like the incident from which I got the name of Nabi. I choose the name Nabi for a character an evening, and next morning someone called Nabi dies. I told this story to a friend who had gone to Nabi's funeral and said that he was killed by his son. This is a novel in itself. You are a diaspora and write a novel there whose character is dead. Then you come back home and you realize he is alive and dies later. This in itself is a story for another novel.

-Didar Masifi, is one of the silent Kurdish novelists, who, in the opposite of the talkativeness of other novelists, is so quiet that one might not feel his existence if not for his works. This might be related to himself and his profession, which is engineering.