A faint-hearted writer he is not
Lorenzo Silva
Writer Lorenzo Silva Writer Lorenzo Silva Mireya de Sagarra

While language was one element for Silva to look at when reading his novel in English, the subject of the book he explains, allowed him to see extraordinary things that happen later in the world.

Spanish writer, Lorenzo Silva, has published an impressive 42 books and can count prestigious literary awards: Ojo Critico, Nadal, Algaba and the Planeta prizes among accolades won for his writing. I steal a moment with Mr Silva at Melbourne City Library... By writer Paola Ghirelli. 

The past 12 months have been momentous for Silva. He is in Australia for the first time visiting Melbourne by invitation from Monash University to attend an international translation workshop and a seminar on crime writing. This year has also seen the author's novel The Faint-hearted Bolshevik translated into English by Nick Caistor and Isabelle Kaufeler.

The book's Madrid publisher - Hispabooks Publishers describes the novel as one: "Shortlisted for one of the most prestigious literary awards in Spain before being made into a successful film, The Faint-hearted Bolshevik has, over the fifteen years since its first edition, become an undisputed classic of contemporary Spanish literature".

The Faint-hearted Bolshevik centres on a sudden twist of fate in the life of the male protagonist. Central Madrid, a small car crash in the morning occurs, nobody is seriously hurt, but it sets off a chain of events that follow. Silva elaborates: "One of the drivers is a man in an extremely bad time of his life. Shortly after the accident, and to avoid the boredom of his life, he begins an attack of revenge against the other driver; a woman. But then the unexpected happens..."

The man ends up falling in love with the teenage sister of the woman driver. This event changes the storyline completely - from a sarcastic comedy into a drama.

"The drama is the impossibility of the love relationship," explains the author. "In a way my character finds the young girl reminds him of what he lost twenty years ago; a time when he was not ruled by a life of working in exchange for money."

Silva uses his main character to make an acidic commentary on the materialistic working world and he uses his story to show how fate can change people's lives.

"The book ends with another change that happens by chance like in the beginning, reminding the reader that sometimes chance can decide the future. The love story that will never happen between the young girl and the older protagonist is a symbol of defeat in the man's life. In the past he had some big ideals, he had some big dreams, but he ends up an investment banker that works 16 hours a day. He wanted to be something romantic - but practical too. But instead he has remained a sensible man who gets paid more and more each year."

When penning his main character, the author says he wanted the reader to understand the man also had a sense of beauty and art, indeed a layered and complex man who was immersed in the financial world, a world that the Silva can incidentally identify with.

"I was a lawyer in Madrid for years in firms that went hand-in-hand with large financial institutions. During that time I saw guys like my protagonist; people who were intelligent and who had other interests, but were captured by their jobs and had signed their lives away," explains Silva.

Having lived in a world similar to that of his frustrated protagonist, Silva is absolutely convinced that an author should only write about a topic that they know.

"I believe you need to feel the subject you are writing about. Everything you know needs to be poured into your writing, otherwise it will not work."

Silva thinks he is lucky because he got out of the rat race. Writing at night and on weekends, he explains he always had another world, ironically the world his faint-hearted Bolshevik ends up yearning for.

"All the time while I was working as a lawyer - I had an alternative, and in a way this book is an exorcism of what has taken the life of others; a life that I never wanted," Silva says.

Before this book was published Silva had written eight novels. During 1995, The Faint-hearted Bolshevik was written and it was published as a result of being the runner-up for one of the oldest literary awards in Spain – the Nadal.

"I didn't win, but I ended up getting my book published and with a new life as a professional writer," Silva laughs.

The Faint-hearted Bolshevik is also the first of Silva's books to be translated into English.

"It was translated into Russian, then French, Czech, Italian, but finally English 16 years after the first edition was published. Anglo Saxon publishers had not noticed it until now," says Silva.

"Publishers in English have been focussing on what they already know works from Spanish writers. Magic realism or anything along the vein of Earnest Hemingway always gets published. I think they do not want to see different angles on the Spanish Civil War and do not want read different subjects from Spanish writers. In fact I think many Anglo Saxon publishers quite simply do not read Spanish books, and that is sad," he muses.

Reading his book in English was a great experience for the author and he's very happy with the product. "The translation of the comedy in the book to English has been done well. They did a very good job with the language. My only thing is that it must have been hard for the translators to translate all the ugly Spanish expressions coming from the mind of the angry protagonist. Vulgar Spanish words can't be properly translated into English, but still they did well," he points out.

While language was one element for Silva to look at when reading his novel in English, the subject of the book he explains, allowed him to see extraordinary things that happen later in the world.

"Reading it many years later, I saw the significance of the financial institutions that are now in economic crisis. I saw how investment bank people were going to be deciding our fate, but I didn't realise that at the time."

Now half way through 2013, Silva will have a book of short fiction, a novel for young readers, as well as a literary travel book about the northern part of Morocco entitled Siete Ciudades in Africa all published by close of year.

"The travel book talks about the seven cities in Morocco that were originally settled by the Spaniards. It tells the story of the Muslims that were ejected out of Spain by the Sultan of Cordoba and how they settled in Morocco. It is amazing to see a little Spain in Morocco when you visit the northern part of the country," says Silva.

Silva is currently living in between Madrid and Barcelona with his poet and writer wife and their four children. He has written a children's story with his eldest daughter and a book for young readers together with his wife.

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