Ivana Nešić – “In a sea of voices, there is no guarantee that ours will be heard“
Recently, a book called Priče o prkosnim Srpkinjama (The stories about defiant Serbian women) has been published by Urban Reads. Stories about brave women (such as Cucuk Stana and Marina Abramovic) were illustrated by Azra Kostić Prčić and written by Ivana Nešić, with whom we talked on this occasion.
Interviewed by: Milena Ilić Mladenović
Translated by: Aleksandra Marković
The theme of this issue of Libartes is fear. I’d say that the Serbian women you wrote about knew no fear. What were all the things these heroines were not afraid of (but could have been afraid of)?
Fear is not necessarily a negative, destructive feeling. If I had to single out anything, I’d say they were afraid of matters staying the same as they came across them in the first place. They were afraid they wouldn’t succeed at having society make any progress, they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to change their contemporaries’ way of thinking and that women of generations yet to come will be facing the same obstacles they did. It’s easier to think they weren’t afraid of judgment and other consequences, even though they probably were, but the mission they had helped them overcome fear or shame they have to had felt because of their unusual and often improper acts.
What do these defiant ladies have in common?
Even though their inclinations were different, all defiant women did their jobs passionately. Each of them surely would have wanted they hadn’t come across the obstacles they had, but neither of them let the circumstances, situations, and direct conflicts discourage them and prevent them from reaching their goals.
Are you particularly partial to any defiant Serbian woman?
A couple of times readers told me that they would look for their favorite defiant woman immediately upon picking up the book so they would see for themselves how I wrote about that particular woman. What’s even more interesting is that up until now it’s never been the same woman. It’s difficult for me to answer this question because it changed many times while I was writing the book. Here. I find Kosara Koka Cvijic very dear even though she might not be the most famous or deserving, and definitely not similar to me. She was the first Serbian female boxer. I like her because of the way she soldiered on in life, not the boxing itself.
Is being a brave woman easier now than before? Since all of these women fought for something, do you think they paved the path for defiance?
It might be easier standing up to injustice today. Still, in a sea of voices, there is no guarantee that ours will be heard. You have to act differently, put in a different kind of effort and possible consequences are also different. Different doesn’t always mean easier. Of course, every generation won new freedoms. We can take them for granted. We can also think of the ways how to win new freedoms for ourselves which will be taken for granted by the following generations.
Your first novel, Zelenbabini darovi (Zelenbaba’s Gifts), follows a bit clumsy yet fearless Mika. Did you think this novel would be so popular?
When you tell a story, you wish many people will hear it or read it. And you hope they will like it. That happened, and it made me exceptionally happy. Everything more than that keeps surprising me.
A discrete question *whispers*: Is the story of Zelenbabini darovi(Zelenbaba’s Gifts) located in Eastern Serbia?
It is! Eastern Serbia is a place where legends are still alive, and I couldn’t have imagined a better place for Mika’s adventure. If one reads it carefully, they can figure out the places he went to and the things he saw.
You write children’s books. Are they meant only for children or for adults as well?
What I write about is meant for everyone willing to read. As George Bernard Shaw once said: “Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.” That is more than true for writing. It would be easy to write an unoriginal book full of other people’s commonly used ideas and jokes, which children wouldn’t see as plagiarism. That’s not because children are bad readers or less smart than adults, it’s because they lack reading experience. That’s not fair. I try to be fair to my readers by not taking them for granted and underestimating them, and I think that may be why adults eagerly read my books, even though those books are only for children.
I’ve seen somewhere your book Misija: Muzej (Mission: Museum) being described as a “smart book for children.” What should be the priority for children’s literature – education or entertainment? Or both? What was your first instinct when writing Mission: Museum?
The idea of educating through literature instantly puts me off as a reader, while didactic literature and propaganda in literature sound horrible to me. At the same time, it is true that Mission: Museum abounds with information and it is possible to learn something from it. But I didn’t envision it as a textbook, not even the fun kind, but rather as a walk down the museum. Whether you’re going to remember and learn something from the exhibition, or you’re just going to give in to the feelings art evokes in you, is entirely up to you and both are alright. I personally think that both art and literature should either evoke emotions or make us have fun. Fun is not a bad word. Justice for fun!
How many hours a day do you spend writing?
I wish I was disciplined enough and that I could say I dedicate a part of my day only to writing. However, my “working hours” include making coffee, opening documents, rereading materials from the previous days, and making small improvements, checking news and social media, another coffee and research that leads me to something entirely else… I once read that such procrastination is a necessary part of a creative process and I decided to trust that article. There are good days when I work for a few hours, write a page, and I am satisfied with it. There are also days when I sit down and end up writing a few sentences the entire day, and then I wonder how that day flew by. I guess the most important thing is not to know which part of the text was created in what way, i.e. the quality should not vary too much.
All of your books are aesthetically pleasing. They have beautiful covers, illustrations, content…. They are completely complete. What do you have to say for yourself? How can one deal with all that beauty? All jokes aside, what do you think how much a book beautiful both on the inside and on the outside influences the total impression we gain about it?
The ‘don’t judge the book by its covers’ saying has long been obsolete, and it’s not exactly correct either (I know it’s a metaphor of course, but sometimes people take it literally). There wouldn’t exist entire teams of people such as illustrators, typographers, and designers who create, through cooperation with the editorial team, the looks of the book that tell the readers what they can expect from the book. My publishers have so far put a lot of trust in the content of my books, so they have exceeded my expectations and often their own limits by making art of those books.
However, these days e-books are gaining popularity, and with e-books, there’s almost no book preparation. The very experience of reading is entirely different and is based solely on text. Somehow it seems to me that there’s room for both types of publishing, and each has its advantages.
What is your current project? Give us a detail or two.
No way. 🙂 According to the magazine’s theme – I fear something might go wrong.
Could you share with our readers five books that make you fearful?
House of Leaves – Mark Danielewski, Seven Minutes Past Midnight – Patrick Ness, José Saramago – Blindness, L’Assommoir – Emile Zola, Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vander Meer.
Books can be frightful in different ways, some of them are horror books, some thrillers, some make us face the worst in human nature, while some the possibility of loss. The best and most frightful books combine different horrors.
Now tell us something spicy for the end. Tell us one of your nightmares.
I don’t remember the last truly scary dream. I remember feeling relief upon waking up. And then I woke up again and realized I fell asleep in my dream and had a nightmare, so basically it was a dream within a dream. That’s when I felt true horror. What if I didn’t really wake up at that moment? How many layers can a dream have?
Ivana Nešić is a writer, art historian, and translator. She was born in Cuprija, 1981. She lives in Belgrade, but she feels at home in a few more places. She was given “Neven” (Marigold), “Trg od knjige” (Book Square) and “Rade Obrenovic” awards for the books that form the series about Mika “Zelenbabini darovi” and “Tajna nemuštog jezika” (The Secret of Parseltongue).
Interviewed by Milena Ilić Mladenović:
Born in 1986. Graduated from and completed her master’s studies at the Department for General Literature and Literature Theory at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade. Writes short stories and long poems, incompetent essays, and competent recipes. Records stories of her sons.
Translator, Aleksandra Marković (1995) born in Belgrade, she is currently finishing her studies at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Belgrade (English Department).
This article was published in March of 2019, within the Fear topic.
Read the other texts published in the Interview section.
This article was originally published in Serbian and you can read it here. Translated into English by Aleksandra Marković.