Interview with Radka Denemarková, by Alessandro Catalano, professor of Czech Literature at the University of Padua and member of Memorial Italia.
History seen from the point of view of the victims: “I hate the expression ‘we must look at the situation from a geopolitical point of view’ and I always reply that instead the situation must be observed from a human point of view.”
Every time one of your books comes out, something happens in the world that your novels had somehow anticipated, as if your writing managed to catch something in the air. What do you think this depends on?
I think it depends on the fact that I try to investigate, always from the point of view of the victims, the forms of evil, I try to understand where it comes from, to identify a possible strategy to combat it, in this perhaps I am also a little naive. In its time Money from Hitler raised very controversial reactions, for example, but then the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia after the war was the subject of a veritable wave of novels on the subject, to the point that I almost felt like showing the other side of the coin.
In the novel A Contribution to the History of Joy, you also dealt with an issue that is unfortunately once again topical, namely the issue of sexual violence against women.
This is another example of the same problem, it seems that the topic has only become topical in the wake of the MeToo movement. And this also bothers me somewhat because these issues have always existed, without ever being considered, or rather without ever being understood in the right context. In my writing I try instead to find a synthesis, to show them as part of much more complex questions, what is man, what is humanity. The topic of violence against women is now of course topical again in all its brutality, we are surrounded by the sexual violence perpetrated by soldiers, from this point of view the body is a weapon in its own right.
And basically the case of China is also very similar.
Exactly so. When I wrote the novel Hours of Lead, no one understood its meaning. Why would a Czech writer write a novel about China? Then slowly it started to be talked about, now it is more discussed, not only about Tibet and such matters; having said that, however, we still know too little about it. Some cases in particular have attracted a lot of attention, for example that of the missing tennis player, but how many people in China disappear without being heard of? It is normal punishment for anyone who opposes government policy, but many only realise this when photographs of concentration camps are shown. And yet there are many labour camps and of different types.
To return to the initial question about my novels, I feel the need to analyse the situation and at the same time try to warn of danger. Of course I often realise that this is not possible, but that’s OK, I’ll keep doing it. In the last novel I felt the need to draw attention to these new totalitarianisms, to the profound characteristics of these new systems. New in the sense that they have much more refined technology at their disposal, today propaganda has enormous power, disinformation is much more effective, brainwashing and surveillance of people are much more pervasive… It is interesting how little we realise all this.
Foto: Soňa Pokorná