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Federico Andahazi


DIARIO PERFIL, February 12, 2007

“I believe in the reader, I write for him”

Magdalena Ruíz Guiñazú´s interviews Federico Andahazi / Photo: CEDOC

His novel The conqueror, Planeta Prize 2006, is the best selling book  of the summer. Since that prize Fortabat

  Federico Andahazi
Foundation first gave him and then took away from him, by The anatomist, he has published a lot and won, by means of literary contests (or not). Here, he tells us all.

Andahazi´s family house at Villa Crespo, has the infinite charming of that places that give shelter, love and creativity.

Wooden ribbons covering a mezzanine in which Federico has placed his work room; the kitchen (huge and provided with light) from where you can see the garden and the swimming pool; a Siamese cat called Satan (“and which is a very good cat”, Federico explains) give shape to the universe of this man who has led the best sellers lists of this summer with his last novel, and who never gets tired of winning prizes.

As a matter of fact, The conqueror is the last winner of the Planeta Prize given by an imposing jury. The truth is that Andahazi, as he had already done with The anatomist, leads the reader towards an exciting zone where it is possible to see the other and hidden part of fate. In the same way that Mateo Columbus discovers that women´s pleasure had to do with the clitoris, and not only with love, in The conqueror, Quetza, Tenochtitlán son, discovers (from the still undiscover America) a very distant and remote Europe – Andahazi thinks.

- Well, I always say that my only merit in literary terms consists in being a discoverer of discoverers. I think that in The anatomist the finding of the fantastic character of Mateo Colón deserves a novel based on himself. In The  conqueror, Quetza set the sky map before Copérnico, and the Earth one before Toscanelli. He also is the first one in going around the world when Magallanes could even imagine such a feat. It´s important to take into account that Quetza not only discovers a continent but describes the “savages” who inhabit it…

- They would be similar to the Hunnish, the first Vikings…

- Look, what I try to do with this novel is that the reader can get rid of the European vision that, obviously, we received by inheritance. I try to see the world this way, from a new point of view. Literally, with the point of view that would have an extraterrestrial being. I could say I write The conqueror as an adventure novel, and I would like it to insert it in that misunderstanding in which we all grew up: we read Literature “for young people”, in inverted commas, whereas/although in those collections there were authors like London Jack, who wouldn’t have been located in Literature for young people. Neither Edgar Allan Poe. A silly thing. They had nothing to do with “for young people”… The conqueror is written in the same tone, and is for that reason that I pretend the novel to be part of that misunderstanding. I would like young people know The conqueror thanks to this mistake. 

- Well, Federico, let´s say your misunderstandings have immediate answers. The anatomist caused that Mrs. Fortabat, president of the homonymous foundation that gave you its prize, be shocked… but your novel was a worldwide success. Now, with “The conqueror”, you have won the Planeta Prize. It must be very rewarding that your fiction returns to you with all this honors!

Of course I feel very honored with the awards I have received. I was an unknown author and with very little opportunities, and in front of me there was an uncertain future because this is an ungrateful country with unpublished authors. So that, in view of this lack of opportunities, I decided, exactly ten years ago, to participate in different literary contests. Some of my short stories were awarded by illustrious juries, such as Marco Denevi, Victoria Pueyrredón, María Granata… One week later I found out that Almas misericordiosas/Merciful Souls, another of my short stories, had won the City of Buenos Aires Government prize. In adittion, with El sueño de los justos, I also received the Instituto Movilizador de Fondos Cooperativos Prize.  Believe it or not, another week later, I found out readying the newspapers, when I saw there my pseudonym “Parker-Turn”, that I was one of the finalists of the Planeta Prize. The extraordinary event was fantastic till the official notice that I was also the winner of the Fortabat Foundation prize.  Of course, I had to take away The anatomist from the Planeta prize, because the novel could not have received awards before. Imagine that, with all these facts, Planeta Prize sounded to me like a unfinished business. After that, the Fortabat scandal, the prize cancellation and the public request note published by Mrs. Amalita Fortabat in all the newspapers of the country, in which she said that my novel did not contribute to the highest values of the human spirit.

- Is better to laugh, but the truth is that in a way she helped you, because all the world wanted to read your novel.

Of course. Anyway, during a long time I had the uncomfortable sensation of owing this lady more than I really owe to her because, well, after that The anatomist was published in China, in Japan, in Turkey, in Finland. Countries where, luckily, nobody know this lady and the novel, however, it had the same success than in Argentina. Publishing in other countries made me see that – Andahazi laughs – it was not as much what I owed to Mrs. Fortabat. I understand that often a scandal generates the reverse effect that the censors want, but it is also truth that I made every effort to avoid the novel to be contaminated with that scandal. Ten years after that, thinking again on my unfinished business, I said to myself: “Why not?”. Of course, I hid my identity with a pseudonym: “Remington-Olivetto” for the old typewriters of our profession and, acting the same way I did when I was an unpublished writer, I made as I hadn’t took part in any contest. It was like suffering again from the same nerves I had suffered ten years before: to take part in a contest with a pseudonym, etc. I also think that if I had taken part with my real name may be I wouldn’t have won… This is one of the pseudonym uses. In summary, I feel very thankful not only with the jury but with other participants like, for example, Victor Heredia, who was also finalist and who speak with very favorable and warm words about me and my work. I think that many writers should learn from musician’s humbleness. Perhaps because they work altogether, usually musicians have a joint spirit.

Your novel has been at the top of the best seller’s lists all the summer, does it give you any satisfaction?

Those things are just the ones a writer must not look at…

- Why?

- Because I believe that we should get rid of any pressure and, as well as I really believe in the reader and write for him, and I never could write if I wouldn’t suspect about the existence of an hypothetical reader, I believe that too many times two antagonistic entities are confused: the reader and the market. Then yes, as I write for a reader, I could never do it only for the market because the market is only a part, and for me, a very difficult to understand one.  I believe the authors should get rid of those pressures and, as well as when I was an unpublished author I could write The Anatomist, which had such a success, I think that I managed to write it exactly because I was an unpublished author and, for that reason, I had no pressure from the outside. I had absolute impunity. I try all the time to maintain that subjective place of the writer I was. I try to think that what I’m writing is never going to be published and, as I was saying to you, this thought makes me feel the false impunity of “anyway, it is never going to be published”.

- Are you describing a way to be free?

- Absolutely. I believe Literature is the supreme exercise of freedom. Among other artistic disciplines, it’s the only place where you can do what you want. I always make a difference between the writer and my old psychoanalyst profession. When I was a psychoanalyst, I felt too much responsibility for my patients, to the fact that I had to be absolutely accurate with the technique, with the theory. However, Literature allows us, when we write with dignity, to do only what we want.

-Giving up psychoanalysis need a big intellectual effort?

- Of course, because it´s not only stop being a psychoanalyst but also stop thinking like one. And something even more dificult: to get rid, for example, from the psychoanalytic vocabulary that many times contaminates the writing. Sometimes, I´m drawing up a character profile for a novel and then I find out that, however, I´m making his clinical report! That´s the moment in which I break the paper and decide to begin again.

- In “The conqueror”, besides creating a character you installed yourself in his head, and I have to tell you: I thought psychoanalysis had helped you to create such a personality…

- However, as well as Freud used to say that to be a psychoanalyst you had to stop thinking as a doctor, I believe that to be a writer it is necessary to stop thinking like a psychoanalyst. And this is truth such an extent that Freud himself (that never wrote fiction) received a literary prize by his scientific work. It is also truth that Freud work has such a literary root, such a strong one, that when he is founding psychoanalysis, that phenomenal structure, and not only to have a “theoretical corpus” to be consult, he appeals to Literature. Then, when we read Freud we also find out there to Shakespeare, to Goethe, Madame Bovary. Therefore, I believe that as well as the analysis, at its conception time, could not get rid of Literature… Literature, however, could.

We saw, among the furniture at Andahazi´s living room, the classic black leather divan often used by the psychoanalysts, and we cannot avoid saying:

-What a change of life!

Andahazi laughs:

- Today, the divan is like a museum object. I show it exactly as what it is:  an object that has fallen into disuse.

- Would you be a psychologist again, now you are famous?

- No, no. No way. I did it during a lot of time and to be completely honest, I have to say that as well as psycoanalytic theory is for me a perfect theory, from theory to practice there´s a big distance and I have my doubts about psychoanalysis efficacy. To make it clear: as well as Einstein´s Relavity theory is perfect, to demonstrate some aspects of the teory it would be necessary to overcome the barrier of the speed of light, something that is impossible nowadays. So, I believe that with psychoanalysis it happens the same. I believe there are too few real good psychoanalysts who work with dignity.

- Well, the patient also has his “traps” …

- That was also noticed by Freud. For that reason his discipline proposes a sort of Copernican revolution in which there´s no longer a patient visible. Instead of that, the subject proposed by Freud is the unconscious one. This way, the communication between patient and psichoanalyst goes beyond truth or lie in the daily life.

- It´s almost impossible to avoid what Freud called “transference” from the patient to the psichoanalyst. And sometimes it happens in both ways (also from the psichoanlyst to the patient) because to analize a patient you should feel some kind of transference to him. 

- Of course. That´s the ABC of therapy. To work it has to be a transference. What you can see, however, is that many times on behalf of that strong transference between patient and psichoanalyst, some psichoanalysts take adventage of the relationship. In my opinion, nowadays, psychoanalysis has became in a too long kind of therapy. Freud treatments lasted very little. They were, indeed, very intense. May be five sessions a week, but they didn´t last in time. So that I believe that, some times, the transference is used to perpetuate a kind of contractual situation…

- Or of domain?

- Yes, of domain. Something very argue to me.

Everything seems to fix, in this quiet and calm house, to a favorable creativity climax. And I have to say that what Andahazi told me about it, affected me deeply. The story thanks to an absolutely banal question like this one:

-Has you changed your way of working, regarding your first novels?

- This year not only changed my way of working but my life changed drastically.

iterature is really mysterious and surprises us in a way some day I would like to explain. I was in the meadle of my writing of The conqueror, whose main character, Quetza, is a boy who is saved from being sacrificed to the Death God by the requests of a old man from the Wise people Council. The boy suffers a terrible disease, the old man can saved him from it too, and because of that Quetza is always fighting against Death, with beauty and dignity…

At this point, Andahazi is touched, and the stop his story for a minute. Then, he continues:

- I was working in the novel when, in a completely unthinkable way, my son Blas was born prematurely, with hardly 25 weeks of pregnancy and 800 grams of weight, and… with the same disease that I describe in the novel… He was operated in his intestines three times. Mysteriously, I repeat, he has the same disease that I describe in my book. A book that I have written in the gardens of the Italian Hospital, in some different bars. A book completely submitted to my son, almost with the superstitious idea that I was writing his fate… I mean that Blas, my baby, is a hero made by the same wood than Quetza, and that he has fought with the same beauty and with the same dignity. In spite of his low weight, he makes himself understood, and in spite of having too few days of living, he imposed to the doctors and today I can say that I learned from him, from my little son, to fight and to face fate.


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