We now welcome Bernardo Toro. Bernardo Toro is a Chilean writer living in Paris. Welcome to ISLA.
Thank you. Bernardo, you went to Paris when you were 17 years old without knowing a word in French. However the two novels you have published are written in French. Why this change in the language? Well, it’s hard to explain because, in my opinion, literature isn’t something you choose. It’s like a need, a desire from inside. But it’s definitely not something you choose like you would choose to be an engineer. I think the desire to write and the language in which you do it are pretty much the same thing. Therefore, understanding why you write and understanding, in this case, why I do it in French, are the same question, for which I haven’t got an answer. Actually. Are you going to translate your novels into Spanish?
Of course. Are you going to do it yourself? Yes.
Have you started already?
Not yet. Do you think that there are going to be any difficulties? Of course, a language involves many things, it involves a whole vision of the world. And a way to behave, a way to think, not just a way to express yourself. Probably if I would have written that in Spanish, I wouldn’t have done it the same way I did it in French. So, when I translate the novels, I will find that…Or I will have the need, the desire not just to translate but to re-write bits of the novel, which is an inevitable risk. But everything will be alright. You actually live in Paris because you chose to,
unlike many other Chileans You moved when you were 17 years old. And, even though, it’s a choice you made,
in your first novel, “Contratiempos”, you talk about the Chilean Dictatorship, and what the exile supposed, and the problems caused by it. Are you trying to recover something lost? A… You say it’s a tribute to your father, who helped you a lot. But, how do you see things when you haven’t actually lived them? Can you actually tell other people’s memories? What I wished by leaving Chile was, the very rare desire to, actually start all over again, a new life. I mean, somehow just be born again. As a wish, that is very important and it’s vital and dynamic. A main engine in a person’s life. Especially when you are 17. But then the moment when… In my case when I was 35 years old. I realised it’s impossible to rebuild yourself and start a new life. It is… As a wish it’s possible but the ugly truth is that it isn’t. And that’s when I realised all of that, I realised that most of my life, of who I am, has to do with Chile and Chilean history. So this novel is about… It tells us the story of two people. One of them is voluntarily in exile, the case of the man in the novel. While the woman is in exile, Because they made her leave… Because of political problems. So it’s about when someone who
leaves his country to forget what he experienced and lived there, meets someone who is actually having a hard time in another country, in the novel it would be France, and thinks about going back home all the time It’s basically, two people who are having completely opposite experiences. The idea is the intimate relationship these two people develop, which will make them change their mind. Especially to him. It goes into more detail into what the man is running away from and what he gets from his country, Chile, and its history. In the book you talk about difficult relationship between parents and their children. Is there anything autobiographic in the novel? I don’t think so. However it is true that it is a novel that portrays the desire of starting a new life. It’s about a man who had a very unsettled and troublesome childhood and he thinks that if he can manage to have a son, and form a family, a home, it will allow him to start a new life as that childhood will be finally buried. With cement, under stronger cement, over stronger cement. And you, as the director of a magazine, I suppose it’s really hard to choose which texts you are going to publish. Do you read them or does someone else read them? What are the criteria you use to publish something? Well, we have a reading club. We receive so many texts because nowadays people still write as many or more stories than before. However they are not published as books that often anymore. That’s when magazines like mine, one of the most important in France, come into play by publishing and spreading the tale or story. We receive a lot of books every week And we have a reading club as I said… It’s a magazine that doesn’t really have a specific genre or aspect established. I mean, it’s open to any kind of writing and any genre. Therefore we make a continuous effort to understand the interest, the importance and the quality of the writing that I wouldn’t do. Have you ever written a short story, like the ones you publish? Short story writing is a very peculiar art. I’ve read like fifty, no, actually more, like five thousand short-stories. Magazines published fifteen years ago. And… Oddly enough the more stories I read, the more I realise how difficult it is, I know very little about it. And I realise that, in my case, I am a novelist and not a story teller. Do you think in Spanish or French or…? I believe that we have visual thinking. Verbal thinking works sometimes but most of the times it’s just images that we picture. This allows us to think way quicker. If we really used verbal thinking it would take us too long. If we think this fast it’s because we do it with blocks of sense and fixed analogue images. Before we were talking about exile and Paris was just one of the many cities Chileans fled to. Even today there is still a huge Chilean community in Paris of the people that never went back home. Do you meet? Do they meet? Do they write? It’s becoming less frequent now, because all of them who stayed in Paris , are strongly linked to the French culture. So the feeling of community, colony disappeared completely. Something very rare and extraordinary happened in France. Something that has only occurred a few times in the world’s history, maybe in France with the Spanish republicans. Or maybe in the 1930’s with the White movement members exiled in Paris, Berlin or Prague. I mean, there was so much productivity cultural, intellectual and literary. Between 1973 and 1990 Chileans published in France, just in France, 1.700 books. That’s insane.
Yes. It was a community that fought politically, I think that would have been the main struggle, using books as their only weapons. It is very interesting and I feel that, even though I wrote in French becoming the enemy, I still inherited that intelectual Chilean tradition.
You said you feel like the enemy, has anyone ever blamed you for writing in French? Of course. And I did my first book on the Chilean exile. For me, one of the main goals of literature is to try to tell stories as they actually happened. And to try to make the truth reachable for anyone and stop idealizations, the way we as an individual want to see things. So when I write a story that for me is very near to the truth of the exile, the real exile, for people it’s a bit, a bit harsh, a bit blunt, a bit…
And it’s written in French as well.
Making it even worse. However it is still a brilliant book and, as you said, it reminds us of things that actually happened. Literature is for… To make sure we don’t forget the things that happened. That’s right. Bernardo, thank you very much. Thank you.