As a Writer, I Was Born Two Hundred Years Ago

By Lallas, Thanassis | The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

As a Writer, I Was Born Two Hundred Years Ago


Lallas, Thanassis, The Review of Contemporary Fiction


Milorad means beloved in his language. Milorad Pavic is unknown to many of you. He is a Serbian writer, nominated several times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. According to Paris Match, "he is undoubtedly the first writer of the twenty-first century." Pavic is the writer who managed to construct a novel that anyone can read in the same way he or she observes a statue. He lives in Belgrade. We spent three days with him, just talking. The following is the result of our conversations.

First Meeting

Belgrade. It is getting dark. There isn't much traffic on the streets. Asking her way around, Gaga finds a flower shop that is still open and buys some flowers. The cab leaves us at Brace Baruh Street, number 2. The building is old and its main door is ajar. We enter. On the right side are some mailboxes for the residents. They are all the same size, except the last one, which is surprisingly huge, almost as big as all the rest of the boxes together. For the first time I saw the name Milorad Pavic written on that huge mailbox. According to the Sunday Times, Milorad Pavic is a writer who, together with Borges, Nabokov, Singer, Calvino, and Eco, composes the literary treasure of our half of the century.

The first floor, an old wooden white door. We ring the bell and find ourselves in front of the double of Lech Watesa! "Lech Watesa's face is a bit more swollen," notices Gaga. "His eyes are less intense," I add, completing her thought. Pavic, dressed in a dark blue suit and wearing a tie, leads us to the high-ceilinged living room. There are some white armchairs in the room. On the walls there are some drawings by his son Ivan, who lives and paints in Paris. Pavic, the writer "who thinks the way we dream," offers us a drink and persuades us to taste some of his excellent cookies. He introduces us to Mrs. Pavic. We shake hands and Pavic talks to himself, while we look at the editions of his books, translated into every language except Chinese and Norwegian. "It was very difficult to get a positive review in my country, that's why I married a critic!" We all laugh, and he writes a dedication on a copy of his book Dictionary of the Khazars: "To the Golden Girl! Milorad Pavic." He gives the book to his compatriot and also his student at the university, Gaga Rosic, who wonderfully translates his books into Greek. We leave for the opening of a new cinema in the center of Belgrade.

He drives like a child. The car in his hands seems like a toy. He drives against the traffic on all the one-way streets and shows us the house where he spent his childhood, a two-storied house with a garden and trees in its backyard. He always parks his car far away from his destination. This makes me curious. It seems as if he is in his own world all the time. Wearing his gabardine, he walks in small steps toward the center of the city. "This is the National Theater," he says to me as we pass the streetlights. In the big square, opposite the National Theater, many people recognize him. Pavic keeps on walking, pretending not to notice anything. He has probably noticed everything, but until he finds himself lying on his back on his bed, he cannot prove it.

He is always writing, lying on his back on his bed. He keeps notes in a small notebook and writes in it every time an idea comes to his mind. "It is nearly always so--fifty/fifty," he says. "Every time you catch some beauty from the vast world around you, another piece of beauty sinks untouchable in the blue waters of the Danube." My first meeting with Pavic ends with a handshake outside the Metropol Hotel. During this first meeting, I continuously observed him and we exchanged very few words. Our next meeting was scheduled for the next day at ten o'clock, at his apartment.

Second Meeting

THANASSIS LALLAS: I was carefully observing you yesterday. Your reactions were like those of a child. You did not give me the impression that you are the most important Serbian writer at present. …

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