Pedro Lenz: from Bricklayer to the Award-Winning Writer

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Pedro Lenz in Kyiv

Pedro Lenz is one of the most famous contemporary Swiss authors that has numerous literary awards and a movie based on his book "I'm the Keeper". This September, the writer visited Ukraine on a tour to support the Ukrainian translation of his poetry collection. We grabbed the opportunity to ask Pedro about the insider view of Switzerland, his cooperation with Serhii Zhadan and impressions about Ukraine.

Pedro, I know that you work with Ukrainian writer Serhii Zhadan during this tour. He translated your selection of poems and you supported his idea to make Voroshylovhrad a movie. How did you two meet? Do you have any ideas for another joint project?

I first met Zhadan at a literature festival in Austria approximately 10 years ago. A little later, he came with Yurii Andrukhovych, whom I already knew, to Switzerland, where we had common readings. Then, in 2009, I came to Ukraine with the Swiss poet Raphael Urweider for a reading tour, where the four of us (Zhadan, Andrukhovych, Urweider and me) had readings in four cities (Kharkiv, Kyiv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv). At that time, Zhadan translated my first poems into Ukrainian.

Since then, I've been meeting Zhadan at festivals and last year, he introduced me to the director of his film project in Kyiv. Afterwards, our mutual friend, the Swiss filmmaker Miklos Gimes, searched for people interested in the film in Switzerland who supported the project. I would be glad to have joint projects in the future as well, but I do not know yet what it will be and when.

Serhii mentioned that your selection of poems depicts the side of Switzerland outsiders usually don't see: the proletariat and the losers. Why did you choose to focus on such characters?

Pedro LenzIn my literature, I always try to give a voice to those who hardly get a word in our society. I am interested in this focus, because I realize that in contemporary literature intellectuals often address intellectuals and that a large part of the population does not occur at all.

Perhaps the interest in craftsmen and their milieu is also based on the fact that as a young man I myself was a bricklayer for many years and moved in the society that I would like to describe today because I know it well, because it is interesting from the literary point of view and because I want to give it a voice.

Your novel "Naw Much of a Talker" ("I'm the Keeper") was adapted into a movie and won in seven nominations at the Swiss Film Awards. Is there anything you as the author would change in or add to the movie?

A film is always a project involving many people, from the producer to the director, cinematographers, scriptwriters, musicians, actors, etc. It is perfectly normal to compromise. There are two or three scenes in the film that I would have done differently, but that's rather details. All in all, I was very satisfied with the result.

Of course, a movie can not tell exactly the same story as a novel, especially in this novel, which has little plot and lives on the language. But it was very important to me that the spirit of the novel, the attitude of the protagonists and the rhythm in the film were preserved. In my opinion, that worked well.

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You've already visited Chernivtsi, Kharkiv and Kyiv during your tour. Is it your first time in Ukraine? How do you like it here so far?

Pedro Lenz in UkraineI have traveled five or six times to Ukraine since 2009, always in connection with literature events. In the country I was traveling a lot by train. Among the cities I visited, perhaps Kharkiv with its wide spaces and a huge square impressed me most. But it is unfair to put one place above the other.

Ukraine is so big and diverse that every city I visited had its own character. Odessa at the Black Sea is not comparable to Chernivtsi and Lviv is again totally unlike Kyiv. However, a great willingness to perform and the will to drive the country economically was something I felt everywhere. For me, who comes from a small and economically privileged country, it is impressive to see how the people of Ukraine face their numerous challenges.

Are you working on any new books these days?

I'm working on a novel that focuses on the Spanish migration to Switzerland in the years between 1960 and 1985. But during this trip, I hardly get to write about it. My impressions of Ukraine are so varied and intense that I can not just keep working as if I were at home. I want to experience and note as much as possible of what I see here.

Can we expect a Swiss-Ukrainian project in future?

This question is not easy to answer, because many projects arise spontaneously from the life situations. In any case, I consider it a privilege to know so many talented and inspiring people from Ukraine and of course I would be very happy if we could launch more literary or cultural projects together.

Who knows, perhaps the excellent translator Jurko Prokhasko, who has translated the novel "Der Goalie bin ig", will translate yet another novel written by me. For my part, I want to foster the efforts so that even more Ukrainian colleagues could be invited to Swiss literary festivals. And I really hope that this was not my last trip to Ukraine.

Photos by Julia Weber.

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