Andrei Ivanov

During his stay at the Baltic Centre last autumn, the surroundings in Gotland had so much impact on him that he actually made them a part of his story. His recently published novel The Argonaut starts with the principal character sitting in the Botanical garden in Visby. The alter ego of the Estonian writer Andrei Ivanov.
– I can spend hours in that garden, a fabulous place, he says.

It is his second visit to the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators. The first time was in October last year.
– I had some kind of sideway inspiration here in Gotland. So I wrote down some stuff and realized that it would fit in my next book, he says.

Andrei Ivanov, who was born in Tallinn in Estonia in 1971 when it was the Soviet Republic of Estonia, studied languages and literature at the university of Tallinn. He spent many years in Scandinavia, living in a refugee camp in Denmark and in the Hesbjerg hippie commune on the island of Funen, and he has also been traveling in Norway. Today he lives and works in Tallinn, writing his novels in the Russian language. Ivanov has won several literary awards, including the Estonian Cultural Capital Prize for the novel Hanuman’s Journey to Lolland.

His last book, The Argonaut, was published in Estonia in the beginning of this year. This autumn he had his first novel published in France, Le Voyage de Hanumân (Hanuman’s Journey to Lolland), and he will go to Paris in October for interviews and readings. The characters in this book are illegal immigrants in a refugee camp in Denmark.
– They just try to discover something, they are trying to live, survive basicly. Both of them have a history of course, one is Indian and the other one a Russian from Estonia, but I focus on the situation where they are right now.

His writing is based mostly on his own experiences when he lived in a refugee camp in Denmark in the end of 1990.
– I had numerous reasons to write this novel, the main thing is to concentrate on the society and how it functions, he says.

During his stay in Visby this time, he is writing a book with the title Beauregard, about Russian emigrants and displaced persons who lived in France and Germany right after the second world war. The theme of escape and immigration, a very topical subject today, is always present in his work.

A wish to sail abroad
Andrei Ivanov started to write very early, he created poems and kept diary where he wrote down his experiences and feelings.
– I began to make little booklets, writing my own fairytales, he says.

When he was a child he was insomniac, he didn´t sleep well and had a lot of dreams.
– My imagination was vivid. I liked very much to tell stories, to create them and collect them in my memory.

When he went to summer camps with other children, he was the one who was telling the stories in the night.
– I always listened to what other kids were telling me about what happened to them, and I invented stories based on their experiences. I realized that I could use the stories from a life, put them in a fantastic world and create fantasy stories for them. I remember that it was inspiring sitting in this dark room while the other kids were listening to me, Andrei says.

When he was 14 years old, he and a classmate wrote a story about a guy who escaped from the Soviet Union.
– My friend had a fabulous beginning: ”Now it is time, I told myself, and stepped into the opened luggage.” The guy was just hiding in a big suitcase and he was delivered to another country. We were imagining how life abroad could be.

After high school he applied to a maritime college, but failed to pass the exams because of the Maths.
– The idea of going abroad was still in my head, to sail away and then leave the ship, he says.

Instead he started to study Russian literature at the university of Tallinn and it was there that he discovered the writer Vladimir Nabokov, who has been an inspirer in his own writing ever since.
– I think he is one of the most brilliant writers in the world; his perception and his way of finding the exact words, he says.

Nabokov was Andrei Ivanov´s main subject at the university and he wrote about his work while he also studied the Irish writer James Joyce and the literature of Russian immigrants.
– I worked as a night watch at a factory while making my theses about Nabokov. In day time I was going to the library to study. I isolated myself because I wanted to concentrate on my writing. It was hard, I think that is why I started my journey.

During this time he wrote his first novel, but was very discontent with it and burnt it. Years later he realized that he wanted to finish it, but in a new way because he had changed as a person.
– It was The Argonaut. I rewrote it entirely, but the main idea of combining the descriptive style of Nabokov and the stream of consciousness/ internal monologue-technique of James Joyce came from my first attempt, he says.

An utopian idea
During his last year stay at the Baltic Centre in Visby, he went to the island of Fårö. A picture of the seaside of the beachway actually was published on the cover of his novel The Argonaut. He also took a picture of a car from the 50s at the café Kutens bensin in Fårö that appeared on the cover of the book The Confession of a Lunatic.
The Argonaut starts with my principal character sitting in the Botanical garden in Visby. I have several characters in the book and one of them is staying in Visby. He is writing e-mails to a friend about going to Fårö for instance. He writes about that café, the house of Ingmar Bergman and Bergmancenter. He is based on my self, my alter ego, Andrei says.

While writing to his friend, he is trying to find out why he is taveling all the time.
– One of the reasons why he came to Sweden was that he got an utopian idea of making the world better. He believes that he can find the answers in Sweden. He understands that he is a sort of Don Quijote in this way, but still he says: I am at least trying, he tells me.

– I still have this feeling that everyone is in search of something. Maybe we forget about the goal, but everyone has it: the argonaut (a group of octopuses that the booktitle refers to), the pilgrim, the traveler, all of us is in search of our destiny or the realization of our own talents.

Some days ago he bought the novel Darling River by the Swedish writer Sara Stridsberg in a book store in Visby. He saw that it was influenced by the story Lolita by Nabokov and is now trying to read it in Swedish, as he understands both Danish and Norwegian.
– It´s very beautiful, a great novel, he says.

Andrei Ivanov enjoys the relaxed ambience of the Baltic Centre.
– Sometimes you have to discharge and for that reason Visby is perfect, he says.
– You can go to the kitchen, talk to people and immediatly you get relaxed. You listen to the others´ stories while having dinner together. It´s not quite healthy to stay by yourself within a bubble of inspiration and writing during months, it´s very heavy. I find the system here absolutely ideal.

Text and photo: Maria Molin




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