During the BOOKSTAR 2017 – Festival of European literature that took place in Skopje, we had opportunity to talk with ILJA LEONARD PFEIJFFER about his book LA SUPERBA, love and misunderstandings.

PIREJ: Why Italy from all countries? Were you inspired by Italian culture? Which part of it was more inspiring?

ILJA LEONARD PFEIJFFER: Yes. I always loved Italy even before I decided to move to Genoa. I always had this idea that I’ll go to the south. When I was younger, I used to go to Greece and I thought perhaps I would go to Greece, but then I found this city and decided that Italy is a better place for me exactly because of the culture, the nice weather also the country is very rich historically. More than half of all the art in the world is in Italy and it’s amazing there.

PIREJ: Poetics of the city. Genoa, as all the characters who live there, has two sides – one is for show, beautiful illusion, and the other one is the harsh reality?

ILJA LEONARD PFEIJFFER: I am glad that you asked that because I think that is an important thing. The book is very much about this relationship between reality and fantasy, between fact and fiction in general, that is a theme that interests me very much almost everything I write in some way touches that theme because I think it’s a very much a theme of today, characteristic of modern society and it’s more and more difficult to draw a distinction – fact or fiction, fantasy or reality. If it was so easy to distinguish between fact and reality, Trump would never be elected. And in this specific case for this book, I thought it was important to emphasize the theme because the book is talking about migrations and there you have this relation between fantasy and reality because all the emigrants had some kind of fantasy.

PIREJ: In the book two themes are central, the theme with the immigrants and the theme of identity (gender identity/ fluidity). What is different is that these themes, processed in the way they are in the book, are writing innovations, although they are part of personal stories – why is that so?

ILJA LEONARD PFEIJFFER: It’s about emigration and this question of identity is very much connected to that. I think that’s what happens to you when you move to a different place, when you migrate you actually have to change your identity, you lose your identity, you have to construct a new identity and that is why migration can be so difficult and painful and in my personal case was also very interesting to have the possibility to reinvent yourself.

I wanted to tell many different stories because I didn’t want to write about my personal opinion about migration, political solution, there a different genre to write that, a column in a newspaper can do that, what you can do in a novel is something much more interesting. I try to show how complex the situation is by telling these different stories that have something to do with migration, but in a different way, so the stories are contrasted with each other and then I leave the conclusion to the reader. I think a reader who reads La Superba after finishing the book concludes that the situation is even more complex than you thought before and then I am very happy, that is very good if I manage to show that.

PIREJ: The narrator leading us through the story introduces us to multiple characters and together with them, we wander through the labyrinths of Genoa. There is a duality characters,  a diversity between outer and inner self – does such a reflective division of individuals present in the novel and through them and the city, should give the real image to the reader only of the city Genoa or the of the world in general? Are the stories real? How many of the stories are real?

ILJA LEONARD PFEIJFFER: It’s difficult to say what’s real and what is fiction and I am playing with that, so the reader can ask himself that kind of questions, that’s also one of the reasons why I chose a protagonist who look very much like me and also has this very improbable name Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer. And there was a lot of reality in the novel, for instance, the entire setting, the city, I wanted to be very precise, very realistic and if you go to Genoa you can use the book as a guide, but on the other side there is a lot of fiction in the storyline, but of course many characters are based on persons I really meet. The really good example is the character Jibi (Jiby). All the stories that the protagonist is telling are real stories I must say unfortunately, I really spoke with many people and did a lot of research for that part of the book and it’s very realistic, the only thing is that Jiby doesn’t exist in reality, I invent this character to project all these stories into one fictional character.

PIREJ: We are all in love with a leg“ lol but in the end, we do realize that all this is just a projection of our desires and fantasies – the same goes to Genoa and *the most beautiful girl in the city*. At the beginning of the novel, we are presented with romantic version, but in the end, that picture is completely turned/changed. How do you explain the turn?

ILJA LEONARD PFEIJFFER: I like this word projection because that’s what pretty much what’s happening that is why I chose this image of this leg, amputated leg, in certain point very appealing very attractive for the protagonist because he is fantasizing the rest of the woman and because the woman that was attached to the leg is fantasy she is almost the perfect women. She is not real enough to ruin his fantasy and that’s only till the second part of the book, that’s protection of course and you can extrapolate that to the way the protagonist is experiencing the city also that is for a large extend projection, he wants to see this new city as a place of la Dolce Vita Italiana, a place of happiness and in a certain place of the book he also says it, yes Genoa is real, you can come, take an airplane and come and visit it but you will never see it the way I see it because of course, that is the projection.

PIREJ: The characters in the novel belong to different social layers, however, in the end, they all suffer from their compromises that are in line with their class integrity. Is this the sad truth, two subjective stories cannot find a common language of understanding, is love an abstract that depends on the social construct?

ILJA LEONARD PFEIJFFER: That’s a very big question, of course. To begin with, in the context of the book, and again in the context of the migration stories, it is also about this cultural misunderstanding. So, one of my reasons why the story, the love story between the protagonist and the most beautiful girl in Genoa is so tragical is a basic misunderstanding; because they are from two different cultures and that is something that you see on many different levels. And that is also in the reality, what happens with the migration. Very little bad intentions in relations and many misunderstandings and I wanted to show that. And, there is also this question of belonging. Everybody wants to be part of a group, and when you move to a new city, a new country you want to belong there. And the existing structure is to defend themselves – that is also a characteristic of a class; I mean it is not fun to be a member of a club when everybody can become a member – you want to protect yourself from new members. And this exclusion, this distinction between us and the others, I think, is the core of the problem of migration and also other social problems. And that is actually what goes wrong in the middle of the book – the protagonist is trying to conquer a position in Genoa, to be part of the economic life and that is where the existing classes defend themselves and close themselves, and that is the beginning of the downfall.

Yeah, of course, you can talk about love also in many other ways and „La Superba“ is not a book about love, it’s a book about many other things and love is also there. But I think that in love, you also have the same kind of mechanisms. Most of the time love is a projection and also a decision to love this other person and to belong to and be together. I mean, I know that there is this romantic idea about love that there is TRUE LOVE somewhere, but that’s extremely unlikely, isn’t it? Statistically, that is very strange. So there is this one true love in the world, but there are these seven billion people in the world so how that this is the one true love? Did you try them all? That is very strange! And it’s a very big coincidence that your true love is living two streets down from your home. It is so very strange.
Love is about deciding that you want to stay with this person. And actually, I think that it’s far more romantic. In this traditional idea, it’s almost like atoms in CERN, the laboratory in Switzerland, they are going at great speed and by coincidence they collide, these atoms. That is the traditional idea of trying to find your true love, and that is not romantic at all. I think that it is more romantic to have this determination and decision that this is the person you are going to love. And when love is going wrong its often have to do with projections and misunderstandings because of these projections.

Actually, I wrote a book about love, it’s the novel that came out this year it’s called Peachez. And basically, it is a professor of Latin, old man, very educated, cultivated man and he falls in love with an internet photo model, very young girl that he knows from the internet. And also, this is, of course, a novel about Catfishing and there is something not at all right with this girl, I mean in the end, she does not exist. And there are people using her identity.

But that’s not the point, the point is that the professor in the end of the book, when he has found out that he has been used, still says that he does not regret it. That it was the most beautiful thing in his life and he was in love. Because, perhaps she doesn’t exist, but his feelings for her were real. And that’s projection. The Real love in the real world is often very much like that. And I don’t want to say that that is a bad thing, I mean to say exactly this Is a beautiful thing.

PIREJ: Is heaven a place on earth?

ILJA LEONARD PFEIJFFER: Well, it must be. Because it cannot be a place in heaven because heaven does not exist. We must find it on Earth, that is our task.

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