Interview with longlisted author Rouchdi Redouane
When did you start writing The Hungarian and where did the inspiration for it come from?
The first glimpse of the Hungarian’s face appeared to me ten years ago, while I was studying the Second World War, as part of some documentary research. The ghost of the character of Messoud appeared at that time, in the context of a recurring controversy over the forced involvement of “indigenous” Algerians in the Allied war against the Nazi expansion. From the beginning, I wanted to write about a pain felt locally [in Algeria] which is still a sore point today. However, with the passing of time, the text opened up to larger worlds, reaching Kaposvár in Hungary and ending in Normandy, France. As the story progressed, I discovered that the degradation of war did not differentiate between languages, identities or religions. Where there are bullets, logic disappears, and human beings lose a sense of purpose in life.
The years of the second decade of the new century were confusing and chaotic, and due to the busyness of journalistic work and writing priorities, the project of the novel was stalled until the beginning of the years of lockdown caused by the covid virus. This period forced me into writing, of necessity, and gave fresh fictional life to The Hungarian. As the story went down smoothly onto the page, I discovered that it had been fermenting in my fingers and all that was needed was for me to start tapping at the laptop keys.
One could say that the coronavirus restored life to The Hungarian.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
As I said before, I wrote the novel sporadically. I began years ago, and the writing rhythm picked up during lockdown, especially in mid-2020. At that time, I reconciled myself to pyjamas, coffee at home and having my office in the house. As I revisited the text of The Hungarian, I could escape the heaviness of obligatory isolation through the pleasure of writing. I became finally convinced that the writing of narrative fiction is a craft requiring dedication of time and total commitment. It’s not a luxury or a way of filling up gaps in life.
How have readers and critics received it?
When the text slipped out of my grasp and became a living book, I felt uncomfortable and wondered, “Have I done justice to The Hungarian?” Have I given him the life story which his patience with me deserves after all this time? I don’t know. All I feel today is gratefulness to him because he reorganized my priorities in life. When I am contacted by phone or receive letters from readers of the novel, I feel more thankful for his ability to convince them that I haven’t failed him. Today I am happier that this complex human story of the characters of The Hungarian will reach more readers, more friends, thanks to the reputation of the Prize.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
The Hungarian convinced me of the necessity of dealing with issues of the past, before grappling with new ones. So, I will go back and reorganize some drafts which I had left unfinished. One could say that my next literary project will be to sort out my non-literary ones, in order to dedicate myself completely to writing and to choosing the text most able to thrill me with inspiration and which will be faithful to the story of The Hungarian.