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Novelist Sophie Daull: It Takes Talent to Live with Scars that Never Disappear

SOFIA,  02.01.2023 16:27  (DAHNYELLE DYMYTROV, BTA) They say that the French writer Sophie Daull laundered her memories with her novel Au Grand Lavoir. In the book, she tells a story about the killer of her mother, who was sentenced to life in prison but was released thanks to a grand media manipulation. “The book itself is something of a revenge, retribution. This person became a character in a novel, I became the master of his fate and started controlling it. And I manipulate it as one does a puppet. I do with him anything I please. He ruined my life and in the novel I play with his life,” Sophie Daull said in a BTA interview.

She argues that it takes some patience to be able to live with scars that never disappear. “The justice of the gods does not exist. That makes the deep, personal, wounds irreparable,” she said.

She also said that it took her some time to discover the wisdom she has in her. “I believe that one discovers this type of wisdom in themselves when they are quite crazy, when they have been close to dangerous places and when they are able to look at the world from a very broad perspective,” the writer said.

She frowns at things that turn life into market economy, to use her own words. “All this economic tension that makes us be very profitable all the time, very efficient and stay connected, all this dehumanization of society – it makes me very pessimistic,” Daull said.

She is also a professional actress, plays the piano, sings and dances.

Au Grand Lavoir won the European Union Award for Literature. In Bulgaria, the novel was translated by Rumen Rumenov and published by the Persei publishers.

Following is the full text of the BTA interview in which Sophie Daull swells on wisdom and insanity, the atmosphere at the Sofia International Literary Festival, about revenge and retribution, the scars that never disappear, her belief in justice and her soft spot for the countries in Central Europe.

Q: Your name means wisdom. Are you like that in the eyes of your loved ones?

A: First of all, I would like to say that I am in the city that has my name [Sophie Daull spoke to interview while in Sofia for the International Literary Festival]. For me it is very exciting and full of hidden meaning.

It took me a long time to discover the wisdom that was hidden inside me. And I think that one finds this form of wisdom in themselves when they have been very crazy, when they have come close to dangerous places, and when they are able to cast a very wide view on the world. So I can be said to be wise.

Q: Do you allow yourself to be a crackpot?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you like the spirit of the festival in Sofia, do you feel it?

A: This is my fourth festival in Central Europe – after Ljubljana, Belgrade and Novi Sad. Of course, there is a great excitement and elation when people see different literatures from different countries cross. And when you can immerse yourself in a whole universe where authors, editors, publishers, booksellers, journalists, translators are all involved – it gives meaning to my work.

I always avoid getting too corporate. It is very easy to get into this closed space, this closed tower.

What is most exciting for me, and inspiring, is to get to know a city and its inhabitants. And to keep my spirit open. And to keep my senses open.

Q: You’re with us for the launch of your novel Au Grand Lavoir. How can one wrote about murder in a way that is not depressing?

A: Writing about such a tragedy, such an event, is one way to elevate the horrific act of murder to something more metaphysical. A social event has happened. Society has done its job: it has apprehended the criminal, given him a sentence, imprisoned him, and there has been media coverage of these events. So, technically speaking, it is an incident from the crime news section of a newspaper, that can happen in any family.

But what happened was that the victim was my mother, who was raped and murdered. When I delved into these intimate details of life, my goal was not to seek revenge. I wanted to describe how these two characters run across one another without any filter: without bringing justice, the press, or even science into the picture.

Q: You say you didn’t seek revenge, but doesn’t revenge heal pain?

A: The book itself represents a kind of revenge, retribution. Because this person became a character in a novel, I seized his fate and began to control it. And manipulate it like a puppet. I do with him what I wish. And it’s a very exciting and exhilarating feeling for me to know that I can manipulate him, put him in this place or that place, make him think this way or that way, practice a certain craft, go to this place or that – to be completely the master of his life. In a sense he ruined my life and through my novel I play with his life.

Q: How do you live with scars that never disappear?

A: I think one needs to have some talent for that. I am fortunate to be heavily engaged with art: do it myself and use it, read authors whose high spirit help me a lot. Here, I see a beetle down here, the scars are there [Shows a beetle crawling under the table.] They are like something dark crawling somewhere down there.

Q: Do you believe in justice as a social phenomenon? Do you think it really exists?

A: This is a very big question that would require a very big debate. I would say that society needs rules, needs laws to enhance its own stability: to have courts, prisons, sentences. And in that way society should have the opportunity to correct the moral injustice it has caused. This is for the sake of coexistence, of living together.

Greek tragedy speaks of justice being dispensed to and by men, and justice being dispensed by the gods. Justice works thanks to the established legal framework. The justice of the gods does not exist. So the deep, personal, intimate wounds are irreparable.

Q: I am not sure now it makes sense to ask my next question, about retribution, and if you believe in it…

A: No. But I’ll go a little back, in terms of my mother’s murder, when I talked about justice, the existence of courts, of prisons, of sentences. There has been one more injustice that relates to my daughter’s death. She experienced a very strong fever, for four days, and died suddenly. And in this case I ask the question – where is the crime and who is the criminal.

Q: Are there things that should never go through the washing machine?

A: I don’t think so. I think we all, at some point in our lives, need to go through a major cleanse. It’s like the drum of our washing machine – to wash away all the impurities on ourselves.

Q: „I didn’t say sorry, I said thank you“ is a quote from the book. Have you ever had to use that sentence in your life?

A: Going back to the first question, this would be the pinnacle of wisdom. So my answer is: Why not…?

Q: Assuming imagination is everyone’s personal kingdom, what does your kingdom look like?

A: I don’t have much of an imagination (Smiles – n.d.). I can’t say that I can produce the kind of spontaneous fiction that brings to the forefront heroes doing heroic feats. I’m not able to invent countries and eras like in science fiction, for example. My imagination works through very personal experiences. My real realm is the French language.

Q: Why isn’t there more dialogue in En Grand Lavoir as one would assume for this type of novel?

A: In the same way that I don’t have a very big imagination, I’m not very good at dialogue. But I also know that because I’m an actress and theatre is precisely the realm of dialogue, of lines, of conversation – so I prefer to look for those hidden areas in the play, in the music of syntax, of vocabulary, that allow me to go deep and examine things. I prefer to go through a description of a physical sensation, of smells, of touches – of something organic – to really get to the soul of the characters.

Q: Is it a matter of intuition or of accumulation?

A: It’s because I think my way of empathizing is very physical. I have an intimate and very intense feeling of my body with everything else – organically, in the universe. I think that’s a strength for my style.

Q: When you are translated into a language that is unfamiliar to you, are you interested in that language, what it sounds like, what your words might sound like…

A: Yes, for me that’s very important. Because there is a musical and poetic dimension to my writing, and I have absolutely no power over languages I don’t know.

Very often translators call me to find out exactly how a sentence should sound in order to apply it to their language. Because I speak German and Italian, I communicate a lot with my translators, and I know exactly what I want as a result.

Q: How does the Bulgarian language sound to you from what you hear?

A: I met a Bulgarian teacher in Sofia when I went to a meeting at the French high school. She read aloud, in Bulgarian, two pages of my book. The passage was chosen by me because it was very specific to my style and I had worked on it a lot. I asked her if the translation was good. Her eyes just lit up, and she said that indeed the text sounded great.

Q: Is Bulgaria an exotic country – from what you saw and felt?

A: I think Bulgaria is less exotic than the South of France. I was born in the eastern part of the country and I can say that cities like Sofia, Ljubljana, Novi Sad, Belgrade are closer to me than cities like Bordeaux, Nice, Marseille.

Indeed, I understand very little about my country in the south. I have to ask myself, in fact, why is this strange feeling of closeness I have to these Balkan countries, what is the reason for this feeling?

Q: Do you have this feeling towards another region of the world?

A: No, only towards Central Europe. Maybe in a previous life I was Czech or something…

Q: You quoted Francis Bacon a while ago speaking about „cerebral pessimism and nervous optimism“. What are you pessimistic about and what are you optimistic about in life – as a person?

A: That’s from three years ago, and my reasons for optimism have diminished since then [laughs]. I’m pessimistic about all the things that make our life a market economy. All this economic pressure that makes us constantly very profitable, very efficient, constantly connected – all this dehumanization of society, makes me very pessimistic.

To sum up, I can say that the ravages of capitalism are much deeper than we think. We are no longer people participating in the great human enterprise, but have become consumers and consumers. So to be a pessimist or an optimist in depth – the question is entirely political. But globally, still, I have confidence in humanity, in the human species.

Q: Do you like looking away when everyone around you is looking elsewhere?

A: This is wisdom. Not just the look, but the step to the side, as in the dance you turn to get out of the rut. In the French language, the verb délirer – to ramble, to dream – has an agricultural origin. When the plough comes out of the lane, the plough is said to be delirious. This going out of track is actually the vibration, the movement of real things in life. C’est la vie.

Q: Theatre, piano, singing, writing… Is there more in the description of what you do?

A: Yes. I had an extremely busy adolescence. I was extremely curious and inquisitive, greedy even. Music evokes movement, but we also find movement in phrasing. The phrase can be said out loud on stage. And nothing is more exciting and enriching to me than the opportunity to tie it all together, to bring it all together. This is where both beauty and power can be found.

Q: Would you return to Bulgaria as an actress? What would you present here, in a possible first encounter with the audience?

A: I would love to and I would be very happy. When I was walking around, I saw four theatres in just one street, and within several hundred meters. It’s great that Sofia is such a dynamic theatre city. Ever since ancient Greek tragedy, it’s a reflection of our societies.

So I have three ideas for a show in Bulgaria. The first is a Greek tragedy about the human condition, especially for women. As an ambassador of the French language, I would play Phaedra, which I recently performed in Paris.

In terms of the pressing issues of our modern world, I have a friend who writes plays. Her name is Carole Thibaud. She is preoccupied with issues related to feminism, but with a lot of humour. She reworks and uses as a basis fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Andersen. She manages to shine a light on these women’s issues – through an expression that is not so repulsive and heavy, but on the contrary very light and dynamic, so that a reconciliation between the sexes can be achieved.

Q: In recent years, more than one or two prominent intellectuals of Bulgarian origin have lived and worked in France. Have you had contact with any of them – Christo, Julia Krasteva, Tsvetan Todorov, Sylvie Vartan…

A: I know about them a lot but I was not aware that they were Bulgarian. When they were presented, it was never said that they were Bulgarians… I mean, we must have through they fell from the sky. These are people who mean a lot to me…

Q: How would you finish the sentence „I am a person who loves…“?

A: There are too many answers. I hesitate between a very trivial answer like „I love flowers“. I love Bulgarian sausages. I come from the Alsace region, which produces great ham, mortadella and all kinds of sausages. That is why I love pork.


About Даниел Димитров

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