Luisa Etchenike: “Today’s silence is revolutionary”

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cross the water (“Night”) is a simple, but deep, poetic, subtle novel. The three main characters, Irene, Manuela and Juan Camilo, have a past that torments them and that they need to overcome. They can’t do it alone, but maybe together they can. It is a romance with different voices and tones that does not hide the pain, but above all, gives room for a hopeful vision of a person. Louis Etchenike explores various topics, focusing on emigration and exile. He also reflects on the importance of language and how it interacts with silence. In 2007, Ethénique was awarded the title of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government. In 2013, the San Sebastian City Council awarded him the Citizen Service Medal. Before cross the water (2022), published other novels such as birds of paradise (2019) absolute presence (2018) sound detective (2011) blind corner (Basque Country Prize 2009), black fish (2005) or Came (2000). In addition, she is the author of theatrical works.

Q: One of the most wonderful and original things in cross the water it is an approach to immigration; Manuela, an immigrant from Colombia, does not want to return to her country…

A: The novel already tells us about movements from the title. To cross means to leave the shore of something and go to another place, even far from the starting point. There are various “migrations” in the novel, and some of them are literal, because indeed Manuela, one of the main characters, leaves Colombia with her son to settle among us. But the three main characters of the book have a difficult, dark past, and therefore they do not want to return, on the contrary, they sincerely want to cross paths, to leave that darkness behind. But Manuela’s case also allowed me to explore the topic of “classic” migration, and I wanted to break with that cliché that migrants are always nostalgic, they always want to come back. I wanted to discover other possibilities in the novel, but my Manuela does not want to go back, but only to look forward, to concentrate all her energy on creating a new life.

AT: cross the water he has this prose of his, so essential and precise, sometimes poetic. His style reminds me of what Borges said about poetry, which, he said, was supposed to “communicate a concrete fact and touch us physically, like the proximity of the sea.”

A: This style is the result of much thought, which is reflected in each of my books, on how to make the words, phrases, voices created by writing audible. We live in an increasingly noisy world, a world of sonic and visual richness. I think what is really revolutionary, subversive today in this sense is the silence and sobriety of images. And it is very important to bring this subversive activity to a written state. And I try to do that, to focus my sentences and my images on what is essential, and surround them with a kind of bubble of silence so that they can be heard. Like the soundboard of a musical instrument, it multiplies the sound.

P: There are words that hurt and silence that heals, even if they scream loudly.

A: Silence plays a special role in the novel because one of the main characters, Juan Camilo, a child, chose to remain silent. He’s the keeper of a very tough, very aggressive secret, and he’s afraid he won’t be able to keep it to himself. What he really cares about is how to speak and be silent at the same time, he is afraid that he does not know how to do it, that the secret will eventually slip if he speaks. An important part of the plot is built around this mystery and this silence, which for me is also a way to emphasize – when we see, for example, how verbal violence grows in networks – that words can hurt deeply. There is a constant movement in the novel between language that hurts and language that heals; and the same with silence: there is an aggressive and completely harmless silence.

Q: A story about three characters who depend on each other to save themselves.

A: The three protagonists, Irene, Manuela and Juan Camilo, are very different, having in common that at the beginning of the novel they are connected to a very harsh past. The novel will open paths for them, bridges along which they can cross to the other side. It will not be an easy path and they will need help, help each other. Together they will weave – in the novel, weaves are very important – the form of a network that can support them. Faced with this primordial darkness, they will build beacons, sources of light to orient themselves and give themselves the possibility of a different future. In that sense, I would say that despite the harshness it contains, it is a brilliant novel.

Q: Yes, it’s a light novel, but darkness plays an important role.

A: Yes, darkness as a metaphor, but also literally. Because Irene was a famous fashion designer and suddenly one day, as a result of an accident, she lost her sight. And with him all the references, material, emotional and symbolic, with which he “stitched” his life. She becomes a stranger to herself; blindness in this sense is also a violent migration that joins the migration of Manuela and Juan Camilo, as well as the blindness of other characters who are “secondary” in presence, but not in the weight of the narrative.

Q: Did you find it difficult to write about blindness? How was the process of assigning a theme?

Answer: This is a very important question. I didn’t want to document myself, search scientific or other pages in search of “knowledge” about blindness. I wanted to talk not about a category or about blindness in general, but about blindness in all its specificity and originality. And I felt able to imagine the impact of this darkness on her daily life, on her relationship with space… as well as on her emotional and affective life. But there is one thing I needed to ask because it was supposed to be the basis of the scene in the novel. I wanted to know if a person who is blinded after seeing retains mental images (faces, landscapes, objects…) and dreams with images. And I, too, did not want to go to specialists and not on the Internet, but to direct testimony. And I asked a woman who became blind as an adult. She told me that these mental and dream images remain for a while, but then, little by little, they disappear.

Q: Finally, I would like to ask you about the men in the novel. AT cross the water women are very popular, but characters like Elias or Andoni also play a key role.

A: There are many men in the novel, and all of them are important to the story in one way or another, even if some of them occupy little space in the text. These people are going to connect with one of the main themes of the book, which is violence. And if you put them, as it were, on a colored strip, then some are in the red zone of this violence, others are in the border zone, and still others are in a completely green zone. I used to talk about fighting clichéd thought; The novel also combats gender stereotypes. It also causes them to cross different shores. All the men in the book are different, in everything, including in relation to violence against women. And women are different too. Crossing the water also wants to bring identity into the interrogative movement, into the movement.

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