Anna Berseneva: "The temptation of private life" is my "Twenty Years Later"

Anna Berseneva: "The temptation of private life" is my "Twenty Years Later"
Anna Berseneva: "The temptation of private life" is my "Twenty Years Later"
30 October 2020, 16:38
The writer and literary critic tells the story of the creation of his new novel, which became a sequel to the books The Weaknesses of a Strong Woman and Jealous Sadness.

In October, a new book by the famous writer, screenwriter and literary critic, whose reviews regularly appears in Novye Izvestia, by Anna Berseneva, The Temptation of Private Life, was published. It's always a great occasion to ask long-overdue questions to your favorite author.

Olga Aminova

- I'll start with the title "The temptation of private life" - can there be a temptation to public life?

Sure. It is obvious that there may be a temptation to replace your own life with a stormy social activity, thus making up for some personal complexes. Any socially experienced person recognizes such "seduced" immediately. On the one hand, on this scale, there is Griboyedov's Repetilov, on the other - a whole host of guardians who strangle all living things. Well, I wrote about the temptation to go into private life in those days when the life of society is disgusting and participation in it breaks either fate or personality. Unfortunately, many people here and now understand this temptation.

- How did the idea of this novel come about? What caused the appeal to its main topic?

The idea came up completely unexpectedly for me. In 1995, I wrote a novel The Weaknesses of a Strong Woman, and soon the second book of this dilogy, Jealous Sadness. By the way, my first independent script was subsequently based on them, and the series turned out to be good, in my opinion. It was the story of a woman named Lera Vologdina, who in the 90s had to quit her graduate school in art history at Moscow State University and become a shuttlewoman in order to somehow survive and allow her relatives to survive. And then she realized that a sharp, but for those years, a typical change in activity completely changed her herself, and not at all for the worse, as she initially thought. It was a story of bright and free self-realization in difficult and free time, as I would call it. I really love this heroine, there is a lot of me in her, not eventful, but in essence. Maybe more than in the heroes of my other books, although, of course, you give yourself to all of them one piece at a time. In this dilogy there is also the love of the heroine for a rare, extraordinary person. In general, I had something to love these books for, and I republished them many times over the course of more than twenty years, without changing anything in them. And now a couple of years ago I receive a letter from a reader who first came across that dilogy. She wrote me a lot of good and pleasant for each author and asked if I was going to write a sequel about these heroes. I must say, I had no such idea, and I had already begun to write to her about it ... When I suddenly realized that I not only wanted to return to Lera Vologdina and Mita Gladyshev, but I simply could not return without returning to them now. What is vital for me is to immerse them in today's reality, in which they, people who have achieved a lot with their mind, talent, and work, find themselves in the middle of a sea of public lies, which is called post-truth and is considered the norm. They very adequately responded to the challenges of the times of changes that were so difficult in the 90s. And how they will respond to the challenges of today's change - it was vitally important for me personally to understand. Thus, the dilogy became a trilogy, supplemented by The Temptation of Private Life. These are my "twenty years later".

- You mentioned the series based on the first two novels (2008, director B. Gorlov, starring D. Poverennova, Ye. Barinov, D. Spivakovsky, D. Nagiev, I. Lachina). Do you think the sequel will be filmed?

I would like that, of course. And I will write the script even now, and there will be producers, but I have worked with good producers for many years, and the series that resulted from this work went on with great success. But a sober view of reality makes one skeptical about the possibility of a television sequel. The propaganda dump, into which television has been turned, is unlikely to be interested in the story of how decent people do not live by lies, what dangers they face at the same time and what they have to sacrifice for this. Yes, if interest suddenly arose, then along with it would arise the demand for such a compromise, which makes no sense to go. I say this knowing full well that cinema is a continuous compromise, natural and inevitable for collective creativity. But in this case, it would not be about creativity. Although, of course, I do not exclude the possibility that the continuation of the series will be done.

- Lera Vologdina in the first two books is a young woman, and in "The Temptation of Private Life" she is 20 years older. What changes should a person be afraid of with age?

Each of these fears are different, I guess. For me - the hardening of the soul, the extinction of interest in life. Well, for Lera too. In this new book she is ready for a lot to avoid such extinction. But she realizes in time that she is not ready for everything. I am definitely not ready to renounce myself, from my essence.

- I know that in defining the genre of your novels there have always been some difficulties: someone referred them to the category of love, someone - social, someone called urban. How do you define the genre in which you work?

Fortunately, they were not called love, at least by those who read them. I do not remember many works of world literature, in which it is not said about love, but I can endlessly list novels that are not called love because they say about this feeling. As for the definition of "urban novels", then, to tell the truth, I myself suggested calling them that, so that the question "what are you writing about?" do not answer "about life." Well, yes, their heroes are city dwellers, and they have the same life that we all lead. They work, love, get married, get divorced, make friends, travel - in general, they do what all people do in their ordinary life. Hopefully, they don't become commonplace.

- How many years have you been in the writing profession? And can literary creativity be called a profession?

I wrote my first book in 1994 with only one thought: I wonder what will I get? From the fear that nothing would work out, then I came up with a pseudonym for myself. But already while I was writing that first book, I began to understand that my state of affairs during this work somehow differs from ordinary curiosity. And soon I clearly realized that this occupation was becoming so important for me that I would like not to leave it as long as I have enough strength. Is it a profession? I do not know. Many people say that the professional is the one who is paid for his work. In this sense, my literary work can be called a profession. At the same time, I know a lot of people who do not receive adequate money for their literary work, but this only testifies to the unfavorable social situation, and not to their lack of professionalism. As well as vice versa - there are well-paid writers who create crafts that are indecent to be called professional. Therefore, I would not make a financial distinction. But here's what I know for sure: it is impossible, impossible to start a new book with the consciousness of your experience. If you don't start writing like the first time, then you are not a professional, no matter how much you get paid.

- What is the peculiarity of today's time for a writer?

There is, of course, the temptation to remember about “there were worse times, but there were no mean ones,” the triumph of lies disposes to this. But there have also been vile times, in our country for sure. One day Robert McKee wrote his book for me like this: "Write honestly about what you think and feel." In my opinion, it makes sense to achieve exactly this from yourself, and times will catch up.

- The object of the depiction of all your novels is a person. And the main medium for his comprehension is the family. Why now, when the institution of the family is losing its former significance, are you still interested in family history?

I do not notice that the institution of the family is losing its significance. The idea of what a family can be is expanding, this is obvious. Well, all social institutions have changed markedly in comparison with the Stone Age. However, the need to have close people in a person has not disappeared and, I think, will never disappear. So interest in family history - to that from which the human personality and, accordingly, the life of countries and peoples - will not disappear either.

- Do not your regular readers express dissatisfaction with the fact that the socio-political atmosphere of our life is reflected in the latest books of Anna Berseneva? And by the way, did it really become like that or was there always an image of the life of society in them?

But why in the latest books? I've always had it that way. Well, of course, someone is now making claims from the category "why did you start writing about politics?" But first, it is strange to call “politics” that which most directly affects the daily life of every ordinary person. And secondly, I have forty books, and it is difficult for me to name the events of the Russian XX, and now the XXI century, through which their heroes would not have passed. It would be surprising if they did this from the comfort of their bedroom. And it causes bewilderment that they have only now come to their senses with such claims. In my books, the heroes, moreover, the main ones, participated in all social events of the 90s and early 2000s, including, for example, the Chechen wars - and readers have always taken this naturally, saw in this an opportunity for expressive manifestation of characters. Something makes me think that the current lamentations do not come mainly from readers, but from specially trained comrades, after whom easily manipulated people can catch up, of course.

- Flaubert wrote: "If a work of art does not bother you, then it does not reach the highest goal of art." But can a work be universal in its effect - equally excite both the inexperienced reader and the aesthete?

I think if we are talking about the ability to excite, then this is the only way it can be - the impact of a work of art can only be universal. People perceive the peculiarities of the plot, style, poetics in general in different ways. But the possibility of an emotional response is either contained in the book or not, regardless of all its other characteristics. And if an emotional response to artistically valuable books does not arise, then this is already evidence of the reader's problems.

- You often communicate with your readers. Has their portrait changed over the years?

I would say that the set of books that everyone read has changed. This is understandable: our life is now not unified as it was during the time of the meagerly uniform criteria of everything and everyone. Yes, it can be difficult when you realize that you and your interlocutor do not have a common basis for perceiving literature. This is frustrating, of course. But at the same time, with a mentally and morally competent person - and the reading person is nevertheless more often than not - there is always a common basis. In this sense, I do not see any dramatic changes in the reading environment.

- "The Temptation of Private Life" was published in print, and before that - in electronic and audio format. From your point of view, has the ratio of readers who prefer this or that book format changed?

Of course it has changed. The number of readers preferring the new formats is growing. Why, I myself already prefer e-books with their widespread availability, although a few years ago I had no idea that this could happen to me. But at the same time, around me, the overwhelming majority of people whom I value as readers perceive only the paper version as a book. And I understand them perfectly. In general, I am glad to any expansion of creative possibilities, including in the field of books.

- For three years you have been leading the column “My Literary Prize on Wednesdays” on Facebook and Telegram. Unlike large literary prizes, the jury of which consists of dozens of people, you distribute the prize individually. What is special about your awards?

Well this is a humorous title, of course! And the prize is hypothetical. I came up with this rubric when one day I realized that my personal reading in Russian is almost completely different from the one that is recommended through the award of literary prizes. And yet I am not the least prepared reader. Well, I also wanted to express my reading opinion. But for a long time I cannot afford to work as an acting literary critic, although I started my life in the literary world with this. Since I write books myself, it is unethical on my part to declare somewhere outside my personal circle of contacts “but the author N. writes badly”. However, to name the authors who, in my opinion, write well - why not? So my “literary prize” has only one criterion: I “award” it only to those books that I can recommend for reading precisely because I enjoy reading them myself.

- And I can't do without the traditional question, because the answer is traditionally interesting: what are you working on now?

Since The Temptation of Private Life was published two years after it was written, during this time I wrote the first novel of the new trilogy. Its action takes place in the present and in the past, as in many of my books. The past in it is the 20s of the twentieth century. The place of action is Moscow and Belarus, also in the present and in this very past. In the next two books, these locations will be preserved, only the time of the past will change - these will be the 30s, and then the 50s. Believe it or not, I started writing this trilogy when it was impossible to imagine that Belarus would be in the center of attention of the whole world. I just always knew that at some point this dear country, where I spent my childhood and youth, should become the scene of my books. Moreover, it is precisely in the connection with Moscow dear to me, which is in my whole life. I am very glad that this coincided with Belarus entering the world arena as an example of human dignity.

Novye Izvestia briefing note:

The real name of Anna Berseneva is Tatyana Sotnikova. Graduated from the Faculty of Journalism of the Belarusian State University and graduate school of the Literary Institute named after AM Gorky (Moscow) with a degree in literary theory. Candidate of Philology, Associate Professor of the Department of Literary Translation of the Literary Institute. Numerous critical and literary articles were published in literary periodicals (magazines "Continent", "Znamya", "Voprosy literatury", "Literary Review", etc.), in encyclopedias. Author of monographs for schoolchildren about Mayakovsky and Chekhov. In 1995, under the pseudonym ANNA BERSENEVA, she published her first novel. Currently, more than 40 books have been published, the total circulation of which has exceeded 5 million copies. She is a screenwriter for series based on her novels "The Captain's Children", "The Weaknesses of a Strong Woman", "The Ermolovs", "Fortune-telling by Candlelight", "Serious Relationship". In co-authorship with her husband, writer Vladimir Sotnikov, scripts were written for the TV series Vangelia, Personal Circumstances, Orlova and Alexandrov, and Guardian Angel.

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