A Writer Between Countries

more than a year ago
An interview with Bekim Sejranović by Roman Simić 

​Bekim Sejranović is not only a star of one literary genre, but many. He’s constantly on the move: traveling between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Norway. The only chance you have of catching this writer and adventurer is either in Rijeka or Oslo, Brčko or Hvar, or
Ljubljana or Zagreb. Literary awards are easy and don’t tie him down to the place: writing desks are everywhere. His writing is fed with travel and adventure. He’s equally at home on the North Sea and the Mediterranean, but perhaps most of all on the Sava and Danube rivers - where his latest novel, Your son, Huckleberry Finn, takes place. To be honest, Bekim
moves from adventure to adventure like an unbridled 20th-century version of Mark Twain's hero.

Roman: So, for starters: north or south, a river or the sea? What’s better?
I’d take them all - if I can… I like cross country skiing through Norwegian forests, I like taking a dip in the sea, and I like sailing the Savska Buba along the Sava. They all have their charms, and people get their kicks in all kinds of ways.

Roman: In some way your books always seem to revolve around growing up. You spent part of your childhood in Rijeka: a city known for its rock scene, peculiar vibe and mentality of its people, and it’s both an industrial city and a port city - unlike any other place in Croatia. How was Rijeka then, and how do you find it now?
Every now and then - every three to four years or so - I get a fit of nostalgia for Rijeka and go back. I rent an apartment for a time; sometimes for a few years. Last time I lived there for half a year; then the road takes me somewhere else. I was married twice to girls from Rijeka,
but instead of me going back to Rijeka, they ended up in Oslo where they are today (laughs). I have to write a story about "my" Rijeka. I hope I’ll do that one day. Well, I don’t know how others feel about those times, but for me they were the best years of my life; perhaps even the most important times for my development - at least that’s how I feel about it now. There were dozens and dozens of bands playing, so I also played with a few bands. We weren’t even just a garage band. But we were young, inexperienced, innocent, honest, hungry for success; that’s what we were all about. We played in basements and did concerts at Palach club. There, now I’m already getting nostalgic. Maybe I’ll try going back to Rijeka. It’s about time I started writing that book.

Roman: How much is traveling connected to writing, and how do they work together for you?
Ever since I can remember I’ve been traveling: I’m always on the move, always staying in one place temporarily. I’ve always been aware of the "temporary nature" of my visits to certain places. And I’ve always fought against the bureaucracy that seems to work against wanderers like me. I’m registered at three addresses but I don’t live at either of them. I'm
afraid of pathos, but in fact, life is one great journey, which in my opinion isn’t about arriving at your destination as quickly as possible (because that’s death). It’s about seeing as much as possible during your adventures; meeting as many people as possible; seeing new places;
listening to different stories from the same places or, vice versa, the same stories from different places. Traveling isn’t only about meeting other people. I’d say it’s actually more about getting to know yourself - your true self - without the wrappings imposed on us by society and civilization.

Roman: You’re not only a writer. Your son, Huckleberry Finn, is partially based on your experiences filming a documentary about your travels from Oslo, around Croatia to Bosnia, in an old VW beetle; then by boat along the Sava and Danube. Weren’t you supposed to go all the way to the Black Sea?
Well, yeah, but as you know we never made it because I was the captain, tour guide, producer, manager, and screenwriter. But like I said earlier, the Black Sea wasn’t our goal. But that trip I’ve managed to prolong for a few years. I’m still traveling towards the Black Sea, but I need a bigger boat than the Savska Buba.

Roman: You’ve always been a big fan of the sea and swimming - you’ve been to the Norwegian fjords and the sunny islands of the Adriatic - but don’t rivers have their own rules?
Yes, I obviously swim in the Adriatic sea all year round: summer and winter. But rivers? It’s a little harder to swim or float in fresh water than in the sea. There are also dangerous currents. But at least you’re always within sight of land.

Roman: After all these kilometres and countries, what according to you is still an adventure? And what’s left to be discovered?
I’m no longer looking for an adventure in the strict meaning of the word, because I don’t know if I was ever looking for one. Because in order to be an adventure - a real adventure - there must be some inherent danger or uncertainty: somebody might actually have to die. I’m a bit more “tranquillo”. The biggest adventure I have, is spending a weekend alone
with my daughter; getting to know her world and teaching her the mysteries of life; all the while speaking a mixture of Slovenian, Croatian, and Bosnia. There’s an adventure for you: every visit to see my daughter in Ljubljana is an adventure. I go to a foreign country, speak a foreign language, I get to know a child’s world; learn from it; every now and then there’s some excitement caused by some kind of hazard (Watch out for the car!), or there’s the genuine laughter of children. And not to mention visiting my eldest daughter in Oslo. Everything is an adventure - you just need to know how to have fun. When I was a child I would pretend to be Tarzan or some indian for days on end and nobody would even know.

Roman: Three special places: town squares, bays or mountains… for Bekim the writer.
The Sava, Rijeka and Nordmark (enormous forest north of Oslo).

Roman: Huckleberry Finn does not want to - or can’t - grow up. Is that a story of our times? And is there a happy ending?
Modern psychologists say so. They say that especially for males in our times, it’s impossible to grow up. And perhaps they’re right. Because there are fifty-year- old men playing video games; not to mention our addiction to social media which is devastating our society. On the other hand, what does it even mean to be grown up? To take care of yourself? Be responsible? I know many children who are more responsible and more aware of reality than their parents. I’m the best example for both cases: as a child and a parent.
Recently I’ve been asking people what they want out of life. Everybody more or less wants the same thing: to do something meaningful, to be financially independent, to be free, to have a roof over their head, not be hungry, have family and friends, to love and be loved, to give and to receive, to live in the moment and be strong when necessary. Life is simple. Just don’t be afraid and don’t take it too seriously. Time goes by; only stories are left behind.


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