I was recently pleased and surprised to discover that InTranslation, The Brooklyn Rail’s world lit site, had published an excerpt from Patrick Besson’s political thriller The River Will Kill the White Man in my translation. The novel, an intimate, ambitious geopolitical oil intrigue set in Africa, won a French Voices grant, though it has yet to find an English language publisher. To commemorate that publication (since I’ve never yet mentioned it on this site), I’ve unearthed an interview I did two years ago with Besson, for The Chattahoochee Review.
Born in 1956 to a Croatian mother and a Russian father, the unpredictable Patrick Besson burst precociously onto the scene with his first novel in 1974. He has since produced, with the same dizzying force that informs his headlong prose, more than twenty books, including his Croatian saga Dara (Albin Michel), winner of the 1985 Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie Française. The Prix Renaudot and Prix Populiste followed ten years later, for his novel Les Braban (Albin Michel, 1995); in the meantime, he was dubbed “The Prince of Paradox” for shocking the world by championing Mike Tyson and the Serbians.
Besson has published more than 40 books—novels, story collections, and nonfiction. He is also a journalist for leading French newspapers Le Figaro, L’Humanité, and VSD. Communist by birth, polemicist by practice, prodigy by talent, and enfant terrible by trade, he shows great generosity towards young writers and contempt for Parisian literary circles, of which he is nevertheless a figure who values most, in his own words, “intellectual brutality.
1) Writers are often asked where they get their ideas, but in your case it might be better to ask: where do you get your opinions? Lively, witty, incisive, they litter and pepper your prose. How do you manage to arrive at your judgments—on characters, on politics—so quickly and accurately? Is it columnist’s habit, or rather an illusion of innumerable revisions?
I write both fiction and journalism. These are two very different professions, since one consists of closing yourself off to the world and the other of opening yourself up to it. My many opinions come from the many subjects that present themselves to me as a journalist, but it is the writer in me who drafts them.
2) Tell us a bit about the inspiration for your latest novel, The River Will Kill the White Man (Fayard 2009), from which the excerpt in this issue is taken. There seem to be hints, in the tone, of Graham Greene’s dry and brittle disillusion. Did you have other authors in mind when you decided to use the genre of political intrigue?
Yes, I have great admiration for Graham Greene and am always a bit sad when English writers visiting Paris tell me no one reads him anymore in England. I was also paying tribute to John Le Carré with this particular novel. » Read the rest of this entry «