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15 July 2019

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“I WROTE MY MOST IMPORTANT BOOKS IN SWITZERLAND”

Martine Brocard, Business mir #38 - 2016-04 MAIL PRINT 
A popular author in Pushkin’s country, Mikhail Shishkin has been living in Switzerland for over 10 years, a time away that has allowed him to see his homeland through a Swiss prism.
Russia was guest of honour at this year’s book fair in Geneva. Business Mir took this opportunity to meet the emblems of this literature in full swing. Mikhail Shishkin is one of them. Author of “The taking of Izmail” and “Maidenhair”, both of which have earned him numerous prizes in Russia and abroad. He has been living in Zurich for over 10 years. With Business Mir, he talked about “Russian Switzerland: a historical and literary guide”, which he came to present in Geneva.
Is Russian Switzerland more aimed at Russian or Swiss readers?
I wrote this book for Russian readers. It’s an attempt at understanding Russia by way of Switzerland.
That said, I think it might interest Swiss readers to look at their country in a Russian mirror, even if it is somewhat deforming – a Russian proverb goes, “Don’t blame the mirror for your crooked face.”
When the Russian newspaper Vedomosti asked you in an interview why you had written the book, you answered, “I have written the history of my imaginary country: Russian Switzerland.” What kind of place is this Russian Switzerland in which you live? It’s a country with a global culture?
It’s a country with a global culture; a country in which people understand each other because they want to; a country whose language flows through books, paintings, music and art – culture in its broadest sense. In this country, it doesn’t much matter whether one is Russian or Swiss, what counts is to feel like a citizen of this global culture.
In the same interview you said, “Nearly all those who made Russian culture and ruined Russian history spent time in Switzerland. This country makes it possible to grasp why Russians are who they are.” Could you elucidate?
One needs a mirror to see oneself. Russian authors gazed upon the Alps and saw the Russian plains. Russian literature has made Switzerland into an occidental symbol by virtue of its complete contrast to Russia. In Switzerland everything works the other way around: the state counts less than private life, no grand ideologies demand self-sacrifice, but the bank account guarantees a good future for the kids. It’s in part why, to Russians, Switzerland has come to represent paradise on one hand, and boredom on the other. In that setting, everyone was able to go about his business: the authors built culture; the revolutionaries trashed history.
You define yourself as “a Russian author living abroad.” What do you mean by that?
When one speaks about Russians living abroad, it’s usually the word “émigré” that comes to mind. It seems inexact in my case. Emigration means one can’t go home. It was writers’ spiritual energy that left Russia after the revolution. I am a Russian citizen, and I often go back to Moscow. In that sense, I am a free citizen of a free country.
You’ve been living in Switzerland for over ten years now; has it influenced your writing style?
Tell me about it! I found myself in a place where no one spoke Russian around me. That’s precisely what helped me. How else could one pin point what’s been lost? I wrote my most important books in Switzerland. Writing is absorbing your surroundings: your close friends and family, the city, the wind, death. And here, Switzerland is what surrounds me.
Are you working on a new book right now?
Yes, but I won’t talk about it.
What else do you do when you’re not writing?
I have worked as a translator for various firms and for the federal and cantonal migrations department. But owing to my growing fame as a writer, people have stopped calling me for those types of jobs. All I have left now is my author’s salary. It’s impossible to live on it, but I live.
Martine Brocard, Business mir #38 - 2016-04  MAIL PRINT 
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Ежедневные новости и аналитика из Швейцарии и Европы, политика, экономика, интервью

Daily news and analytics from Switzerland and Europe, policy, economy, interview