Justo Navarro (Granada, 68 years old) has published Bologna Boogie (Anagram, hallmark of most of his narrative work). His friends, countless, even if they do not see each other, because he lives in Nerja (Málaga), far from the world, typing novels, doing translations, consider that his silence is worth gold, because when he interrupts it it is only to warn that what he has been thinking, and writing is the consequence of a calm and sharp wisdom, like that of a scalpel. This interview, made before the sea of Malaga, has its roots in his latest novel, which is about life when Italy (and Spain) lived the embers or the reality of fascism. Until now, he says, he has been fleeing the pandemic, in his town and in Bologna, where this latest book originates.
Ask. How have you experienced this suspended health?
Answer. We are in an age of general suspension. All times are of crisis, but this is a very peculiar crisis, because it affects health. It is a time of terrible economic instability, primarily for the young, but also for middle-aged people who lose their jobs. And they do not know if they will be able to go back to work, if they will go to the streets at an age where it will be difficult for them to find a new job. A worrying situation because it not only affects physical health, but also mental health.
P. Has it affected you personally?
R. Not me, because I was working in Bologna. In September I caught covid, I don't know why, I always wear a mask, I keep my distance, and even so I also caught a heavy flu. I had a hard time getting out of bed and into life.
P. Being in Italy is a tonic for you, anyway.
R. I was in the 1992-1993 academic year at the Academy of Rome and it was fundamental. I wrote there practically The father's house. It was a general change of mentality, of writing, of everything. An intimate revolution, although there was a moment when I felt sunk. But now, whenever I return to Italy, for me it is a reason for happiness. I spent these months in Bologna going to the newspaper library to see what happened in 1947, when the novel takes place. It was a happy work time seeing a world that was a revelation for me, the postwar era. I saw the rhetoric of the newspapers, the photos, the brands, the advertisements. Then I would see on the internet how the labels of the bottles, the caps, what the tobacco packages were made… Everything is in the newspapers, you know. My friend the poet José Carlos Rosales asked me if he knew of any poem that deals with newspapers, and I remembered these verses by Félix Grande: “Today the newspaper brings blood, as usual.”
Most of the things in front of us we do not see. And for me writing is precisely the attempt to see what is not seen at first sight
P. A famous verse from Requiem, by José Hierro, picks up an obituary from a New York newspaper…
R. Well, I was telling Rosales what was in the newspapers and I realized that in that count of 1947 the booklets of rationing, the price of meat, sugar, how barber prices rose, how much the tram ride was worth, what radio programs were playing … In Bologna Boogie appear the hours of the broadcasts, the Giro incidents, who Bolonia plays against … And what José Carlos Rosales tells me: today you don't find any of that in the newspapers … But internet brings other good things.
P. Maybe newspapers are imagination longer, so you can reconstruct that time almost exactly as it happened …
R. I believe that newspapers, or that type of newspaper, only with the typography of the advertising or the distribution of the page or the sections are even talking about what they don't want to talk about, because of the prominence they give to the news or the publicity they put next to it. Accustomed to reading newspapers since you were a child, you know how to get into that little hieroglyph that is not explicit, but there it is. You just have to see the meaning.
P. His latest books are contemporaries of fascism or its fall. Does the aroma of that time return now?
R. I want to think not. Hitlerites, for example, ran in elections, although they were explicitly anti-democratic. The first objective of the fascists was to end democratic politics. The parafascists or the extreme right of today show themselves in their rhetoric as democrats, and for the moment they do not say that they do not want to respect the democratic rules, even if certain parties are against the majority of the Constitution. But I think that this implicit undemocratic attitude does not exist. That they have it as a hidden program perhaps, but they do not explicitly manifest it as the fascists and Hitlerites did, who were obviously undemocratic.
P. His character is a Spaniard from Zamora who passes through Granada and stops in Bologna. Why that axis?
R. In Bologna there is a very strong link with Spain, in the Royal College of Spain in Bologna. It is founded in the Middle Ages and brings together the best of Spanish academic life there. The Bolonians are an academic elite. At that time, 1947, the Colegio de España had been closed since 1936, and it resumed its activity a year later. It was run by a native of Granada and the school welcomed certain guests from families well. I imagined that a law professor was staying there as a guest. I thought that this man, for some reason, had disappeared, and that the good family from which he came cared for him. So the civil government of Granada sent a person they trust to look for their son. That envoy would be, in the novel, Commissioner Polo, the same one who prepared the security system in Granada that monitored Eva Perón's first visit to Spain. Polo did not exist, but there was someone who served me as a model, a Jesuit who was my spiritual director in the Marists. His eyes were very large, like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, and like Commissioner Polo.
P. You are usually associated with the crime novel, the one that according to Albert Camus could end the taste for literature.
R. Because Camus didn't like black! At that time Camus was a very ugly color. The noir was invented by Gallimard, the publisher that popularized this type of novel. In Italy there were the black shirts, but the crime novels had a yellow cover, so they are called giallo, as the color. Black can be a beautiful color, and literature of that color can also be written very well.
R. Well, literature is also made with words. It is not that in me there is a will to style or anything like that. It is my way of speaking, my way of thinking, my desire to always be clear and precise. I also believe that those who write should enjoy their work tool. Imagine a mechanic who doesn't like tools and who doesn't like to get his hands dirty. You have to enjoy when you write, you have to enjoy the work tool, how the pieces fit together, that the engine works, go.
P. What encourages your style?
R. I started reading as a child. It made me sick and tried to go to school as little as possible. I cried at night, did not want to go. And he filled the time reading novels by Plaza y Janés and Queralt, which were published by the Americans and the English. And then there were two writers who were essential to me, Marcel Proust and Kafka, even Malcolm Lowry from Under the Volcano… I am still convinced about Proust by the mental thread that carries what is written, and Kafka has taught me precision, forcefulness, attention to unsuspected details. Most of the things in front of us we do not see. And for me writing is precisely the attempt to see what is not seen at first glance, things that seem absurd or seem nonsense and that illuminate an instant of reality or give or change its meaning. I've never been looking for a voice. I believe that each person has the voice that they inevitably have.
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