THE PARIS RE-INTERVIEW: Ismet Prcic

Ismet Prcic, The Art of Fiction No. 1

Re-Interviewed by Brian Hurley

Shards by Ismet Prcic is the story of a Bosnian teenager who flees his war-torn country by falling in with a theater troupe. We’ve been raving about this novel since July 2009, and it seems to be catching on. Shards was triumphantly reviewed in The New York Times, where it was named a Notable Book of 2011, and today it was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

In the first installment of a new feature here at Fiction Advocate, we asked Ismet Prcic a number of questions selected (stolen) from past interviews in The Paris Review. These questions were originally answered by Woody Allen, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Ray Bradbury, Czeslaw Milosz, Salman Rushdie, and Gunter Grass.

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INTERVIEWER

Were you funny as a kid?

PRCIC

I was a funny-looking kid with a gargantuan head and a big ass. Most of my childhood was spent in a constant state of fear. Humor and clowning around were a way to survive elementary school. At that age I already suspected that the world was rigged. The first day of high school, knowing that nobody would know who I am, I created a funny, uncouth persona who wasn’t afraid to appear foolish, who didn’t care what people thought about him. It was amazing how my life changed after that, how much more fun I had from then on. It wasn’t until college in the U.S. that I learned about something called the performative nature of identity. Steve Martin has a joke about that. Someone asks him how he can be so fuckin’ funny and he answers that every morning he puts a bologna sandwich under each of his arms and he just feels funny.

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INTERVIEWER

Who are the writers who made you first want to write?

PRCIC

The first book that put the seed in my head of one day maybe being a writer was Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse. My mother’s copy of it was interesting to my fifteen-year-old self because the final part of the novel, “FOR MADMAN ONLY,” was printed in bright red. Mother said the book was probably too mature for me, and I should wait to read it. Of course I didn’t listen, and the book messed me up. I still remember viscerally how excited I felt when I realized what freedom a writer had to affect the reader by sheer manipulation of symbols on the page. Later, in Croatia, waiting for my immigration papers to arrive, I read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and was smitten. That’s the one that actually made me pick up a notebook and start writing a book. I still have it somewhere. It’s called The Man from the Light Bulb. It’s terrible, but you have to knock off some of those early books before you find the one that works.

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INTERVIEWER

Was your family supportive of your writing?

PRCIC

Nobody knew. I finished The Man from the Light Bulb in America while I was staying with my aunt and uncle. It was a little tense living with them for a while. I would walk to a local book store, find a quiet nook, and write until closing time. Once I took a writing class that my uncle paid for. I showed him my first assignment, a letter to an ancestor, and after reading the first paragraph while shaking his head, he told me I should start with action right away, the way Michael Crichton does. It was a foregone conclusion that we should one day find ourselves estranged.

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INTERVIEWER

Where did you do your acting?

PRCIC

In a dusty storage room of a youth center in Tuzla, at the Tuzla National Theater, in the performance space of the Army Headquarters, in an empty pond in the city park, on the streets of Edinburgh (I once almost got my head kicked in by a soccer hooligan in front of a pub in Grass Market district for refusing to get out of character), at the Riverside Studios in London, at Moorpark College, UCSD, and that’s about it, not including acting in real life, which is pretty much constant.

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INTERVIEWER

How autobiographical is your writing? And in what way?

PRCIC

“Life story” is an oxymoron. The only thing life and story have in common is that they have a beginning, middle and an end. That’s where the resemblance ends. I have a problem with autobiographies being called non-fiction. I can’t stand that we as readers are willing to constantly trick ourselves into believing that something as chaotic as a life, perceived through a set of fallible senses and filtered through a biased, fallible brain, translated into imperfect language, shoved into a box of orderly form called autobiography and edited for boredom is considered “true.” Shards is autobiographical in the sense that Ismet Prcic, the narrator, has been to some places I have, and done some things that I have. But Shards is in no way my life story, in no way “true.”

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INTERVIEWER

Can you give us an example of fiddling with the truth in order to arrive at a better fiction?

PRCIC

In order for me to juxtapose what really happened to me in Scotland and how that changed in the book, you would have to trust me that I know or recall what really occurred. Why would you believe me? Why would you believe any human to be capable of doing that? Story is the only truth we can have. We have to be satisfied with that.

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INTERVIEWER

What distortion of yourself do you find most troubling?

PRCIC

The weird thing is that I don’t feel troubled by these distortions of my identity. Other people seem more troubled. I got a pretty nasty letter from my paternal aunt who cursed me and my future children because I “blackened” my father’s name. She didn’t even read the book herself.

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INTERVIEWER

Could you possibly write an apolitical book?

PRCIC

All art is political by default. Even when you consciously try not to be political the absence of politics is making a political statement of sorts.

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INTERVIEWER

So how do you envision man’s future?

PRCIC

Which man? You gotta be more specific.

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INTERVIEWER

You once wrote a poem dedicated to Einstein.

PRCIC

No I didn’t. Who told you that? Eric? He’s lyin’!

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– Fiction Advocate

3 Comments

Filed under Hooray Fiction!, interview, Paris Re-Interview

3 Responses to THE PARIS RE-INTERVIEW: Ismet Prcic

  1. Pingback: THE PARIS RE-INTERVIEW: J. Boyett |

  2. Anonymous

    great book!!!!

  3. Anon

    Shards is a phenomenal read, and this interview is very thought-provoking. “Story is the only truth we can have.” Damn, that’s going in my next book.

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