INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR (by Deborah Siniscalco)

Q: The protagonist of “The Christian Kamikaze” is a sixty-year-old photo-journalist. Is it you?

A: Hemingway said “Every novel is more or less autobiographical”. And Pushkin: “Talk about what you know”. I’d say that Paolo Vida, the key character in my book, is like me in some ways and completely different in others. A writer builds up the characters in his story and then he moves them about in the great sea of objectivity. That’s the really creative side to this kind of work, but it’s also the most tormenting.

Q: How do you mean?

A: It’s difficult to keep the necessary distance from them. You end up identifying yourself with, or not liking your creations, depending. How can you be totally neutral?

Q: The novel’s plot is particularly original: it’s the story of an attack on Kabul, the first planned by a Christian who wants to blow himself up in a mosque. How did you get an idea like that?

A: I had already written a novel a few years ago, but I wasn’t satisfied with it and so it stayed at the back of a drawer. At the end of 2001 and during the following months I took a number of blows from life. Some of it was fate, some were mistakes I made and some of it was people’s cruel stupidity. At that time my level of desperation was decidedly high.

Q: Did you think about suicide?

A: Who hasn’t thought about it at least once in their lives? No, actually I decided to risk everything in Kabul, the hottest spot on the planet at that time. Today I would go to Baghdad. I said to myself: go on, put your life on the line. If your destiny is for them to kill you, it’s better for them to do it while you’re working. It’s what’s called “dying on the battlefield”, a nice death all things considered for a journalist and assiduous traveller like me. But I obviously didn’t think about any suicide attack.

Q: Did you get the idea for the novel in Kabul?

A: No, it was nearly a year after I came back. First of all I published various articles about the post-war period in the Afghan capital. I took about 5000 photos in three weeks, an average of 250 a day.

Q: What was the situation in Kabul like in spring 2002?

A: The war against the Taliban had finished a few months before. The atmosphere was still tense, but nothing dramatic happened. A few weeks after I left a car bomb exploded in Pashtunistan Square, where I often used to go and take photos: 50 people were killed.

Q: How long did it take you to write your novel?

A: About a year. Not a lot, if you consider that it’s 450 pages long and that I only write at night, between 11 and 2. I took a few weeks’ sabbatical in Sao Vicente (Cape Verde) and in Piedmont. About three weeks in all, shut inside a hotel, writing. If I did it full-time I could produce a novel a year, but unfortunately I have to do other things for a living, obviously in the field of writing and photography.

Q: The protagonist of your novel, Paolo Vida, is very harsh towards Islam.

A: He is a desperate man who wants to disappear off the face of the earth. More than Islam it’s armed extremism and fanaticism that he hates. But he doesn’t like western society either, for it has destroyed him with its speed and technology. He is a man who hates the whole world.

Q: What was the most difficult part to write?

A: The end. I had at least three possibilities and for a long time I couldn’t decide which to use. Then I chose the one that I hope you will read in my book, perhaps the least obvious.

Q: Are you afraid of possible violent reactions from the Muslim community?

A: My book is not a critical essay, but a novel. The protagonist sometimes says harsh things about Islam, but it’s not always what I think myself. And then there’s an interesting conclusion … I only hope that my work will be considered as a whole and not for any single passage that might well appear excessive.

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