Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Interview with novelist João Cerqueira

Novelist João Cerqueira joins me today to chat about his new literary fiction, Jesus and Magdalene.

João Cerqueira is the author of eight books.

The Tragedy of Fidel Castro won the USA Best Book Awards 2013, the Beverly Hills Book Awards 2014, the Global Ebook Awards 2014, was finalist for the Montaigne Medal 2014 (Eric Offer Awards) and The Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards 2014 and was considered by ForewordReviews the third best translation published in 2012 in the United States. Besides the US, it is published in Italy by Leone Editore, in the UK by Freight Books in Spain by Funambulista and Argentina by Eduvim.

The short story “A House in Europe” won the 2015 Speakando European Literary Contest, received the bronze medal in the Ebook Me Up Short Story Competition 2015 and an honorable mention in the Glimmer Train July 2015 Very Short Fiction Award.

The short story “The Dictator and Poetry” was published in the 2016 Bombay Review Anthology.

Welcome, João. Please tell us about your current release.
Jesus and Magdalene won the silver medal in the 2015 Latino Book Award, the silver medal in the 2016 Hungry Monster Book Awards, the silver medal in the 2017 Feathered Quill Book Awards, was nominated for the official selection of the New Apple Book Awards 2016, was nominated book of the year 2016 by Latina Book Award, and was considered by the unheard-voice.blogspot one of the best books published in 2015. It will be published in Spain soon.

What inspired you to write this book?
Religion has played an important role in my cultural development. I was christened, I went to catechism classes, I was confirmed and I went to mass until the age of fourteen. I wanted to create something truly original, involving contemporary problems, politics, the existence of God and human nature using facts, humor, and irony. For example, the relation between Christianity and Ecology or why there are so many racial conflicts. Jesus and Magdalene don’t give answers, but present questions. Why there is so much violence? Why there is so much stupidity? Are we really so much different from other animals? My novels satirize modern society and use irony and humor to provoke reflection and controversy.

Excerpt from Jesus and Magdalene:
“Look, one day I’ll die, my body will be buried, eaten by worms, dissolved into the earth, then some plant will feed on my molecules and a part of me will be transformed into oxygen. Finally, some animal or person will breathe me and I will become part of that being. This will be my resurrection.”
“I just hope you won’t be breathed in by some polluter,” Jesus said.
            Magdalene shot him a puzzled look. “So, I’ll probably go to heaven and, at some point, I’ll meet you there too...”
“Most likely.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am writing a novel about Communism, Perestroika and the fall of the Berlin wall. The Stalin or Lenin ghost could be one of the characters. I hope to be published in the next year.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was lucky enough to inherit my father’s book collection with hundreds of books including all of the classics. From The Canterbury Tales to Don Quixote, all the major titles were there. At eighteen I read East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Another important book was Pär Lagerkvist’s The Dwarf, the protagonist of which was incapable of feeling anything else for humanity other than hatred and contempt, which also fascinated me. At that time, I also read Cosmos by Carl Sagan, which taught me to understand the universe; I learned that the stars and I were made of the same stuff – this idea is in The Tragedy of Fidel Castro - and that many of them although still visible, may no longer exist. These are the books that initiated me into adulthood.

I then read two remarkable works: 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the dystopian prophecies of which are, for some, now coming true. Years later I rediscovered Orwell when I wrote Art and Literature in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell fought against Fascism, but in the end the Communists wanted to kill him too. Homage to Catalonia describes this tragic experience that leads to books such as 1984 and Animal Farm. I have a great admiration for this man.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am full-time writer, but sometimes I also give classes of art history.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I used quirk humor to show that religious or political dogmas always lead to fanaticism both religious or political (radical ecology). Human beings are different from other animals because they have the ability to think, to question things and to laugh. That is why we have democracy and freedom - and some cultures do not. If you have sense of humor, you will accept much better the complexity of our world.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a doctor.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Let me share another excerpt from Jesus and Magdalene:
In the middle of all this amazing urban wildlife, where there was no shortage of dogs more ferocious than any Roman mastiff, the only thing that seemed familiar was a group of longhaired, bearded hippies, dressed in purple and selling jewelry. These entrepreneurs whom the state would never support, whom liberals refused to embrace, and whom conservatives ignored in their resistance to change may have been the only ones to recognize him, because when he approached they immediately said, “peace and love” to him—a modern, floral, and hallucinogenic version of “peace be with you.”


Thanks for being here today!

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