Katarina Bivald: “After the success of my first novel, all my plants have died”

escritora katarina bivald
*Puedes leer la versión española de esta entrevista aquí

Katarina Bivald (Sweden, 1983) is one of the publishing phenomena of the moment. Her first book, The Reader of Broken Wheel Recommend which has been sold in Spain under the title La biblioteca de los finales felices (Planeta) by one of those miracles of “translation” is already sold in 25 countries and has had the approval of critics and the public. Overcoming, humor and hope that it is never too late to reinvent yourself are the ingredients with which the writer sweeten the lives of the ordinary people, ordinary people that this writer has managed to become in protagonists and heroes of everyday life.

In escribientes.com we interviewed Katarina Bivald, who returns now with Déjate de chorradas y búscate una vida (Planeta), a novel that continues the style fresh and optimistic of the Swedish author.

katarina bivald

Your first novel was published in more than twenty countries. With this precedent, did you write the second novel afraid?
Strangely, no. I had too much to do to be really afraid: the first year I wrote on it I also worked full time and traveled quite a lot to bookshops to talk about my first novel. I was afraid that I would never write a second book, but I wasn’t afraid about the reception of it, or whether it would be as successful or what other people would think about it.

Now, with my third book, that I’m writing at the moment, I am suddenly terrified. Maybe I really can’t write. Perhaps I shouldn’t even call myself a writer. I might never do my idea justice. The idea itself might be terrible. And I know write full time, so I have a lot of time to think about it. I guess that’s part of the job. I think the day I stop doubting my abilities will be the day I stop learning.

Your new novel speaks of the emptiness that a single mother feels when her daughter leaves home. What would cause Katarina Bivald that empty feeling?
Lots of things. I think we all sometime feel like we’ve lost a sense of direction in our lives. Changes; lack of changes; almost anything can make us ask ourselves what we’re really doing in life. And I think that’s a good thing, if it leads us to ask more questions about what we want and then go out and try to get it.

Annette has left her dreams in “pause” to care for her daughter. Now she realizes she does not know give the “play”. Women understand the motherhood wrong?
No, I don’t think so. Annette was happy caring for her daughter. And then, perhaps, she was comfortable doing it. In the first years her life had to revolve around her daughter, and as the daughter grew older, I think she had used gotten used to doing it. And that can happen to all of us for other reasons than motherhood: working too much, perhaps.

If you had to remember any of your dreams of youth, as the protagonist of the novel, what would they be?
Well, one of them was to be writer. And for years, I sort of forgot about it and didn’t prioritize it and focused on other things. So like Anette, I had to ask myself: what is it that I want in life? What dreams are important to me? And for me, writing a book was one of the most important dreams I had.

The book also speaks of hope and the possibility of reinventing any age. Do people confuse live and survive?
Yes, but sometimes surviving is all we can do. And people try to survive the best they can. They learn to laugh in the middle of hardship. I admire that in people.

And then, one day, we might find that we can in fact have more than just survival. But survival is a great start.

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How has your life changed after the success of your first novel?
All my plants have died. I am writing full time now, and I find that I think better if I walk around in the apartment. But it feels silly, going from kitchen to hallway to living room and then back to the kitchen. So I take up the watering can to have something to do. Just water the plants a little bit. But apparently, if you do that three or four times a day, they die.

Your novels have been classified within the genus “feel good”. Do you mind this label? Why are so discredited optimism and the happy end?
Not at all; I love the label. But I agree that optmisim and happy ending are often discredited. But for me, true feel good-novels have an element of seriousness or even darkness in them. They touch upon difficult and important topics. It’s just that they also contain within them a seed of hope, a belief that happy endings are possible – and surely that can’t be a bad thing?

You worked for years in a bookstore. Do you meet readers better for this reason?
I’m not sure, but I think I love readers more because of it.

Suppose you keep working at the bookstore. And come Merkel, Trump and Pope Francisco. What section would you send them? Or what book you recommend them?
Well, I couldn’t recommend a book to the pope I think. Unless he hadn’t read The Little World of Don Camilo. Then I might be bold enough to recommend it. But mostly I would love to ask him about the books he has loved in life.

For Merkel, now, that is also a tough question. Maybe Wolf Hall. I’m not sure why I feel that’s a good book for her, unless it is because I associate Hilary Mantels courage and outspokenness with the courage Merkel showed with the refugee crisis. Or because they are both women who are used to not being loved by everyone.

For Trump, I think definitely something by Carl Hiaasen. Skinny Dip, perhaps? I think Trump could use a satirical take on what’s wrong with development projects, greed and bigotry.

escritora katarina bivaldDid you hear many times “no” before publishing your first novel?
Oh yes. I have quite an impressive collection of rejection letters.

What classic book you detest? And what “detested book” seems you wonderful?
Nowadays I don’t really detest any book – I just figure I haven’t read it at the right time yet. But I have many classics I don’t feel the slightest inclination to read, although that might also change.

And, well, every book that people detest seems interesting to me. I was even pre-disposed to like Fifty Shades of Grey because people were so ridiculous in their critique of it. In the end I didn’t, but I respect that others did.

We are in the European crisis, what do you think is failing in the community project? 

Well, the community part of the community-project. I have found many aspect of the European Union problematic over the years, but I have always admired its peace-keeping potential and aim – binding European countries closer together to prevent the devastating conflicts of the past – and it’s insistence of human rights as an important part of the union.

And now? We pay Turkey to handle refugees. We talk about people fleeing for their lives, risking their lives to get here, as if the problems were not war, or the fact that babies drown on our shores, but the fact that they get here. We criticise Greece for doing what they can for them.

Sometime I think we have no shame. Maybe that’s what’s failing in the community project.


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