Interview with international author Albert Russo (in three parts).

Interview in three parts, by Adam Donaldson Powell

INTERVIEW: ALBERT RUSSO (Part One)

Autumn 2012

Powell:

Mr. Russo, you have recently published “Crystals in a shock wave – The works of / Albert Russo / et son oeuvre”, which is a reprint of reviews and commentaries of your work in English, French and Italian from five continents. Please explain to our readers why you took it upon yourself to publish such an unusual book, and what you see as the importance of reviews for authors and readers in today’s fast-changing publishing arena.

Russo:

There are thousands of writers vying for a sunny spot on the Net, some are serious, others think they can write. Internet has democratized the process and that is a very good thing, because it pitches editors against their responsibilities and forces them to admit that they are no longer the sole judges of a literary work, although they still hold some power with the conventional publishers. Anybody nowadays can self-publish work and hope to hit it big, but it’s still a needle in the haystack of millions of online words. The problem here is self-promotion. I have chosen the latter, knowing that the challenge of attracting the attention of literary reviewers and readers is formidable. But as I advance in age, I don’t want to wait for a publisher to decide whether or not he/she would be interested in publishing such a retrospective. Many people of value (professors of literature, reputable authors and other experts) have written about my books, which prompted me to collate their essays and produce a large volume encompassing 40 years of writing, entitled
“Crystals in a shock wave”.

Powell:

The various essays, reviews and commentaries regarding your work tell much about you as an author – albeit from the perspective of reviewers, many of whom have followed your work and literary development over the course of several publications. Your novels undoubtedly include many fictionalized personal experiences.

You have yet to publish an autobiography. After so many publications, and a lifetime of so many rich experiences, how is it that you have still not chosen to write an autobiography? Or even a book that reflects your views on publishing as a business and your many experiences with publishers, celebrities and other authors?

A. Russo:

I am incapable of writing an autobiography, for the moment I start projecting words on the screen then on paper, it is poetry or fiction that comes out.

The few times I have tried to tackle the genre, I became nauseous, as if I was committing some kind of incest. And contrary to what I sometimes hear from writers, I don’t believe that fiction is a succession of lies. My characters, even when they resemble me or people I know well, tend to take flight and live a life of their own; it is the mysterious process (most) writers experience. Although I seldom write essays, there are a few of them in which I have described the business side of writing. But I don’t feel comfortable doing that, or speaking about the people I have met during my life, whether family or celebrities. It is a pity, for I would have liked to mention my brief encounters with personalities such as Lucchino Visconti, Vittorio de Sica (both famous Italian filmmakers) – when I lived in Italy -, Jackie Kennedy – (during my stay in New York) or some famous French actors and actresses, like Louis de Funès, Suzanne Flon, Jean-Pierre Cassel, etc. (actually I have met at least 2,000 such people within the span of 6 years) to whom I taught English or Italian here in Paris.

Writers like Edmund White know how to do that very well – the latter also knows how to be very treacherous (I have experienced it personally, thinking he was a friend).

Powell:

You master several languages, and have written books in English, French and Italian. What is the importance – for you, and for today’s global literary community – of writing and publishing in several languages, rather than having most of your work translated into other languages? And how does your writing in English differ – for example – from your writing in French? That is to say, how do cultures, sub-cultures and national publishing trends affect your choices regarding which language you employ for any given book, and your approach to the subject matter?

A. Russo:

Where I’m concerned, it is only relatively recently that I have been accepted as a bilingual writer (trilingual? My God, that would be too much for them) by the French critics, and consequently by publishers in Paris – I insist upon the ‘consequently’. An eclectic writer, I escape any sort of labelling, which editors find very annoying, if not downright impertinent. So, many decide to ignore me altogether, the more adventurous pay some attention, whilst still keeping a comfortable distance. This lukewarm, noncomittal attitude may explain my propensity to take part in so many literary contests in the US, Britain and France, principally. Garnering prizes for me is an act of defiance, defiance against apriorisms. There is no fairer test than that of being judged anonymously. It is, l’m afraid to say, not at aIl the case with some of the national contests like the Prix Goncourt or the Prix Renaudot in France, which smack of pre-election scheming and reward, year in and year out – exceptions do occur once in a blue moon – the same three or four publishers, which I calI the sacred quartett, for the Prix Goncourt is more a publisher’s prize than an author’s. So much said for ethical practice.

Reverting to the notion of place and language, I have to smile when, having won an award, l’m referred to as an American writer or a French one, depending on the country in which the contest took place – that is, when I don’t send my bio stating that I write in three languages. Then there is the instance where the US editor, partially aware of my background, sends me a letter of rejection, with the pretext that my style is too European, whatever that means. The reverse is true here in France, when I wrote an essay that was published in the International Herald Tribune on literary prizes. «This article was so American», a Sorbonne professor who knows me remarked (in this case, she was not flattering me).

My choice of language is often guided by the distance I wish to put between myself and my immediate environment or by the mood I am in the moment I take a pen (when I travel) or sit in front of my computer.

Powell:

Many of your novels and short stories take place in colonial and post-colonial Africa – and are a reflection of your life in the Congo while growing up. For many years ”colonialism” has been (perhaps) a somewhat politically incorrect theme, almost akin to the word “nigger”. Have you experienced any negativity regarding writing about colonialism in Africa … especially since you are both Belgian and Caucasian? And what do you see as the particular historical and literary importance of you – Albert Russo – writing about the lives of individuals in the transition from colonialism to post-colonialism?

A. Russo:

Thank goodness, I haven’t known any antagonism when writing about colonialism or post-colonialism; I was always well received by my African peers (intellectuals, professors, reviewers). Not only that, but this year the University of Lubumbashi (DRCongo) has received all my books and they are being studied by students of literature and history. A Congolese professor will also write a long essay on my writings. Then too, I have been included in the anthology Voix du Congo, in which I am considered ‘Congolais de coeur’. Here, in French, is an excerpt of a recent review:

Attachés à leur pays ou arrachés de leur terre natale, les auteurs portent le Congo à travers des textes poétiques. En français, en anglais ou en langues nationales, ils hésitent ou affirment avec force la nostalgie, les regrets, la dénonciation, la rancoeur mais aussi la confiance en l’avenir, l’espoir dans les “Congolais de sang ou de coeur”. Ils font l’éloge du kikongo, du lingala, du tshiluba ou du swahili et de leur littérature orale, des rites, des contes, des chants et des croyances qui s’enfuient. Ils soufflent leur fatigue, ils psalmodient leurs prières et susurrent leur amour du Congo.

«Mais personne ne m’empêchera de continuer à rêver de ce qui aurait pu être : un pays démocratique, nommé le bel Kongo, où tous vivraient dans le respect et l’harmonie.» Albert Russo

Powell:

In your novels and poems you include some narratives with personal commentary that reflect perspectives on the transition from colonialism to post-colonialism, as well as occasional comments on politics and social issues at that time. How do you look at the Africa that you see today compared with the Africa that you grew up in? What are your personal perspectives on how Belgian, British, French and American political interests and economic influences have influenced the cultural and social developments — for better, or for worse?

A. Russo:

As you may remember I have experienced five ‘decolonizations’: the former Belgian Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and South Africa (the fall of apartheid, I also call ‘decolonization’). The history of Africa has to be rewritten, by African, European and American historians, and not in the light of ideology, as it is too often done. In my novels I have compared the colonial policies of France, Belgium, Britain, and Portugal – see my novels: The Black Ancestor, Mixed Blood, And there was David-Kanza, as well as my apartheid novel in French Le Cap des Illusions, soon to be published in Italian. All is not black and white, there are many factors that led the first four countries mentioned above to the very sad situations we are experiencing nowadays, except for South Africa, which was lucky to have Nelson Mandela as its first democratically elected president. All that can be found in my novels.

Powell:

Very interesting!

Thank you, Mr. Russo. In Part Two we shall explore your views on literary styles and publishing trends, both in general and regarding your own literary production in particular.

INTERVIEW: ALBERT RUSSO (Part Two)

Autumn 2012

Powell:

You have signature styles, in both your novels and your prose poetry. Can you tell the readers how your styles of writing have changed over the course of your literary career? Upon reflection, do you feel that your style of writing has been influenced (directly, or indirectly) by any particular authors?

Russo:

As you know I have three different styles that correspond to three different genres: my African novels, my gay novels and my humorous Zapinette series -, not mentioning my SF and fantasy stories. People who are not acquainted with my writing or just know one of my styles, think that the other two belong to two different writers. And of course I also write poetry – a fourth style?

This eclecticism of mine confuses French publishers and, if interested in one of my novels, they are loath to hear of my other styles. After years of discussing this aspect of my writing, I finally got in touch with a publisher, Editions Hors Commerce, here in Paris (it folded 5 years ago) who understood my literary persona and she took the risk of publishing my work in its entirety, but I won’t find easily (or never again) a person with such a broad mind.

The authors whom I like and admire are so numerous, it would take me hours to mention them. Suffice it to say that among them are the French, British, American, Russian, German, Italian and Spanish classics in both prose and poetry. Other treasured sources are the Bible, especially the Thorah, Flavius Josephus, the Roman-Jewish historian, the Indian Upanishads and the Mahabharata, the Chinese Tao and Confucius, the ‘delicious’ 1001 Nights, Masaka Shiki who invented the wonderful Haiku and, finally, my dear African ‘griots’ who are the masters of oral literature. Then there is a plethora of modern authors from around the world, from Joseph and Philip Roth, to Tagore, Santosh Kumar, Khaled Hosseini (Afghan novelist), Graham Greene, P.G. Wodehouse, Mafouz (Egyptian writer), Marcel Proust, Albert Camus, Adam Powell, Martin Tucker, David Alexander, Italo Svevo, Alberto Moravia, Pasolini, Amos Oz, Etgar Keret (both Israeli authors), Chinua Achebe, Yasmina Khadra (Algerian novelist) Nadine Gordimer, Basho, Ishiguro, Coetzee, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, In Coli Jean Bofane (Congolese novelist), Pavese, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miguel Angel Asturias, Garcia Lorca, Gao Xingjian, Stefan Zweig, Herman Hesse, Hugo Claus, Mikhail Bulgakov, etc… etc… and I keep discovering new authors from the five continents all the time, so that this is a never-ending exercise.

Powell:

For the sake of new authors who are finding their way, would you recommend beginning authors to attempt to mimic the styles of established authors to any degree, or rather to listen to their own “inner voice” and strike out on new paths from the start?

Russo:

Let them read and read and read: classics, definitely, and the contemporary authors they feel attracted to. If they don’t know where to begin, I suggest they buy an anthology of classic writers and several compilations of the ‘best’ contemporary authors.

Powell:

You have a descriptive style of writing, full of sensual imagery … perhaps rather “classical”. Many readers prefer to read a novel as a complete “passenger”, entirely subject to the lead of the driving author; while some other contemporary authors now experiment with leaving a greater degree of comprehension to the reader’s own intuition and recognition of his/her own personal experiences. How important and relevant is it for you to selectively weight the descriptive passages, and what are the difficulties and challenges with such an endeavor, in your eyes?

Russo:

I write as my innermost being dictates me to write: it can be very classical in the description of African landscapes, sensual – some even find it pornographic (I no longer make any distinction between these two) – when I tackle gay or heterosexual love scenes. Some critics claim that I am a post-modern writer. I’ve never been comfortable with labels or categories. When I want – need – to write about gay sex, I write about gay sex and don’t give myself limits, i.e. when I write for adults.

Powell:

These are difficult questions, I know. And it is also not easy for authors (and often not popular) to explain their work, or their processes. But these questions are quite interesting for many fellow authors (at all stages of literary development and achievement) so please bear with me.

As a novelist, poet and essayist you approach volume and speed of presentation differently, as would be expected. How do you personally ascertain the weighting of literary upbringing up against the rebellion of personal spirit in the creative process?

Russo:

As I have mentioned before, I love to discover new writers but I also go back to the classics regularly. The more I advance in age, the freer I feel with my writing.

Powell:

As an author that has written and published more books than most can dream of, how do you now – looking back – see the influence of publishers and readership upon your styles of writing? Is novel-writing (your primary output in terms of published books) more susceptible to acceptance, rigors and demands of publishers, and feedback/expectations from readers, than poetry and essays, or do you more or less write what you choose and in the styles that you write … and prefer to let the “public” catch up when they are ready?

Russo:

We all know that novels and nonfiction have a much greater chance of getting the attention of publishers than poetry or short stories. There are times, though, when one is overwhelmed with personal or health problems – a pretty frequent occurrence in my case -, and that is when I write poetry and maybe a very short story. Poetry, as far as I’m concerned, is mostly therapeutic, it is my drug, my cigarette, my whiskey. Thank God for poetry. Whereas fiction requires regular hours and a strict discipline, I can – or feel compelled to – write verse at any time of the day or the night.

Powell:

And finally, how is choice of style associated with your choice of theme, genre and literary language, etc.? I realize that much of this is intuitive, but there is also much learning and experience behind these decisions and processes. Please share with our readers your own personal perspectives.

Russo:

You said it: most of it is intuitive and depends on the general mood I am in before I tackle a subject. There are periods in which I have to ‘return’ to my African roots – when I am guided by both what happens on the continent right now and by nostalgia (they usually go together). Then there are times where I need to go very far away and create a totally new environment, and that is when I write fantasy or SF. So, it is not true, as in my case, that one should strictly adhere to one’s life to or to what one knows. Look at Kafka, for instance, writing about America, when he never set foot on the New World. Of course, you have to be sure about what you wish to say to your reader, in order to launch yourself into a such a risky adventure.

Powell:

Thank you once again, Mr. Russo. In Part Three we shall have a look at the story of your transition from being a heterosexual family man to a gay/bisexual family man, and how that has influenced your literature.

INTERVIEW: ALBERT RUSSO (Part Three)

Autumn 2012

Powell:

In this third and concluding segment of the interview, I would ask you to tell our readers how you see your transition from being a heterosexual family man (married father of two children) to a gay/bisexual family man, and how that has influenced your literature.

Did you begin to publish your books before, during or after this transition; and how long did it take from your first published book until you were to write, and then to publish, books that included gay or bisexual characters and themes?

Russo:

This transition came about quite late in my life, about the time I was getting my second divorce. I did not divorce because of it but because of an incompatibility of characters. Here again I escape any stereotype. In sexual matters I was a late comer, actually I can now say that I belonged to the tiny minority of asexual men. I was neither interested in men nor in women, and homosexuality for me was just a curiosity, like for instance the study of dinosaurs, until the age of 20 when I was ‘raped’ by a French woman. I then got married a first time and was in love with my wife. The second marriage was not one I had planned. I have two wonderful children who know all about me.

I started writing when I was about 20, in English, while I was studying at NYU. I continued writing in Italy, in both French and English and started publishing in US and French magazines in these two languages. It is much later, after my second divorce, that I began to write gay novels.

Powell:

Can you tell us a bit about how your “coming out” affected your writing and your need to write; and also how your writing affected your own gay identity in transition? Has writing about gay characters and gay themes enabled you to “break through” with other genres that you work with, or has your gay writing mostly benefitted from your novels and short stories with heterosexual characters and themes?

Russo:

As I have mentioned before, my transition was so smooth I almost didn’t see it coming. This probably has much to do with the fact that It all happened in a big city, Paris, where anonymity allows you a certain freedom. And again, I found no difficulty in writing about gay sex, since I was already writing about heterosexual sex in the past.

Powell:

You have a rather impressive list of literary friends and acquaintances who are public concerning their gay status. Which of these are (in your experience) the most important or most influential in your case?

Russo:

Among the gay writers I like are: EM Foster, Proust, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, André Gide, Julien Green (an American who wrote in French), Bukowsky, and the list goes on.

The one I have been closest to is … Adam Powell, a wonderful poet and artist who is as daring in his writings – he has ‘the nerve’ to create in 4 different languages ( chapeau ! as we say in French ) – as he is endearing.

Powell:

How difficult has it been for you to find mainstream publishers for your gay-themed works? Do you see this as having gotten easier now that recognition of gay rights, gay marriage and gay partnership has come about in many European countries? Is there a better “market” for gay-themed books in France than in the USA? Is it easier to publish and sell gay-themed print books or gay-themed e-books, in your opinion?

Russo:

I was very lucky to have known a small French publisher who happens to be bisexual. He published my poetry and my first gay novel ‘L’amant de mon Père’ which sold very well, in spite of little promotion. And then Editions Hors Commerce came about, which published all my other books, including African stories, gay novels and poetry.

Powell:

Your Zapinette series is rather cinematographic in style. Do you envision the stories that unfold as a film?

Russo:

Yes I do, but that is a dream many writers have. It would be a ‘miracle’ if a TV producer got interested in my Zapinette series. Ginkgo, my other French publisher, also sees my African novels in films. But I have no illusion about it ever happening, since I have no connection whatsoever with the movie industry.

Powell:

You are also renowned for your numerous art photography books. How has this discipline influenced your novel-writing?

Russo:

I like them to interact. Critics have often said that my writing was visual, so photography is a natural with me.

Powell:

And finally, Mr. Russo: Will your readers ever experience Zapinette as a mature young woman, or will she forever embody the refreshing childish wisdom in us all?

Russo:

I don’t think so. She is so cheeky and rambunctious, I want her to remain that way, and furthermore she allows me to write the most outrageous things that come through my mind, things that I could not write in a different context.

Thank you for your empathy and your kind patience, Adam (Mr. Powell).

Powell:

And thank you Albert Russo! I would like to end this interview with a reprint from your latest book, “Crystals in a shock wave — The works of / Albert Russo / et son oeuvre”:

ESSAI D’ALBERT RUSSO SUR L’ÉCRITURE,
L’IDENTITÉ ET LE SENS DE LA VIE

(présenté aux journées ‘Couleurs d’Afrique’ à Saint-Hilaire-la-Côte, France, 2012)

On me demande parfois pourquoi j’écris. Alors je réponds ceci : pour poursuivre la quête du sens de la vie, car j’ai encore et toujours besoin de découvrir de nouveaux horizons, j’ai toujours besoin de rencontrer des êtres qui me ressemblent et des êtres différents de moi, sans quoi, je me sens quelque part orphelin de l’humanité. J’ai besoin de connaître ces personnes qui vivent de l’autre côté de la barrière, qu’elles résident dans le pays où je vis ou en dehors de nos frontières.

C’est ici que se pose la question de l’identité ou des identités. Et pour illustrer mon propos, je dirai qu’il me faut franchir une série de barrières – un exercice qui se renouvelle sans cesse, tant que je ne pourrai communiquer avec l’Autre, cet Autre qui me fait face et qui ne me connaît pas et qui reste pour moi une énigme ou simplement un cliché. Utopique, clamerez-vous ! Et bien oui, et c’est pour cela que j’écris. Une autre image me vient à l’esprit: nous sommes tous enfermés dans une prison labyrinthique, certains s’en rendent compte, d’autres non ou alors ils veulent l’ignorer pour leur confort.

Ces barrières que j’ai mentionnées plus haut, pour simplifier, je ne m’en tiendra qu’à six ou sept tout au plus. Je cherche toujours à les franchir, je dis bien franchir et non abattre, car je suis convaincu que l’approche lente, la communication même très imparfaite vaut mille fois la violence. Se poser au lieu de s’imposer, esquisser un sourire à l’étranger, au lieu de lui lancer un froid regard ou l’ignorer par indifférence.
Ici j’assimilerai ‘barrières’ et ‘frontières’.

1) Il y a tout d’abord les barrières érigées à l’intérieur de la langue que l’on parle depuis sa naissance. Dans mon cas, je mentionnerai le français et l’anglais, mes deux langues ‘maternelles’. Prenons l’exemple du français, langue universelle parlée sur les 5 continents – ceci peut également s’appliquer à l’anglais, au portugais ou à l’espagnol, parlés eux aussi aux 4 coins de la terre.

J’ouvrirai une petite parenthèse: lorsque j’entends clamer que telle ou telle langue, en l’occurrence le français, est la plus belle du monde, je me hérisse. Car voilà une barrière que l’on érige entre sa langue et celle de l’Autre. Cela voudrait donc signifier que le chinois, le turc, le swahili ou l’hébreu sont moins beaux, moins ‘raffinés’, en d’autres termes ‘inférieurs’? Ce n’est pas en minimisant la qualité d’une autre langue que l’on défend au mieux la sienne. On peut, bien entendu avoir ses préférences, qui tiennent soit de la tradition soit de l’émotif, mais alors ce choix reste personnel.

Revenant au français, que je trouve superbe, aussi bien lorsque je l’entends résonner dans la bouche de celui ou de celle pour qui il est bien plus qu’un simple moyen de communication, un trésor reflétant une culture millénaire, que l’on traite à la fois avec respect et plaisir, que lorsque je me l’approprie pour écrire, il se trouve encore davantage enrichi, voire embelli par l’apport des parlers français ayant essaimé sur les autres continents. Car il y a ailleurs qu’en France, des expressions aussi savoureuses qu’exotiques, intraduisibles dans la langue ‘classique’. Il y a également une logique dans certains de ces parlers qui manque parfois dans le français de l’hexagone. Je ne citerai que quelques exemples, pris au hasard, tels que le ‘septante’ des Belges et des Suisses et le ‘huitante’ de ces derniers, à la place du soixante-dix et du quatre-vingt dix, vraiment tirés par les cheveux, ou le ‘courriel’, néologisme québécois, tellement plus joli que ‘mél’, sans mentionner toutes ces expressions créoles ou des français d’Afrique et d’Océanie qui vous mettent l’eau à la bouche.

Ceci dit, je crois fermement que le français qui doit être enseigné de par le monde est celui que, faute de mieux, je qualifierai de classique, oui, la belle langue de Molière, afin que tous les francophones puissent, à la fois se comprendre et mieux s’entendre. Ce que j’affectionne également ce sont les accents différents qui donnent tant de couleurs et ‘personnalité’ aux parlers français si variés. Enlevez l’accent marseillais, ou du sud-ouest, ou encore le roulement des ‘r’ d’autres locuteurs, et vous amputer le français de ses ingrédients les plus savoureux.

J’ajouterai une remarque concernant le pays qui m’a vu naître, le Congo / Zaïre (l’ancien Congo belge), grand comme l’Europe occidentale, et qui deviendra bientôt le deuxièmes pays francophone après la France – lorsque l’école deviendra obligatoire et gratuite pour les 6-18 ans -, avec ses quarante cinq millions d’habitants. Le gouvernement de cet immense territoire, lequel englobe des centaines d’ethnies et compte presque autant de langues, dont le lingala, le kiswahili et le tshiluba sont les plus parlées, a choisi le français comme langue officielle, car, pour communiquer avec ses pairs de Lubumbashi, situé à l’extrême sud du pays, ou avec ceux du Kasaï, des provinces de l’Equateur ou du Kivu, l’habitant de Kinshasa doit s’exprimer en français.

Pour revenir à la question de l’identité, j’estime également qu’il est impératif, en prenant toujours le cas du Congo, que le futur locuteur du français n’abandonne pas sa langue maternelle et qu’il en soit aussi fier que du français qu’il aura appris à l’école. Ceci vaut autant pour les Corses, les Bretons ou les Haïtiens, car en leur ôtant leur langue maternelle, on les ampute d’une part de leur identité.

2) J’en viens à présent à la barrière linguistique et je résumerai ma pensée en quelques mots. Utopiques, oui encore cet adjectif: si je pouvais vivre 1000 ans comme certains personnages de la Bible, j’apprendrais les 6000 et quelques langues de notre planète – il en disparaît hélas de plus en plus, à cause de l’uniformisation de nos cultures -, à la fois pour la connaissance et le plaisir de pouvoir communiquer avec les Autres, ces Autres qui me ressembleraient alors de plus en plus. N’aurais-je pas ainsi la possibilité de franchir les barrières les plus importantes qui me séparent de ceux que l’on nomme les étrangers – mot qui me déplaît profondément?

3) Cela ne nous mène-t-il pas droit à la barrière du temps, ce temps qui semble se rétrécir au fur et à mesure que nous ‘traversons’ les continents et que nous ‘escamotons’ les cultures en les survolant, sans en comprendre l’essence. Mais c’est déjà un pas ! Tournons-nous en dedans, à l’intérieur de la famille, une famille moyenne dans nos pays occidentaux, ni pauvre, ni riche, et qui, avec la crise économique de cette deuxième décennie, doit se serrer la ceinture.

Nous nous retrouvons après le dîner au salon, devant le téléviseur. Peu de paroles échangées. Le fils encore adolescent commence à s’ennuyer et va rejoindre son ordinateur dans sa chambre. La petite dernière trouve le programme – un documentaire sur le réchauffement climatique – trop sérieux, elle aussi part dans sa chambre et se rattrape avec des jeux video. Le temps ici est pris en otage, et parfois la communication dans cette famille se fait par des cris. On ne se retrouve plus, on s’écarte les uns des autres, et cela de plus en plus, à cause de la fatigue de la journée, et du stress des parents, tous deux travaillant.

4) Il y a la barrière visuelle : deux personnes ne se connaissant pas se postent devant un même tableau dit ‘classique’. L’un trouve ce tableau sombre et déprimant, l’autre, au contraire, qu’il dégage une forte atmosphère et que le clair-obscur donne vie aux personnages.

Les mêmes personnes se retrouvent dans une salle d’art abstrait. La première murmure: «c’est lamentable, et on paie pour ça une fortune!» L’autre s’exclame en lui-même: «Quels traits de génie !»

Mais cette barrière là, si on peut l’appeler ainsi, ne sépare pas nécessairement des gens dont les goûts diffèrent.

5) La frontière gustative, celle que l’on franchit le plus aisément. On peut ne rien connaître des gens venant d’ailleurs tout en appréciant leur cuisine, que ce soit une mwambe congolaise au poulet, une tajine marocaine, un canard laqué ou des tortellini al pesto. Voici une agréable introduction aux pays dont on a goûté les spécialités.

6) Enfin, il y a la barrière raciale et/ou ethnique – elle est mal nommée, car, scientifiquement, il est démontré que la race humaine est une et une seule. En fait celle-ci est la première que l’on remarque. Un noir, un blond, un basané, café-au-lait, ne peuvent passer inaperçus. Mais une fois que les trois premières barrières ont été franchies, la barrière raciale devrait tomber d’elle-même. Je simplifie, évidemment; trop de siècles se sont écoulés avec un atavisme, des préjugés et des clichés qui persistent même dans l’inconscient. Combien de générations faudra-t-il pour éliminer le cruel système des castes en Inde, l’antisémitisme en Europe et dans les pays musulmans, en dépit de l’holocauste, les conflits ethniques en Afrique et en Asie, après les génocides du Rwanda et du Cambodge, les guerres de religion, réenclenchées aujourd’hui, entre musulmans, chrétiens et juifs?

Mais si déjà vous apprenez la langue de votre ‘adversaire’, il peut y avoir une amorce de dialogue, sauf si vous persistez à croire que la religion reste l’obstacle majeur qui vous divise, comme entre protestants et catholiques autrefois, ou chiites et sunnites, de nos jours, alors que ces gens parlent parfois la même langue.

Et pour conclure, je me répéterai : un sourire, même si vous ne comprenez pas la langue de l’Autre, est tellement plus accommodant, tellement plus agréable qu’un coup de poing. Pour cela, bien sûr, il faut vouloir se rapprocher de l’Autre.

Car après tout, les Autres ne sont-ils pas notre Miroir? Ce miroir, nous pouvons le rendre fidèle ou déformant.

(reprinted with permission of Albert Russo.)

The following biography of Albert Russo is reprinted from his website: www.albertrusso.eu

BIOGRAPHY

A bilingual author, Albert Russo writes in both English and French, his two “mother tongues” ; he also speaks five languages fluently and has lived in Africa, the United States and Europe. He is the recipient of many awards, such as The American Society of Writers Fiction Award, The British Diversity Short Story Award, several New York Poetry Forum Awards, Amelia Prose and Poetry Awards and the Prix Colette, among others. He has also been nominated for the W.B. Yeats and Robert Penn Warren poetry awards. His fiction, which has been praised by James Baldwin, Pierre Emmanuel, Paul Willems, Gilles Perault and Edmund White, has appeared worldwide in a dozen languages.

Some of the journals and magazines that have published his work:
The literary Review, Confrontation, The International Herald Tribune (published with The New York Times and The Washington Post), Playboy magazine (French edition), Cosmopolitan (Dutch Edition), the Midatlantic Review, Books in Canada, impulse, Short Story International, Ambit, The Edinburgh Review, Chapman, Indian Litterature, The Taj Mahal Review, Africa Prize, New Hope International, Passport, World Wide Writers, The European Journal of Psychology, Prospice, Envoi, Poets for Africa, The Body Politic, The Auschwitz Foundation Bulletin, Fremde Verse, Los Muestros, Plurilingual Europe, etc. The BBC World Service has broadcast his story “The Discovery”.

His African novels have been favorably compared to V.S. Naipaul’s work, which was honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.
He is a member of the jury for the Prix Européen (with Ionesco, until his death) and sat in 1996 on the panel of the prestigious Neustadt International Prize for Literature which often leads to the Nobel Prize.

WHERE TO BUY THE BOOKS OF ALBERT RUSSO

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