Arama Sonucu:

Hi, Mr Muñoz Molina. It’s so nice to see you again after the Frankfurt Book Fair.

To see you, too. Hello. My pleasure.

How are you?

Well, I’m fine. This is a beautiful Sunday in Madrid, so I’m doing well. Thank you. And you? Are you in Istanbul? 

Yes, I’m in Istanbul. We are going through a hard time in Turkey, you know, because of the earthquake. And on behalf of my country, I would like to thank Spain for everything.

It was moving to see all those people going so fast to help other people. It was so satisfying as well.


Shall we start, Mr Muñoz Molina?


First, I would like to thank you for accepting the interview request of our e-magazine Mikroscope. This will be the first-ever interview for your Turkish readers, right?

Yes, you’re the first one.

It’s my honour. 

Now, Mr Muñoz Molina, like a psychotherapy session, shall we start with your childhood?

<Laugh> Yes, why not?


You grew up on a small family farm in southern Spain. How has this experience contributed to you as a writer?

Well, as you know, for every writer and every person, the experiences from childhood are formative. Absolutely. And in my case, my memories are both of poverty and happiness. You know, we were poor but not that poor. I mean, we lived well. We had enough food. We had a warm house and we had little but all the things. We had mothers and I was surrounded by our beautiful family. Many people were in the house: my parents, my grandparents, and my uncles. And there was a network of connections, not only in the family but also in the street. Our house was in the town, so we went daily to the field to work. And we lived in a peasant neighbourhood, so we were surrounded by people like us, and the streets were full of children. We, the children, were always playing in the streets. We took not a very long walk to school, so it was extremely both protected and yet free. There were no cars at the time. I lived on a small square, which is very important in many of my novels. And it was paradise. I mean, Spain at the time was underdeveloped. It was isolated and poverty was widespread. But still, for a child in a loving family, it was like paradise. And I am not idealizing the past because this is a very common memory among the people of my generation and my social origin. We felt safe. 

We have a general tendency to romanticize our past, our childhood days, don’t we? 

Yes, but I try very carefully not to put a golden light on things. I try that because I also have bitter memories. And I am aware that I have memories of people suffering from poverty, how women were under the power of men and the authoritarian quality of the society. All of this is clear in my mind. But still, for a child, for a boy, life was very satisfying in many ways. I mean, what does a child need? He or she needs protection, affection, friendship, and a variety of connections. Not only the small space of the nuclear family but also his cousins and his friends. And then for me, going to my father’s farm or going to the fields, to the olive trees at the time of olive collection, it was fun. It was beautiful.

Where was that farm, Mr Muñoz Molina?

It was in Andalusia, in the southern region of Spain. A small province called Jaén with an extraordinarily strong imprint from the Muslim past. Many of the names of the places and many of the agricultural traditions in my family or in my hometown come straight from the time of the Arabs. I mean, in Andalusia, in the south of Spain, the Muslim tradition is very much alive.

So, this is the region I come from. It was isolated. It was more underdeveloped than the main regions, like Madrid or Catalonia or whatever. Many people from my home region emigrated in the fifties and the sixties. They went to Germany, like many Turkish people. Many of them went to work. They left the fields and went to work to Germany, to France, … It was the same kind of emigration of peasants from the land to the industrial west.

And when you were eleven, your father gave you a typewriter as a gift and you have kept writing since then. Would you still be a writer if you did not receive that gift? Have you ever thought about this before?

Yes, many times. You know, people think that becoming a writer or an artist is a kind of destiny, an unavoidable destiny. I don’t think so. So many, so many things depend on chance. And in my case, it was exceedingly difficult for a peasant, for someone from a peasant family, not only to become a writer, but to become a college graduate as well. I mean, even completing middle education was hard. Because in my hometown, in my social milieu, people left school when they were twelve. I was happy that a teacher convinced my father to let me stay in school. My father and these people were all peasants. They could hardly read or write, but still, they had a very strong sense of culture. You know, maybe in Turkey it happens the same way. Working class people idealize education. It is rational because they know that the lack of education has prevented them from having the opportunities they deserve. That’s why it was a little easier for me to stay in school.

And how does it feel to be the first person in the family who got formal education?

Well, I think this is a universal experience for people of working class origin. This is the sense that you become distant from your origin. Thanks to the effort made by your parents, you go up to a level of education they will never reach, so it makes you feel away and unconnected in a sense because you no longer belong to the world you come from. At the same time, you also have very strong ties of gratitude and love, so maybe, this is a part of the origin of my inspiration as a writer. You see this in the case of children of immigrants in countries like the U.S. I mean, the novel of children, the novel of the second-generation immigrants… Thanks to his parents’ sacrifice and hard work, the one who has become a school graduate has a different world opening for him. And this opening makes him distant from his origin. Now, this kind of disruption, in my opinion, is the source of much of my writing because very often, I feel that I live in a world different, very much different from the one I was born in, so it’s like, you really don’t belong to this world because you are aware that you were lucky to be one of those who was spared that life. Many of the sons, the people of my generation, stayed in my hometown and they are still peasants. I am one of the few who was able to move away at the time. Afterwards, in Spain -and I’m sure that in a country like Turkey, maybe even from your personal origin- many people in our generation have massively moved from a small town to the capital, from peasant work to university. I mean, this is the point where your personal, intimate experience connects with the general movement.

Exactly. Also, moving from rural life to urban life is a broad experience itself, even though you don’t go to university.

Of course. While we were talking about immigrants, I thought of the people in my father’s generation. My father was planning to emigrate for a long time because he felt he was missing a chance. So many of his friends went to Barcelona or Germany. I remember my first trip to Germany: I arrived at Frankfurt Railway Station. I felt so confused and so lost and I tried to figure out what people from my hometown in the sixties might have felt. How did people, how did Turkish immigrants coming from rural communities arrive in this foreign and threatening world where they felt so lost? This is such a universal experience.

Lots of people from villages of Turkey -without having seen a city before- moved to European countries.


And they were in a great shock in the beginning.

Yes, they had not been to the provincial capital, but still, they took this tremendous leap, and they ended up in Munich or Berlin, or Stuttgart.

And how did they adjust to that?

Well, the first generation from Turkey, for instance, could not adjust to it and they could not learn German, either. The second generation started to adapt itself to the new country. We can say that now the third generation is nearly German even though they have not forgotten their roots.

Well, this is what happened in the U.S. I mean, if you think of many great American writers, you see that so many of them are second generation immigrants because this is the drama, the universal drama of immigration. Hopelessness… And the sad thing is that there is a whole generation that sacrifices itself for the sake of its children. They never really adjust to the new country. They never get a chance to speak the language fluently and their children suffer from different problems. However, they mostly belong to the new place.

Identity loss… Identity loss is such a big problem, isn’t it?


Mr Muñoz Molina, you have a degree in journalism in Granada and another one in history of art in Madrid. How did you develop an interest in these two different fields?

Well, I think I’m very curious. I always wanted to be a journalist because I had this provincial, romantic dream of being a foreign correspondent. It is childish but also a universal experience. You are in your small town. You don’t know any foreigners. You haven’t travelled more than fifty kilometers away. But you have this dream, this beautiful dream of going abroad, seeing places and writing… Since I had this calling as a writer, it had been clear for me that I would like to become a journalist, more like a literary character than a real journalist, a foreign correspondent. Then I was very aware that I needed to get education. And if I became a student of literature, for example, I didn’t need that because I was already reading as much as I could, so I didn’t need to get a formal literary education, so I thought that it would be interesting for me to learn something aside from writing and books. And I have always had this love for history, which later became a love for the history of art. I think this completes my view of the world. I read more books of history than fiction because I’m always almost obsessed with history, with 20th century history of Spain and Europe and things like that. And I have a very strong sense of beauty. That’s why the history of art is so important to me.

During your military service, you sent a short story of yours to a contest, but it was not one of the ranking stories. Based on this remembrance, I would like to ask this: How does a prospective writer decide not to give up?

Well, this is a tough question. I had the good luck to meet and be friend with the late American poet, Charles Simic. He himself was an immigrant from the Balkans. He was from former Yugoslavia. And after many adventures, he ended up in Chicago and then in New York. And we were friends. We had long conversations. And once he told me a story: When he was twenty or something, he showed some of his poems to a friend, some of his early poems he hadn’t published yet. And his friend told him, “These poems are terrible!” So, he left there and started walking. He was in downtown. He kept walking and ended up in Central Park. Then he sat on a bench. And he told me that while he was walking, he thought. He had great determination not to give up. Great determination to overcome his sadness. I don’t know. You need strength but I don’t know how much strength you need. We were talking about chance a few minutes ago. This is also something I ask myself quite often. When I was twenty-six, I was lucky enough to have a chance to start writing a weekly column for a provincial newspaper in Granada, a daily newspaper. That was a real opening for me. But at the time that this happened, I was working in an office and was very strongly discouraged because, as you said, I had sent stories to magazines and competitions and things like that. And I had never got anything back. So sometimes I ask myself what might have happened if I had not had this opening, this very humble opening of writing a short literary piece, a weekly literary piece for a provincial newspaper. Because it gave me so much encouragement. People ask me, “What about the prizes you have received?” Well, this one, this prize, was existential to me.


So, you gained your first readers in that newspaper?

Yes. That was my first experience of having a reader. This makes all the difference. To have an unknown reader. Not a friend, not your wife, or your brother, or whoever. Someone completely unknown to you. Someone who reads something you’ve done and feeds you back. Yes, it gives you some feedback. That’s so educational, so formative because if you don’t publish, you hardly improve your writing. Why? Because they are not read, they stay with you. So, you know, everything is made up of chances, of missed opportunities. Once things happen, historians figure out a model of development that makes things seem that way. This is not true. When I was a student at university, I was a Marxist like everyone else and we all believed in the laws of history and that, history had a development. A fixed development. But it’s not true. It’s not true in countries’ history or in personal history. Everything is always on the brink of not happening at all.

Sometimes that’s what we call “destiny”. 


Ok, Mr Muñoz Molina, a different topic now: If you had the chance to talk to Antonio during the days of the publication of his first book El Robinson urbano, what would you say to him?

Keep trying. Keep trying hard. Don’t believe you are incredibly good already. Don’t trust your own pride. Don’t be vain. Don’t be contentious. Pay attention to real life. Don’t be so full about literature. Don’t be so fond of books. Try to pay more attention to reality, to real people, to other people. That would be a lesson I would try to teach myself. Maybe I wouldn’t pay attention to me. Maybe I would think I was a fool or something. <Laugh>

Once you said, “Being a writer has two dimensions: to write and being known as a writer.”

Would you continue to write if you weren’t a successful and widely read writer? And for you, would writing be a passion as strong as it’s now?

This is something you cannot respond too accurately because you simply don’t know what might have been otherwise. You must be humble enough to recognize that. You might not have the strength to keep on doing what you must do if no one pays attention to you. Why? Because it’s so easy to get discouraged. And this is something I was telling you previously about not improving your writing if you don’t publish it. This is a real problem. You need to get rid of your own self. You must move on. And the only way to move on while writing is publishing what you have written. Otherwise, it sticks to you. It’s like a burden you carry with yourself. And there is also something else. That is bitterness. I mean, if you don’t have any openings, if you don’t have any readers, if you feel that you have been unfairly treated and that other people have what you should have or what you deserve, it makes you bitter.

I have an American friend, Michael Greenberg. He has published two books. His first book came out when he was in his fifties, and it was very well-received. I asked him, “How do you feel now?” And he said to me, “I’ve been lucky enough for this book to be accepted because otherwise, I would be in danger of becoming bitter and resentful.” Because this is something that we must learn to deal with. I mean, you can have this very strong calling, you can have the feeling that you are writing something original, or it may happen that no one pays attention to you because there’s no justice. But even in the long run, it may happen that a very good book has great success. It also may happen that this very good book doesn’t have any success. Or there is something even crueller, which is that the book becomes successful after the author is dead. And people call this “poetic justice.” There is no such thing as poetic justice. We are all so weak. If you love this job, this calling, this task, you are extremely vulnerable. Because you put your whole self in what you are doing. This is yourself over there. This is not something you are taking along, so it is very risky. And when you get a degree of recognition, as in my case, you must feel grateful. You must be extremely grateful because it is so difficult and so many people never get a chance to get published or even to find their calling. I think of women, for example, women of my mother’s generation. My mother is ninety-three now and she loves reading. She’s always been a great reader. She didn’t have a chance to get education. She left school when she was eight, so what chance did she have of developing?

That was a very unlucky generation, especially for women.

So, you must feel so careful, careful not to be too proud, careful of what you have achieved because most of what you have achieved depends on others, depends on the kindness of strangers. There was someone who gave me a chance to have my first literary pieces published in a newspaper and then, when I wrote my first novel, there were people generous enough to read that novel and think it was worth publishing. At every step in life, you have so many people around you. You must stay aware of the privilege you are enjoying because you might not deserve it. You don’t know if you are good or not.


Mr Muñoz Molina, can we say that writers need criticisms, positive or negative to improve themselves, especially criticisms from strangers? For example, your wife… I’m sure she reads all your articles and novels but I’m talking about a criticism from a total stranger. Is it much more valuable for you rather than the criticism from a family member?

It depends on the quality of the criticism. I’m now lucky that my wife is also a writer and a very well-considered writer, so we have this kind of pact. We read each other very carefully. To learn from criticism, this criticism must be done fairly and compassionately if possible. But it must also be incorruptible. It must be clear-eyed. And this criticism must be as concrete as possible. It doesn’t do any good to you if someone says, “This is a great novel!” or “This is a piece of shit!” People must tell you, “On page six there is this” or “This is a very weak sentence.” Then you might take it out or you should look for a better beginning. Their criticism should be concrete. Otherwise, it is flattering. We all love to be flattered but I mean, the thing is, someone so close, as close to you as to be able to focus on what your act will do. But there is also a danger: It is the danger of being too negatively critical and it happens often. For some years I was a professor of creative writing in New York, and we had this seminar. People read their work aloud and there were very strong sessions of criticism. It was like North Vietnam political meetings. I thought it was unfair because you must be very careful with what you are doing and what other people are doing. The process of writing is so delicate. It can get frustrated very easily. You have an innate sense of protection while you are writing. I have learned it from some critics but the very important advice, the very important criticism comes from people close to you, close enough to you, proven by experience. Also, people who are mentally clear enough can give you some practical advice. And sometimes they can tell you, they can advise you not to publish a book. It has happened to me a couple of times: I was writing a memoir of my young years in Granada. I had written one hundred fifty pages. If you’ve written one hundred fifty pages, you are well into the book. My wife read it and she said to me, “You shouldn’t finish this book.” To be good, the book needs to be very clear. And if a non-fiction book is clear and candid, it will hurt people that shouldn’t be hurt. And if you do it in order not to hurt people, the book will not be that good.

So, you had no choice?

So, I put the book aside and I was glad. I’ve been glad for this for twenty years.

Haven’t you ever thought, “I made a great effort for this book, for these one hundred fifty pages, so I should publish it!”? 

I had to do it. It is not that important. Nothing happens. You know what: The American poet, Robert Lowell, had written a book of poems which were somehow hurting or insulting his first wife. And Elizabeth Bishop, who was a very good friend of Lowell, wrote him a sentence that I will never forget. She said to him, “Art is not that important.” So, at the end of the day, there are things more important than art. I’ll give you a practical example: I would never publish anything that would make my children suffer. There are limits. We all believe or used to believe in this idea of the “genius”. The genius who does what he must do regardless of everything else. He hurts people. He does whatever he does for art’s sake. I don’t believe in that. I think that there are more important things than art. Art is not that important.

Well, it’s all about trying to see what the world is like. I mean, it’s part of the same instinct to try to make sense of the world. We all need to understand; we all need to learn how things work but there are limits of our knowledge. In my case, I have no mathematical education, so there are very strong limits of my understanding of science. But you know that the great physicist, Richard Feynman, has a Nobel Prize in Physics. He says it takes more imagination to figure out what it is than to figure out what it is not. I mean, to figure out reality as it is. That’s why I love not only science but also non-fiction. I love writing fiction and written fiction but at the same time I have a very strong love for non-fiction, for history writing, for journalism, for things like that. I think this is a part of the will or the instinct to learn to know. We want to know what life was like in 19th century France. We love to know what is at the center of the earth. We need, we love to learn. You know, this is a love of knowledge. You know, it is all part of the same instinct of learning, not of trying to imagine what things are like.

Curiosity is particularly important.



“You can be good and smart, but this is useless if you have come across a terrible time. Your luck depends on the era you live in.” 

Would Antonio Muñoz Molina, who has uttered these sentences, have still been the country’s most awarded and the best-known author whose books have been translated into more than twenty languages if he had not come across the Spain of the 1980s, where democracy was rediscovered, education gained momentum and readership boomed?

<Laugh> Of course not. You know, sometimes I think it all depended on two years. If I had been born two years earlier, my life would have been completely different. Because only two years earlier, life in Spain had been much harder for people of working class simply because there were no chances to go to school. It all comes down to this. It’s like the idea of remembering the story of Giotto who was a shepherd in Florence: While he was taking care of the sheep, he was drawing on a rock with a piece of coal. One day the great painter, the great master Cimabue came along and saw the boy drawing and he said the shepherd was a genius. I mean, so much depends on circumstances.

The circumstances and how you handle those circumstances…

It makes your entire world view. Because being a young man, an upcoming young man in the seventies and eighties, for me, is the root of what I am and of what I write about. I mean, being lucky enough to reach youth at a time when my country is opening. Quite a piece of luck, you know?


What about awards? How have they affected your life?


Yes. I mean, do they have an enormous impact on your motivation, or do you ever say to yourself, “Well, yes, I get awards but they’re not very important for me. I would have written in the same style if I hadn’t had those awards.”

No, it depends. It depends on the award. Not only the objective importance, the so-called importance of the award, but the moment it gets to your life. I was telling you, the most, probably the most important award I have ever received was that moment when I was offered the chance to write a weekly piece in a newspaper. In retrospect, it seems like something small, but it all depended on this. What happened afterwards? So, it depends on the award but what is important to know and to be aware of is that awards are something, always something exterior. I mean, if you get them, it’s good but if you don’t get them, why should you care about it? I mean, awards can be good for your professional advancement at a certain moment, but they don’t certify or deny your quality. I’ll give you an example: People say the Nobel Prize is discredited or whatever. When the Nobel Prize is awarded to someone who is very good but who is not that well known, I applaud the Nobel Prize. For example, when Alice Monroe got it or when Wislawa Szymborska -the great Polish poet- got it… The Nobel Prize was useful for them and for the acknowledgement of their work. I might not have heard Szymborska otherwise, so in this practical sense, an award doesn’t say anything about the quality of your work. You might get it, or you might not get it. It depends on so many different things, so I have been glad, I have received a great joy, and I must be clear about this: I don’t need to pretend to be humble or not to give importance to things. A few years ago, one of my books was awarded the Prix Médicis in France. And that was a great joy for me. It doesn’t make the book any better but it’s a joy. This is clear. And on top of that, you know, there was a time where there were restrictions to travel, so I had the joy of getting the prize but not the boredom of travelling and attending official ceremonies and things like that, so I had to stay at home. It took place on Zoom. It was perfect for me. So, I tell you, there were moments when awards were important for me, for my personal advancement in the professional sense. I remember, when I was awarded the Planeta Prize in Spain, it was important for me for one reason because it gave me enough money not to worry for a couple of years.

And I like this quotation of yours, too: “The value of an award depends on who received it before you.” You want to explain that?

Well, there are times when you’d like to see your name associated. So, this is like, this is something that happens to you when someone comes up to you and says, “You know how much I love your writing. You are one of my two favorite writers.” You get scared. Who is the other one? It might be someone terrible for you. So, this guy or this lady thinks that I am very good. He or she thinks that X is very good as well.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing in the internet era?

I don’t know. Well, you get used to write in any circumstances. The advantage is that there are several things that are easier to do now. For example, this conversation, this beautiful conversation… This is great. There’s also distraction and social media and things like that. I think you must learn. I think you must be careful to learn, to take advantage of good things and not to pay much attention or get distracted by other things. Well, I must be practical because the technology itself doesn’t mean anything. I mean, the internet is very good to spread knowledge but also to spread fake news. On the internet, you can promote Hitlerism and the Nazis, or you can promote the fraternity among people. Also, what I think, the danger I see is distraction, but you must learn to use things, too. You shouldn’t neglect to use computers. I remember the eighties when computers first started coming along. Writers from the older generation said that we, the young writers, wrote something which they called “computer novels”. What did they mean by “computer novels”? They supposed that computers made novels different and that they were useful. They are practically useful, yes. They make your work easier, so the main thing is to be able to preserve your solitude. You need a lot of solitude.

Solitude and privacy, right?

Yes. You need to be connected at times. Also, you need to be disconnected. You need to be completely alone sometimes.

Do you have a social media account?

No. I used to have a website. I used to keep a blog, but I don’t have any social media accounts.

I think that helps solitude a lot, right?

I remember when Facebook came along. I spent one morning on Facebook. And I thought I was wasting my time. I have so many things to do. I need so much time. I need so much time to do things but also time not to do things.


How have you managed to keep the interest of your readers alive all through these years, especially in this internet era? It must be difficult.

I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think you have your readers in mind while you’re writing. For example, I write a weekly column for El País, my Spanish newspaper. And I must be careful. I try to choose subjects that are interesting and timely, but books depend so much on the unconscious. That’s for me, it’s not possible to keep my readers in mind and it is hard enough to work things out. It’s hard enough to find a beginning, to find a story that you find interesting. And not only many readers are lucky, but many writers as well. There are many people reading books. In Spain, for example, during the pandemic, the book trade increased. People kept reading books and bought books more than usual. Book sales in Spain have been going up for the last four or five years though there are many distractions. There were fewer distractions in the past. I remember, in the seventies people said, “No one is reading any more because of the TV.”

In those days, yes, people were accusing the TV. 

Yes. And believe me, there was never a better past.

For you, Mr Muñoz Molina, there are two types of stories, public and private. So, can we say that one of the writing tips is the ability to combine these two story types?

Absolutely, yes. This is what happens, for example, when you think of the great 19th century novels. One of my favourite novels of all times is L’Éducation sentimentale by Flaubert. And in that novel, you see how the storyline, the private lives of people meet with the historical circumstances. In a very particular sense, there is a moment in the novel when, finally, the two lovers are going to meet and have sex but then comes the revolution, the 1848 revolution, and they don’t meet. He keeps waiting for her to come but she doesn’t. So, for me, this is an example. This is what happens to all of us in real life. I mean, our lives are absolutely interconnected with public events and historical events and the novel is about how this connection exists.

And how the two histories coexist…

In one of your articles published in El País, you state that we must be cautious about lamenting the loss of virtues that existed in the past. Could you clarify this, please?

What were we talking about a while ago? About the danger of nostalgia. And this is something very crucial for me because much of my writing has to do with the memories of the past, so in one hand, it is natural that you feel nostalgia because you miss people. You miss the dead. You miss people you love. We’re alive and they’re no longer alive. I’ve told you about my mother. She’s ninety-three, a very elderly lady. And she moves with difficulty. And of course, I remember how sturdy she was when she was thirty or forty. But on the other hand, there is a danger of thinking that things were better in the past because they were better for you, for one reason or another. And this is not so. In the beginning, we started by talking about my childhood memories, my beautiful childhood memories. And as a writer and as a person, while cherishing these memories, I must be aware that the historical situation was terrible. At that time, we, children, used to play in the streets and now this is impossible as the streets are full of cars. Many people, many children died very young. And there was oppression. And as I told you again, there was violence in society and tolerance to violence which no longer exists. Women were absolutely under the thumb of men and fathers were tyrants toward their children. Things have improved. They have improved very much. Now we have doctors. Now we have much more people who go to college or who get good education. The situation of women has improved so much. So how can you say that the past was better? Who is saying that?

In your novel Sepharad, you mention the themes of homelessness and exile over the Jews who were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century. Have you also thought of writing a novel about being a refugee in 21st century?

Well, in Sepharad, you have many, many kinds of exiles. And some of them are exiles of 20th century but you are right. This is now the main issue in the world. You see all those walls going down, the border in Mexico, the European Union borders, … And it’s so jarring to see all this. They relate to climate change, drought, people fleeing from wars and everything. This is the issue, and this is going to be the key issue in the future, too. But there are two different ways of writing: When I write an article, for example, this is something I desire to write. I am aware of what I’m writing. A novel, a literary book is something different. It doesn’t depend on you. It doesn’t depend on the things you care about. It depends on the thing that comes to you and asks you to be written. 


As a reader, I have always felt that Lisbon has a particular place in your novels. If this is true, Mr Muñoz Molina, I wonder why.

Well, this is Lisbon is, so close to Spain, to Madrid. I mean, Portugal and Spain are so close yet so different. There are so many similar things and there are so many crucially different things. So, when I go to Lisbon, the feeling I have is, it feels like home, but it also feels like away from home. The differences between Spain and Portugal are very important for me. There is a great difference between the two countries: In Spain, people tend to speak very loudly. In Portugal, they speak low. I personally speak low so I feel at home with people who speak low. Madrid is locked in the peninsula and Lisbon is open to the sea. You see this beautiful square in Lisbon which is open to a huge river and into the Atlantic. It feels like you are starting to go into the ocean. This is it and I love the food, too.

When I was a student in Salamanca, I spent a weekend in Aveiro, the fishing town of Portugal, and I felt a quite different kind of sadness there, a sadness totally different from Spain. Have you also experienced it in Portugal? Have you felt the same thing?

Well, they have a word for this in Portuguese: It’s “saudade.”

In Portuguese?

Yes, “saudade.”

It’s a kind of sadness but a specific Portuguese sadness.

Sure, quite different. 

Yes. So, you could catch it? ‘Cause this a specialty. I’ll write it for you.

(He writes the word on paper and shows it to the screen.)

That’s what we call “tristeza” in Spanish?

Not exactly.

Not exactly? A word deeper than “tristeza”? Ok, “saudade.”

It’s the most important word you need to know in Portuguese.

Thank you, Mr Muñoz Molina.

In your novel Days Without Cecilia, the narrator jumps from one point to another, does not have a clear view of the past, and his voice exceeds the story he’s telling. All of these reminded me of the works of Faulkner and Onetti. Now, Mr Muñoz Molina, would it be too assertive to say that these two authors inspired you deeply?

Yes, you’re absolutely right. In the style of artist writing, for example. It is so delicate, so full of nuances. Writing flows in a very musical way. Musical, but not noisy. And Faulkner teaches you about the permanent interconnection between the past and the present. I mean, you are always moving back and forth between the past and the present. And in the case of this character in this novel, he has a fractured life. His life has been split in two. He lives at home but still in New York. He lives in his solitude but at the same time, he lives in his memories of Cecilia. He has a split mind. He suffers. He suffers from a mental condition that prevents him from being fully in one place at one time.


At the end of the novel, I asked myself a lot: Does Cecilia really exist? Or is she a woman only in the narrator’s mind? A woman who the narrator has made up of?

Well, this is something she accuses him of doing when he listens to this message in the answering machine. I think he suffers from lovers’ delusion.  I mean, there is a tendency among lovers, mostly male but also female, to project an image on the person they love, so they don’t see the person itself. They see the reflection of their wishes or of their dreams and this is something that can be disturbing.

In your novel the Mysteries of Madrid, you compare Madrid in the 1960s with the one in the 1990s. From many aspects, this reminded me of the tragic change in Istanbul, the city where I live. Why have immigrants, dangerous streets, income inequality, unemployment, increase in drug use, increase in the homeless population, and poverty become the fate of some cities in this century?

Well, I don’t know. I think this has to do with the logic of capitalism. I mean, great cities are becoming hostile to common people. It’s simply impossible for most people to afford a decent apartment in a city. I’ve always been a great lover of cities. I fall in love with cities. I love them. I love to work with them and to learn about them. However, lately I’ve been feeling that I am falling out of love of cities because what I see in a city now is a permanent lack of justice, a lack of decent housing, so many people doing terrible jobs, so many young, perfectly decent young people working and delivering food on bikes. And I’m sure you have the same thing in Istanbul. People are being expelled from traditional neighbourhoods. It’s happening everywhere. From all working class neighbourhoods, popular neighbourhoods people are being expelled because they are becoming Airbnb or luxury hotels. This has happened in New York. It’s happening in Madrid, so it’s sad. I’m no longer in love with cities.

What can we do? What can we do to change this? We need political changes. We need justice. We need public policies of affordable housing. All this is a shame.

Should we all go to the country and continue to live there?

I don’t think so. We must try to improve life around us, in our small field of action. I don’t know. On the one hand, you feel pessimistic. On the other hand, my nature is not pessimistic. I’ve seen things improving in my country during my life. And I was saying to you a minute ago: I’ve seen how people have achieved better lives, how women have had a much better life and become independent in many senses. So, things can get better. I keep thinking that things can get better and that we can do something to make them better.

And towards the end of our interview, I want to touch a little on Max Aub. It was a pleasure for us to listen to your speech at the Frankfurt Book Fair. There you said that Aub was the writer that shaped you and that you would never discover yourself without him. How come Max Aub affected you so much?

Because there are several things: First, he was not a “be-er”; he was a “becomer”. This is something that Saul Bellow used to say: “There are be-ers and becomers.” Be-ers are those who are born and stick to their nature. Aub denied the certainty of identity since his birth because he was, as you know, the child of a German man and a French woman at the beginning of the war in 1914, so he came to Spain. And he was not a Spaniard. He became a Spaniard. Following this, he had to leave the country, go to Mexico, make a living there and develop his literary career. So, unlike so many people who are so proud of their fixed identities, he was someone who had to make up his own identity as he went along. This is one thing. And there is something else. He was progressive. He was a socialist. He was in the Republican side in the Civil War. However, unlike many of his contemporaries, he was never attracted by Stalinism. He was in the left wing, but he was also always a democrat. Something that not many people can say at that time, like Orwell or Camus. He was one of the few who were sure in their thirties that the cause of justice and equality didn’t imply to accept the dictatorship of totalitarianism. So, you didn’t have to choose between Hitler and Stalin. You had to choose between totalitarianism and democracy.

“Writing is what I have always liked to do best, probably to let people know who I am, without stating it. I assumed they would guess right. Once again, I was wrong.”

Do you agree with Aub, who stated this? And what about your readers? Have they understood you through your writings very well?

I don’t know. I think, sometimes when you show your writing, it’s not exactly yourself. There can be a misunderstanding in this because the eye who writes is not always the eye who reads but I think that they can get a very clear sense of who I am in a broader sense. 

Finally, do you want to say anything about your final novel?

The one I’m working on now?

Yes. The one which your readers haven’t read yet.

Well, it came as a surprise to me. The older I grow, the less I trust intelligence and plans and plots. I’m always learning to let go. I’m learning to start writing without having a plot or a structure or whatever because writing a novel for me is like writing a poem. It must have an element of rapture. You must be carried away by writing. And this is something that happened to me at the beginning of the book. I was washing the dishes in Lisbon and this thing came to me. I wrote for months of course. Then came the other side of the process, which is going back to the things I had written and putting some control on them, editing them and things like that. I think it is not a long novel. It’s one hundred sixty pages long. And it is full of passion.


Mr Muñoz Molina, have you ever visited Istanbul, by the way?

No, never. I’d like to visit it very much.

There were many, many Sephardic Jews in Istanbul, you know, and there was a huge population of Spanish speaking Jews in Istanbul and in the whole of Turkey because Turkey was far more receptive in 16th century. Western Europeans are proud of themselves of being more tolerant now but in the 16th century? I remember, for example, how important it was for Cervantes. He spent five years as a captive. People were thinking that he was in prison, but it is truly clear now that during his old years, he learned a lot about a different society. A society far more tolerant at the time than the one in Spain… So, this is something I would like to explore sometime.

Which means, you have a plan to visit Istanbul in the short run?

No, but if I get an invitation, I’ll most probably accept it.

<Laugh> Ok. You’re invited then.

Now that I have a friend.

Yes, you’re always welcome. We would be honoured to see you here, Mr Muñoz Molina. Thank you so much. This has been a tremendously precious interview. I thank you one more time on behalf of my magazine, Mikroscope.

Ok. So, let’s stay in touch.

Great. I’d also like to send you a few books about Istanbul if I have your postal address.

Ok. I’ll write you my postal address. Bye. And take care.

Bye, Mr Muñoz Molina.

This interview; It was published in the 22th issue of the online monthly culture, art and literature magazine “Mikroscope”.

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