Joaquim Arena is not the typical Cape Verdean writer, has no diasporic profile but has a sharp eye towards his country, Green Cape. It is a book that shows the colors of a young nation, the creolization of a society where there is a deep cultural shock, a romanticized history and an environmental focus.
Why did you choose this time of the first republic for your book?
Joaquim Arena: It's a time of opening of the countrie, the first multiparty elections and also transferred to the people a message of hope and this happens in all countries. There is this historical course of a single party or a dictatorship, as in Portugal and then there is an explosion of joy, ideas and projects. There was also a string of concern throughout a historical process, is also the result of an investigation of a nationalist group ETA, ex-combatants, who exile in Green Cape. There is a choice of this period, because there is a coincidence of several factors, the opening of the country, the time when ETA sought places of exile and tourism which in a way put at risk the environment of turtles, megalomaniac projects that put in danger spawning zones of this species, so here there are also many aspects that contribute to this story have occurred in that period.
There is also the issue of various kinds of language that you use the "Where do fly the turtles", a multiple mirrors, it was an original idea?
JA: It happens naturally. The characters have very different stories, speak a completely different language and in this context also reflects their concerns. There are parts where I speak of fishermen has to do with a way of life in which the concept of environmental balance is something they do not understand because always their grandparents and parents hunted turtles to feed on it's flesh. Of course it is a different language taking in account the update information what is the more international, more ecological thought and hatching at the same time because all this does not make sense in the fishing island of Boavista, where people expect the spawn season to catch turtles, usually these animals are an alternative food to fishing, because, as a rule, weather does not allow it. It has always been like that.
These multiple languages also has to do with the fact that you not subscribe this book as a novel? Also wanted to escape that stereotype or this idea of book?
JA: The idea of novel is not unequivocal, there are several ways of presenting it. There is a linear story with two people and then there are more complex plots, with mirrors and that converge to a point that is Cabo Verde. Lives are different, people are arriving and somehow end up being connected, like us, so, a kind of God is looking at all, eventually looking at me and you and see our connections with others. I was born in Green Cape, but I live in Portugal for several years, I am the son of a Portuguese father, who came from Minho and there is this kind of stories. To me never satisfy me the linear and short stories, I always see this branch. At the bottom the characters in this book have common stories that end up being in a particular geographic location, because it has to happen at some point, because people are free, they travel, circulate and bring components of their culture of origin and after they have to deal with others and with this diversity of people who are on site and make concessions and often fail and there are conflicts. Therefore, the history of mankind is made of these frictions, but if they want to try to find a language in common, some times succeded others cannot. The history of humanity evolves, there has been success, is like a tide that will flowd and will spread in various cultures and then it comes up a synthesis of cultures that result from these populations.
Another issue that was placed and they talk about is that you approach the creolization of society, how this translates in your writing? In what way?
JA: Naturally and this has to do only with creole, I never liked to see people of a humble up bringing have a dialogs in which the author did not take into account the real structure both mental or cultural of that person. We in Green Cape speak on a day-to-day basis creole, but in the solemn institutions, parliament, courts, conservatory is spoken Portuguese, but all the literature and I am speaking in prose, poetry and fiction is all in the language of Camões since the first and the last line does not make sense and what have I done? I have creole characters and write in creole mixed with Portuguese, was the only way to be able to reflect some realism and who was these characters. They were fishermen, who are in their natural form of expression, they do not speak Portuguese, speak creole, there was this need to approximate the natural language of the character, to have the body and life and I did not bastardize it, nor gave a higher cultural level than there is in the reality, you will not find not a fisherman in Green Cape with the Portuguese that are talking, but in literature you will find these examples, whether other professions and I put them to speak creole, with the risk of a Portuguese do not understand, but this dialect read by a Portuguese speaker is understood and they can frame it, I always defended it.
So of all the characters you describe in your book, what's your favorite?
JA: To get an idea, I have a ETA fighter that is going to the island, as an exile, there is an old lighthouse keeper, the ex-ETA will live with the lighthouse keeper, I have a kid on the run from a gang of traffickers, I have an portuguese biologist who will go to Green Cape to study sea turtles and falls in love with an older man and gets the basque to help her save the turtles and this in turn applies in environmental defense, his ideal of struggle for independence of the Basque country. I believe it's the lighthouse keeper, because it bridges the gap between these characters, because he sees the approach of the ex-ETA and the marine biologist, all eventually converge to the lighthouse. He who lives in that location for over 60 years and notices the change and development of the island, the hotels arriving in large numbers, the planes that bring tourists and he is the teller of the history and at the same time this also linked to the past, the child represents the future.
You are currently writing a new book about Green Cape is seen throughout the centuries and around the world, in particular, you approach the race. What led you to write this new story? Because it is completely different.
JA: Which brings me to write this way is because the novel is not enough, because there are many episodes that are registered in newspapers that they were not given the value they deserve and what I want is to make a kind of puzzle.
But, are you doing a great research because you talk about Melville, you seek news.
JA: I have four years of researching and I say this is not stick with my life. I get to the fifties, forty of which in Portugal and I've been hearing stories and all those tales are reality with very little fiction and it takes some time to synthesize the context of my voice and the line that goes stitching all these parts. I had heard this story of Melvill and one character was not Portuguese, but a Cape Verdean of the island of Fogo and is not Portuguese. At the time Green Cape belonged to the Portuguese empire and were confused with the Portuguese in the first half of the nineteenth century and then start to compare all these connections. More, my uncles Simon and that Solomon were barred at a club in Florida, in the 60s, at the time of the struggles of American civil rights. So this issue of race does not begin in the twentieth century, but the story starts earlier and also the story of a cannibal I read and is true.
Then to make a collection of all references on Green Cape in the world and racism. There are several poles, news, literature and true stories.
JA: It is a patchwork in which the important thing is not to say it is my invention or truth, I'll put all, introduce the reader to a slimmer form of writing, direct and for me is not concerned knowing where the fiction of Joaquim Arena begins and factual research ends, no. There will be many connection points with my family, I have cousins in the US, Brazil, the Netherlands, serves to show our Cape Verdean reality, our diaspora scattered in various countries, continents and eras. How do you write about it? A novel is not enough, I want something more comprehensive, not in terms of pages, it will not be something huge, but in terms of subject that goes jumping on, told the Cape Verdean reported by Melville in Mobi Dick, jumping to the 80's in Portugal and about a cannibal who terrorized a city.
But interestingly all this sounds to me more like a essay.
JA: Exactly. It's a mix, is autobiographical, essay, history and travel. It is a model already adopted by some writers, because it is often very difficult to write about a topic in a traditional way, so to marry all these genres, we use a crossing prose and follow paths to bring the reader an overview and that is my purpose. I picked the riddle of mestizaje because we Cape Verdeans always had a dubious behavior towards race and skin color and how do you fight it?
You can advance the title?
JA: That I will not tell you.
But when you intend to publish it?
JA: I just want it ready towards the end of the year, I can say that is already written and word end has arrived, but reading there are paragraphs that can grow a little more, or cut which is in excess in others, to reach a point where I have a global reading that remains alone, that the chapters are balanced, full-bodied and where I do not have too many strong sections and other weaker. It is a matter of reading and the author's own intuition, so I have no hurry, no limit, I do not have a deadline, no one can see write as well, because there were things that I could only get much later connection and I have to get to point I have to stop, it does not happen like an artist who paints a picture and never finnish it, always taking another stroke. I'll get to the point where I do a reading and say, ok, it's alright and I will not read anymore, or I am always with the idea of doing something else and never end up.