The Spanish Riveter: POL GUASCH, author of Napalm al cor, interviewed by Jorge Garriz

Jorge Garriz: Pol, I’d like to start by asking you about the writing process of Napalm al cor, how and when did you come up with this story?

Pol Guasch: I always say that I didn’t decide to write this book: I found myself doing it, without having planned it … Over time, I have realised that the difficult thing was to continue writing, to sustain a commitment to the words that made up the story. Getting there is not complicated, the difficult thing is to keep creating, to not give up.

The novel was written in Catalan because this is the language you speak in your daily life. It won the Premi Llibres Anagrama de Novel·la award, then it was translated into Spanish by Rita Da Costa, and this was a great success. You have participated in countless presentations throughout the peninsula, and the book has also been published in French. In 2024 it will be translated into Italian, German, Slovenian and will be published by Faber in English. Napalm has had and continues to have momentum, how about the fact that the novel is going to reach an even wider audience: British and North American readers?

I feel very lucky. When I write, I don’t think about readers. I discover them later, once the novel has been published. The fact that the number of readers is continually growing will never stop moving me. It is the most beautiful way to show that novels never grow old, and you can never ever be too late for a book.

How was the experience of winning an award?

It was how I got my name out there. Being published with Anagrama is probably a fundamental part: they are a great team that trusts you and your writing. They dedicate themselves to helping you promote the book, travelling beyond the typical cultural centres and hegemonic cultural spaces. It’s all about understanding that a book is not finished when you finish writing it, and that what you decide to do once it has been published is also a big part of what it means to write.

Napalm al cor is written in the first person, and is a collection of stories – each individually titled. We read letters written by the narrator to Boris, his lover, we see graphs where the days that pass are counted, we discover photographs or poems and we also read the narrator’s reflections. All of these elements intertwine to tell us a dystopian, science-fiction story that is not based on the present, but neither the past nor future. It is almost as if your novel is floating in time …

I wanted to multiply the mediums of expression I used in the novel to multiply what could be said. There are places that words cannot reach, but photographs, for example, can. In relation to the question of time, it is true that I fled from the tyranny of the present, the nostalgic tendency of the past and the divinatory predictions of the future. I wanted the writing to have its own time and rhythm. I wanted the words to build a unique dimension that was self-referential, a world that each reader could complete with their own story.

I’d like to talk about the concept of escape, both physical and metaphorical, that you talk about in the book.

Escape deals with how the world shrinks when the language of the protagonists is lost. To be dispossessed of one’s language is to be dispossessed of one’s own world. There is a key moment in the novel that causes the characters to flee. After this it is necessary for the characters to recover their world, a world which they seem to have lost.

In the book you talk about repression, and create repressive atmospheres where language is despised, the dead are not buried, books are destroyed, men with shaved heads keep watch, and people paint the facades of houses with insults.

It has been said that the novel is an allegory for contemporary repressive acts. It is impossible for me to write today and ignore the extent to which existing is inevitably violent and difficult. I cannot write without taking into account that living is still, for most people in the world, a daily battle.

Nature is a key character in your novel; it is not only a space where the stories take place, but a poetic entity that helps the novel advance. Nature plays an important role for a whole new generation of Catalan writers. In your case, the mountain is a magical and also terrifying place, where atrocious deaths occur, bodies are devoured by birds, etc. Then, in the second part of the book, the sea represents dreams and longing.

There is the human animal and there is the non-human animal, and in addition everything that we consider inert landscape is, in reality, life. I was not interested in exploring what is human in the animal or what is animal in the human, because for me this difference does not exist. When I was writing the novel, I wondered what the difference was between the family that lived in a neighbourhood in the middle of nowhere and the pack of wolves that lived in the mountains. I wanted to explore relationships, coexistence, the complexity of life. I wanted to explore the idea that living in a community is always desirable, but at the same time it can bring conflict. I wanted to ask myself to what extent this existence is powerful precisely because it is conflictive.

Let’s talk about memory and legacy; Boris, one of the characters in the book, is a photographer and uses photos to explain what he cannot explain with words. Taking photographs allows him to keep the world in his pocket, so that people, events and places are not forgotten.

I was very interested in the question of inheritance. I wanted to make various types of inheritance coexist in the same story: the symbolic burden of all the things that have happened and that remain, silently, with us; the inheritance that runs through our blood; the inheritance of a language or a destroyed space. In what ways can we subvert the idea of inheritance and the place that one occupies in the world? The novel questions if it is possible to break the chain of inheritance. There are moments of liberation, there are moments of rupture, but also moments of union that are impossible to untie. Heredity is a fabric that is constantly being undone and rebuilt.

What is the significance of the title, Napalm al cor – ‘Napalm in Our Hearts’?

It brings together the Manichaean duality of passion and destruction. The explosion of love can save you, yes, but it can also destroy you. I think that the protagonist’s story deals with a slow and painful understanding of the double-edged sword of love and desire.

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