Interview with shortlisted author Aziz Mohammed
Where were you when the shortlist was announced and what was your reaction to the news?
I was at work. I was too busy to get a chance to express my joy by ululating, but of course I was very grateful and happy with the reactions of friends and readers who had hoped it would reach the shortlist.
Is “K” based on a real person?
Yes and no. The traditional answer that there are no literary characters without a basis in reality applies. And vice versa, a person cannot be real until he/she becomes a fictional character. This would be equally true if it were written about the adventures of an old pirate or about the memoirs of a young employee.
Kafka’s influence on you as a novelist is quite clear. When did this begin? And which other writers have influenced you as a novelist?
I do not entirely agree. It is clear that the main character in the novel loves Kafka, but love is not the same as influence. Your personal preferences or inclinations in reading material is not necessarily reflected in the writing. You might find yourself writing in the style of a writer you do not like, as the case with some claiming that K’s style was similar to some of Murakami’s novels whom he did not like. Unless by the same logic, Kafka on the Shore is a Kafkaesque novel simply because his name is mentioned in the title.
As for the writers who have influenced me, Jeff Kinney who wrote Diary of a Wimpy Kid comes to mind. The boy in this series maintains his sense of sarcasm even in his darkest hours, which he uses to make light of his misfortune. This made it easier for him to move on to the next misfortune without being stuck in the misery of this cycle. This is close enough to what I tried to do with K.
What are you reading now?
I am currently reading The Wonders of Creation by Zakariya al-Qazwini, which is a nice book that combines reality with fantasy, and facts with lies without any limits or restrictions. It brings together maturity and naiveté without either affecting the other. I’ve also started reading the other shortlisted novels to get to know them better after everything that I’ve heard about them.
Some directors have discussed The Critical Case of “K.” Are there any plans to turn it into a film?
No plans have been proposed to me yet, but I would like if this happened in the future. Of course, changes to the events, themes and main characters would be necessary, even if the novel ends up losing its identity and the product has nothing to do with it. I don’t believe it is possible to preserve the soul of any literary text when it is being adapted into film. It would be more exciting for me to see the deconstruction and manipulation of the text to be re-presented in a new soul at the hands of someone else.
How were you able to write about the disease and treatment in such detail?
A cancer patient told me that the novel fell short in presenting the details of the treatment, as if I was trying to avoid exposing my ignorance. A specialized nurse in the intensive care unit pointed out that details from the novel do not correspond to her professional experience. These are just examples to show you the relativity of gauging these details. But I think the matter should exceed the amount of details, research efforts and even falling back on personal experience. For the details from a personal experience would fail to appear sincere or touching if not shown from the most transparent angles that best suit the text. Here lies the thin line between literary writing and narrative documentation.
The novel’s ending was unexpected. After all the absurdity and depression, came hope and the willingness to live albeit in a different place. Was the problem with the place K found himself in? Is his optimistic ending a departure from the earlier style?
I don’t think the ending was hope-filled, rather it was more about being purely materialistic. Of course, one could do a romantic reading that associates his departure with the idea of the other place and this would be in line with what he said about Joyce’s A Portrait of the artist as a Young Man. Or a sympathetic reading that would link the change to his maturity after his experience in the intensive care, his regret and the crying episodes, etc. But I have no doubts about the ability of money alone to make us more open, optimistic and desiring of life. It allows us the luxury of forgiving others and ourselves, downplays our failures and compensates our frustrated ambitions. Thus, the impact of materialism on K’s character does not seem bad in the end. Accepting this new luxurious life is the culmination of his increasing feeling that literature has lost the ability to leave an impact and of his giving up on writing.