Nikolai Grozni: Writing From Experience Creates a Crack in the Décor

September 28, 2011
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Wunderkind cover
Wunderkind
by Nikolai Grozni

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An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Nikolai Grozni,
Author of Wunderkind

By Diane Slocum
October 2011

Konstantin, Irina and Vadim are three of the most talented students at the Sofia Music School for the Gifted. They are also among the most troublesome to the administration that stifles any spark of individuality according to the dictates of the oppressive Soviet regime of the 1980s. The teenagers’ gifts are a blessing, but they aren’t enough to remove the curse of a government that lays claim to their souls. While the students can escape into their music for a time, their dreary existence forces them into other avenues of escape as well. Grozni builds each chapter around a piece of classical music and weaves it into the fabric of his characters’ lives.

“I felt that I needed the full force of my imagination in order to bring to life this dark, inaccessible place . . .”
—GROZNI

AUTHORLINK: It seems that Wunderkind is largely autobiographical. Why did you decide to write it as a novel instead of a memoir as you did with Turtle Feet?

GROZNI: I think the story in Turtle Feetis one of those rare personal experiences where everything is so strange and unbelievable that even a drop of fiction might just ruin the magic. With Wunderkind, by contrast, I felt that I needed the full force of my imagination in order to bring to life this dark, inaccessible place called Sofia, with its cast of entirely foreign characters crushed by an alien ideology which so few people have really tried to understand. I had to create a whole new world from scratch—brick by brick, street by street, trees, cars, clouds, people, vernacular and all. In a sense I had to create a myth and place it in the mythology of existence.

AUTHORLINK: How did the process of writing and publishing the two books differ?

GROZNI: To begin with, I was listening to different kinds of music. I wrote Turtle Feetlistening to nothing but Jagjit Singh, who is, arguably, the best ghazal singer to have ever lived. Wunderkind, on the other hand, was inspired entirely by classical music. As for publishing, since both books draw on my own experience, I’ve had to talk a lot about who I’d been and what I’d done in the past.

AUTHORLINK: Music is a central element of the book. How did you bring it out with words on a printed page?

GROZNI: I bought a piano (I had lived without a piano for thirteen years), practiced manically for a year to get back in shape, and then started writing and playing and writing more and then playing more, until the boundaries seemed to disappear and I found a way to express my musical peregrinations in words. I don’t know if I have succeeded in communicating the urgency and meaning of the musical pieces to the reader, but at least I had fun in the process and learned a lot about myself as a musician.

“There were many times when I simply could not bring myself to open the novel and plunge into my past . . .”
—GROZNI

AUTHORLINK: How were you affected emotionally while you were writing the book and how did you feel when it was done?

GROZNI: The period of my life that Wunderkind is based on is extremely traumatic to me, and resurrecting it, together with all the ghosts, and then reliving it, was very painful. There were many times when I simply could not bring myself to open the novel and plunge into my past even for one more minute. At one point I actually stopped for some time because I’d have panic attacks just thinking about the predicament that the characters found themselves in—a predicament that I had, until then, succeeded in erasing from the surface of my thoughts by traveling all over the world and speaking foreign tongues. I concede that it’s entirely possible that some people weren’t affected by communism to the extent that I was and lived oblivious of the horrors committed by the regime. In the end, however, experience is subjective, and I can only write what I know.

“I also hope that the novel will speak to those who, for one reason or another, have become aware of the limits imposed on the freedoms of the individual . . .”
—GROZNI

 

AUTHORLINK: What do you hope people will gain from your book?

GROZNI: My greatest hope is that Wunderkind will cast light on historical events that only now writers and thinkers from the former Soviet block have begun to examine. I also hope that the novel will speak to those who, for one reason or another, have become aware of the limits imposed on the freedoms of the individual and the all-pervading influence of power on our lives, and worse, on our ways of thinking. The age-old conflict between the individual and society isn’t going to go away and I think that we can never grow too content in believing that the most private space of our thoughts is beyond the reach of the various systems that exert control in society.

“. . . writing from experience is incredibly important in that it inevitably creates a crack in the décor that covers the sometimes painful, sometimes beautiful truths . . .”
—GROZNI
AUTHORLINK: What advice can you give to other writers who have a highly emotional and deeply personal story to tell?

GROZNI: It would be dishonest of me to say that opening up and telling a deeply personal story is a satisfying endeavor. I still have a hard time figuring out whether reliving a painful experience through writing is cathartic or if it only deepens the original trauma. Regardless, I think that writing from experience is incredibly important in that it inevitably creates a crack in the décor that covers the sometimes painful, sometimes beautiful truths about life.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on now?

GROZNI: I’ve started a couple of projects but I’m still not sure which one I’d want to stick with. Most likely it would be a novel.

About Nikolai Grozni:

Much of Grozni’s early life is mirrored in his characters. He began training as a classical pianist at age four and by ten he was winning major world-class competitions. Life in communist Bulgaria near the end of the Cold War oppressed his spirit despite the uplifting effect of his music. Coming to the United States, he earned an MFA from Brown University. His memoir, Turtle Feet, explores his four years as a Buddhist monk in India. He lives in France with his wife and children.

Diane Slocum
About
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.

 

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This post was written by Diane Slocum