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Home Culture The writer Pierre Assouline: “For a Jew, I don’t know if there are safe places in Europe now” | Culture

The writer Pierre Assouline: “For a Jew, I don’t know if there are safe places in Europe now” | Culture

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If anyone wears an impeccable blue jacket and matching tie on an inclement June afternoon at the Madrid Book Fair, it is probably Pierre Assouline (Casablanca, 71 years old). Elegant, restrained, educated, the slow voice and reflective gaze of the writer—one of the most important French intellectuals—will not prevent, however, the sharp criticism of politicians or something that greatly worries a Sephardic Jew like him: the growing antisemitism detected in the world. He defends himself perfectly in Spanish, but he excuses himself: he prefers to speak in French. It doesn’t matter to him, because the first thing you hear him say in French are compliments: “I’m very happy in Madrid, I love this place. Others look for the sea or other things, but not me. I have friends here, it is my city,” he says, and it shows.

Biographer, novelist, journalist, analyst, professor… Curiously, one of the facets that has the most impact on Assouline is that of a blogger: it is a pleasure to look at his page, where each of his posts accumulates hundreds of comments from users who discuss among themselves about culture and literature. Does France have a more active cultural life than Spain? “It could be, it could be… the difference between the two countries is that in France cultural life is strong because it is concentrated. It is a very centralized country. Of course there are very important theaters and museums in many regions, but if we talk about books, publishing is concentrated not in Paris, but in a single neighborhood that brings together 80% of the books published. “This way it is easy to organize and agitate cultural life.”

“France is a country of literary tradition,” he explains. “Literary awards are important. The Goncourt (he is a member of the Goncourt Academy) is copied by everyone; It is the oldest award and the only independent one. In Spain, the Planeta, like in Italy the Strega or in England the Booker, are given by the editors… In France there are 2,000 literary festivals that give awards. There is a cultural and literary effervescence.” In Spain, at least these days, there is the Madrid Book Fair: Assouline spoke on Friday with Leila Guerriero and former soccer player Miguel Pardeza about this year’s theme, Reading and sport. A talk in which the Frenchman put forward his own contribution to that marriage: The swimmera book that tells the life of Alfred Nakache, French Olympic swimmer and Holocaust survivor.

Nakache’s is part of one of the most important parts of Assouline’s work, the biography. He has dedicated some of his best works to her, which X-ray characters such as the editor Gaston Gallimard, the novelist Georges Simenon, the photographer Cartier-Bresson or Hergé, the creator of Tintin. Contrary to biographers who focus on a specific art, the variety that Assouline has dealt with is astonishing. “What can I say, I’m eclectic, I’m afraid,” she smiles. “My driving force is curiosity, and all these characters aroused enormous curiosity in me.” What do all those names have in common? “If I have found anything, it is that the problems of artists are the same,” he says, “the entire culture forms a miasma that makes creators, although the way in which they make their art is different, resemble each other. “They are of the same race.”

One of his favorite biographers is Simenon, who in Spain has not reached the weight he has after the Pyrenees. “When it came to, for example, winning the Nobel, I think that the fact of doing crime novels weighed on him. He not only did crime novels, of course: half of his work is Commissioner Maigret, but the other half are literary novels of enormous quality. On the interviewer’s cell phone, he takes a look at Simenon’s works translated into Spanish and stops at a recommendation. “This. The cat. It is about a relationship crisis, about their arguments, about how their relationship is falling apart. Wonderful”.

Assouline, on Friday in El Retiro.INMA FLORES

A Jew born in Morocco, his family’s Sephardic origin made him able to fight for the citizenship that his ancestors lost in 1492. After almost six years he obtained the nationality promised by the Spanish Government in 2015. “Partly, because I made a lot of noise,” he explains. with a resigned look. It is true, during that time, Assouiline denounced the numerous bureaucratic obstacles that accompanied the achievement of nationality and that he recounted in Return to Sepharad (2019). How do you experience what is happening in Gaza? “Bad,” she says without letting the question finish. “Very sad”. “This war is a consequence of another war, which lasted one day and which happened on October 7. 1,200 Jews dead. The equivalent in Spain would have been tens of thousands dead.” “I am very sad about the position of the Spanish Government with the Gaza conflict. “I vote to the left, and I voted for Pedro Sánchez,” she says. “But I am very disappointed.” Not only with President Pedro Sánchez, but also with the statements of Second Vice President Yolanda Díaz that Palestine will be free “from the river to the sea” (“The vice president’s statements are irresponsible; that means the suppression of Israel,” he points out. the writer) or with the Amnesty Law. He says all this as a full-fledged Spaniard who proudly shows his ID.

Very seriously, he stares at the interviewer and confesses to seeing with concern “the growing anti-Semitism unleashed in Europe and the United States.” Who is to blame for this anti-Semitism? “Two. On the one hand, the virulent activism of the extreme left, and then the activism of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are very well organized. This conjunction has created, for example, the boycott of Western universities. “I am very concerned about the situation.” For him, this reveals “the death of the critical spirit.” “Anti-Zionism has completely adopted the rhetoric of anti-Semitism: October 7 has released anti-Semitism into the world, which was hiding.” And you don’t believe in the two-state solution? “Well, but it’s very complicated, and now is not the time. It is evident that now is not the time: What happens to those raped and tortured women? When this is over, we will see the solution.”

I am very sad about the position of the Spanish Government with the Gaza conflict. I vote to the left, and I voted for Pedro Sánchez

Does Assouiline, who has always stated that his greatest literary influence is Kafka, see Kafkaesque times these days? “I love Kafka too much to say that these are Kafkaesque times,” he says, laughing. “It’s an overused adjective.” He has spoken about Gaza and Spain, but he also has words for France. “Now are the European elections, but in France the quality of the political debate is very poor, and I think there will be a lot of abstention. The debate on Europe has been completely co-opted by Rebellious France, which has focused the debate on Palestine. And the common policy? And European defense?” And Marine Le Pen’s party? “Le Pen’s party, Bardella (Jordan Bardella, National Rally candidate for the European elections), has no experience. He can win… well, in France we say: they are only European, they are not that serious… we will see in the next presidential elections. Wait and see”. We will see. “Anyway, the important thing is November: the United States; If Trump wins, it will be a catastrophe. Illiberal regimes grow. Countries are turning to the right, and that may have consequences in Ukraine as well. If they lose, we lose.”

Politics, literature, sports… And life? She once said that she would want to come live in Spain. Do you still maintain it? “I could live in Spain, I love it. But for a Jew, I don’t know if there are safe places in Europe now,” she concludes. “Anyway, I love France. And I love Spain. I have studied Arabic, German, I could live somewhere else, but I would not stop writing in French,” he adds. “For a writer, the important thing is his language. And my real homeland is the French language.” Long live the language.

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