The Short Review

shining the spotlight on short story collections

Interview with Adnan Mahmutovic

Interview with Adnan Mahmutovic

author of How To Fare Well and Stay Fair, reviewed by Melissa Lee-Houghton

How long did it take to write all the stories in your collection?

I wrote the very first piece back in 2005, and then a few more followed, but then I took longer breaks between these shorts because I was working on my novel and my PhD. I wrote the very last piece—the one that opens the collection—after SALT bought the manuscript. What I like about this is that the collection shows many variations in style and content, and somehow captures the ways in which I’ve changed over the years.

Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?
I basically included most stories I’ve published. The ordering was a bit of a problem because these stories cluster in many different ways. They do not have one single common denominator—theme, style, character etc. They belong together in the sense of Wittgenstein’s “family relationships.” Half the stories follow one and the same character—I call them Almasa stories—but at the same time they may fit better with other pieces either stylistically or in terms of the core ideas I was working on. Then I also decided to include three non-fiction texts. I decided to start with one memoir piece, then continue with a string of fictions, then put another autobiographical piece somewhere in the middle, followed by fictions, and finally I close the collection with an essay.

What does the word “story” mean to you?

Do you have a “reader” in mind when you write stories?
My mother. Because she doesn’t speak English and I know she’ll never read them, no matter how curious she is about the content. I think it’s good to have a single person in mind because that helps me focus. I like stories that feel like they were written for one single person because I feel privy to those worlds in an intimate way. Those stories always contain some incomprehensible things, which only that single reader would get (and probably be furious about). This saves me from writing that type of “representative” stories, you know, representative of the war, of nations, of gender. I was well aware that writing post-war fiction would pull me into that quagmire of national writing. I wanted to tell some parts of this big history without succumbing to the “nation”, the “people”, and “History.”

Is there anything you’d like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
What do I tell my mum next time she insists that I translate the stories for her?

How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
Nice. Very nice. Very very nice, indeed. I particularly enjoy reading at events because my stories are modeled on oral tales, so many of them work well when read aloud. I like seeing people’s reactions right away.

What are you working on now?
New novel, entitled Gone Home for Life. I want to move away from my Bosnian-Swedish identity and try writing about things and people foreign to me. Then I’ll have to get to know them.

What are the last three short story collections you read?
Harold Brodkey, Stories in an Almost Classical Mode.

Jess Row, Nobody Ever Gets Lost.

Jonathan Pinnock, Dot, Dash.

Read the review of How To Fare Well and Stay Fair

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