An Interview with Vedrana Rudan

Vedrana Rudan was born and lives in Opatia, Croatia. In the early nineties, she lost her job as a radio journalist for satirizing the president of Croatia, and she currently writes for Nacional, Croatia’s biggest and best-selling daily newspaper. Her recently released novel, Night, comprises the shockingly angry and honest rant of a woman spending the night watching TV, while planning to leave her husband for another man. Night is Rudan’s first work to be translated into English and marks the emergence of a unique voice in contemporary fiction.

ANA LUCIC: While reading your book, I was reminded of Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Kathy Acker—what writers most influenced you in writing Night?

VEDRANA RUDAN: What influences! When I was writing this book I was going through a terrible depression. I had lost my job … I can’t even remember from which newspaper. I would wake up and think: this is the end! I am fifty-three-years old, nobody wants my work, and is there any life without writing?

OK, OK, I have two kids, a husband, home, garden, my cat and my mom, but, between you and me, all this doesn’t give me an orgasm on a daily basis. I sat down in front of the typewriter, yes, a typewriter, and entered into a duel with the world that doesn’t know that someone in Croatia, sitting at the kitchen table, is at work one of the world’s greatest novels. I found a publisher immediately, I have no explanation for that. Literary influences? I was an influence to Celine, not he to me. He started first? You Americans don’t have imagination!

AL: You use a lot of vulgarities. Not a style of writing is usually associated with women writers.

VR: I have never thought of myself as a “woman.” I am a human being who lives in a country in an age that allows the poor only one weapon in their duel with life, and that’s swearing. Swearing is the scream of a victim, their only normal way of speech. If they don’t swear aloud, they swear inside. There are many people out there who, after they read my book, realized what rage was brewing inside them. I am a loser, I don’t have lots of money, I don’t have power.

But, I have an opportunity to express my rage and not many people have this opportunity. I didn’t want to break any rules, I didn’t even know that there were rules in literature. And this thing about how some people think only men can swear … Who fucking cares about them! What’s important to me is that the book is being read.

AL: You once said that in your opinion feminism didn’t really change anything in our lives. Could you tell us something more about this?

VR: It would be great if somebody finally said exactly what “feminism” is. Most of the time, when somebody mentions feminism, the majority of people see the image of frustrated old women who yell that men and women should have equal rights. Their yelling only helps their self-promotion. They take pictures, they give interviews, they show off their vaginas, and many of them are paid good money for their yelling.

But nothing is changing. Women are still slaves to men, of course, different slaves because times are changing. We have machines nowadays, like dishwashers, and we even have disposable diapers. But, a human being is an animal. Men are physically stronger, but they can’t give birth. As long as women give birth and take care of their offspring, they won’t stand a chance of having equal rights. At home they are afraid of getting smacked by their partner, and at work they won’t get a promotion since their boss is a male, and meanwhile they have to care for a screaming child or children.

The status of women in Great Britain, America, Croatia and Afghanistan is the same. If we talk about the heart of the matter. If we go into details, OK, some ladies think that they are better off than “average” women. I have to add something to this. Women do resist after all. In the developed world more and more often they refuse to give birth. It gives me hope.

The time will come when women will stop giving birth. The babies will grow in test tubes, and we’ll be able to purchase them. Both males and females will buy them. When a child stops being a woman’s obligation to the State, and becomes something like a pet or a dog, then men and women will have an equal status in relation to the rich 3% of the population who have all of the power in this world.

AL: What kind of reception do you expect or hope to get in the U.S.? How do you think American critics and readers will react to your book?

VR: My literary experience showed that the majority of literary critics are a bunch of cretins. Actually, the greatest world writers, and one of my favorites, Thomas Hardy, usually got awful reviews. I don’t think American critics are more clever than the Croat ones.

I assume that they are pretentious gentlemen full of prejudices towards somebody who comes from a hellhole of a country like Croatia and is also a fifty-three-year old woman. I don’t have anything going for me. On top of everything, I tell Americans to go to hell in my book!

However, it would be a great thing if some American critic would write something about my book. The worst thing is when they don’t write anything. It’s clear to me that the American book market is huge, but I heard that Americans read only their own writers and I don’t think my book will be read the way I would like it to be read. What I would like?

It would be fantastic if Oprah would take my book in her hands and said, Hey folks, you should buy this masterpiece! But, I’ve heard that Oprah doesn’t approve of swearing, and also heard that the American dream only applies to Americans. Fuck, it’s a great thing that I’m responding to the questions of my American publisher. Perhaps my American dream has come true, and I just don’t know?

AL: Once you said that only “bitches” can succeed. Could you elaborate on this?

VR: Of course only “bitches” succeed in life. Who are the bitches? They are women who act as if they have a dick. They are sure of themselves, they don’t burden themselves with analyzing the feelings of their victims, they use men, they don’t “love” them. They know that “all you need is love” is just manipulation.

And this “love” that books, psychiatrists, psychologists, theologists, television, movies, music is selling to us means getting married to someone who will “love” and “protect” us until death do us part. The bitches know the game and they know that men are stupid guys who swallowed the story that there are wonderful, fragile beings who need to be loved and protected. So, the bitches pretend to be fragile and they act as though they need protection and that’s how they get money. And once a bitch gets money and status she can choose whether she will show the world that she is a bitch or put on the mask of a tender woman.

Bitches always do the latter. I admit, all the bitches of the world have my greatest respect.

AL: You lost your job as a journalist at the beginning of the nineties because what you were writing and saying wasn’t in line with the official politics at the time. A couple of years ago you started writing again as a columnist for one of the biggest dailies in Croatia. Could you tell us what you did after you lost your job? And what is your general attitude towards journalists and journalism?

VR: As soon as Tudjman came to power (for Americans who don’t know, and supposedly most Americans don’t know anything about Croatia, Tudjman is now a deceased president of the State, something like your Bush, but Tudjman was older and taller), I lost my job at the state radio station, because during one satirical show I offended Tudjman’s cordon. Do you know what a cordon is?

After this happened, my husband, who also lost his job, and I (my husband wasn’t offending the cordon, but he lost his job because he was not a Croat) we opened a real-estate agency. It’s a great job. Every writer should work as a real-estate agent at least once in their lifetime. This is where big money and people come together. Only real-estate agents know what pigs people are. Since there is no law in Croatia that regulates real-estate dealings, everybody who did business with us wanted to somehow deceive us and the majority succeeded in this.

I learned a big lesson: People are bastards and you have to talk to everybody as if they were thieves until, once in million cases, it proves otherwise. Journalists … I divide journalists into those who work day and night for lousy salaries and who have no human or workers’ rights, and the editors, corrupt people who would serve any master. Right now I am working as a columnist for the biggest and best-selling daily in Croatia and for the first time in my life I have a great status, I write what I want and nobody interferes in my writing.

With Nacional, what is very important to me is that I get paid good money. I suppose this is because the owner of Nacional thinks that I am a fragile woman who needs protection. And my husband has been telling me lately that I get more and more beautiful and better in bed every day. You see, money doesn’t make only fifty-something-year-old males irresistible!

AL: You once said that in Croatia you can’t go to the grocery store without being forced to swear at least three times every half hour. Is anything changing in Croatia?

VR: Croatia is a sad country. What is behind us is an awful war, lots of people lost members of their family, moved somewhere, lost their jobs, became invalids… A small number of people got rich, and are getting richer even today. Croatia is divided into very poor people and a few shamelessly rich ones.

Worst of all is that the ordinary citizens lost faith in a better future. They realized that they fought so that Croatia would sell itself to America and Europe and a couple of local gangsters. Our children are taking drugs and this is looked upon benevolently by the State, which enables these drugs to enter the country; old people are either dying of hunger or they commit suicide or they drop dead because they cannot afford medicine; lots of people work without permits in Italy or other European states so that they could survive; education became too expensive; medical care is unattainable. Croatia will soon turn into a cheap labor market.

We’ll all produce cheap shoes, T-shirts and uniforms for you Americans. And then you will put these things on and go to some Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan. If you take a closer look … Is there a difference between Croats, Chinese, Iraqi, American people? We are only meat that, against their will, go to war, today in Iraq, tomorrow in Croatia, the day after tomorrow … Meanwhile our masters play golf.

Interview by Ana Lucic, published in Context 16.

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