Interview with Fernando Iwasaki: “Humour is a way of being in this world; a way of contemplating, interpreting and explaining it”
By Marisel Mendoza, translated by Ellen Donnison
Fernando Iwasaki is renowned Peruvian writer, who was born in Lima in 1961. He is also a narrator, essayist, critic and historian, a man whose versatility is reflected in his multifaceted work. His stories, articles, essays and novels have received critical acclaim.
Iwasaki has multicultural roots. His grandfather originated from East Asia and Iwasaki was born and raised in Peru but now lives in Spain.
Iwasaki often employs humour in his work. He uses irony and subtle sarcasm in his original and reflective work that explores distinct perspectives. The use of humour is evident in his publications Book of Bad Love (2001), the Tooth Decay novels (2005), Funeral Trousseau (2004), Freeze You from Love (2006) and Peruvian Inquisitions (2007), and in a similar vein, the essay, The Discovery of Spain (1996). One of his most recent publications, A Declaration of Humour, consisting of his chronicles, was awarded the Spanish prize ‘Bodegas Olarra & Café Bretón’.
His diverse and playful stories are narrated in an original way, displaying the skills of this talented writer.
Ventana Latina had the pleasure to speak to Fernando Iwasaki and we invite you to join us in learning more about this extraordinary writer, who is considered one of the most prestigious names in todays’ Latin American narrative.
Ventana Latina: When beginning to write, what is your starting point?
Fernando Iwasaki: The unique things that I know relating to my own life and reading. Therefore, I’m not greatly interested in things such as cinema, television, social networks, nor mediums of communication. I’m not at all ‘integrated’ and more than anything ‘apocalyptic’.
VL: Do you believe that the unique way in which you write comes from humour?
FI: Not at all, humour is a ‘glance’ or a window through which one can contemplate reality, but it’s neither a style nor a technique. A literary comedian is not a screenwriter for television monologues. Chesterton, Russell and Thackeray were marvellous literary comedians but they demonstrated it through the essay, the novel and critique, and never by telling jokes.
VL: Through your use of humour do you present a vision of reality? From which perspectives is humour present in your literary work?
FI: Humour is a way of being in this world and therefore a way of contemplating, interpreting and explaining it. Regarding this, I have been interested in contemplating certain themes that are not usually approached in a light-hearted way, such as lack of affection, physical pain, eroticism, horror or repression. These themes were explored in Book of Bad Love, Tooth Decay, Funeral Trousseau and Peruvian Inquisitions.
VL: For you, is humour a certain attitude towards life, a way to cope with tragedy?
FI: Well, tragedy exists and we cannot escape it. If everything goes well, my children will survive me, but in life we presume that we will witness the death of our parents, our friends and our siblings, as well as suffer illnesses, physical deterioration and economic ruin. How can we be fond of this? I just am a pessimist that wants everything to turn out well.
From trials in love to good humour.
In the Book of Bad Love Iwasaki laughs at himself, converting the trials of love into something humorous. This work is considered to be quite peculiar as Iwasaki narrates his failed relationships in a detailed and sarcastic manner. The humour is self-critical which we can relate to dysfunctional relationships. However, it is not written from the point of view that love is unattainable.
VL: One of your novels, Book of Bad Love, brings together ten of your failed relationships, which alludes to the idea that ‘when failing to be successful in love, what’s positive is making light of failure and difficult or testing relationships in love and this often guarantees a good sense of humour’. What are you referring to exactly with this idea?
FI: I want to emphasise that I’ve had more than ten failed relationships but I only wanted to fictionalize the most disastrous in this book, it was not an attempt to be conceited. In Spanish, ‘amor’ and ‘humor’ sound almost the same, unlike ‘love’ and ‘humour’ in English, and this alone makes it’s very easy to make fun of love. Love has made a fool out of me many times. This has stayed with me and led to writing a novel where I could laugh at myself. This way I was able to convert the bad experiences of love into something positive, a good sense of humour.
VL: Do you believe humour is generally scarce in society, particularly between couples?
FI: No, not at all. In fact there are people who don’t have a sense of humour and are very happy compared to someone who does, in the same way that a couple can have a sense of humour but this does not guarantee happiness. On the other hand, to have a sense of humour does not make us better or worse than others. That said, my mother has always recommended that I be friendly, cheerful and fun, because, “If on top of being ugly you are unfriendly, annoying and boring, only your grandma will put up with you”.
VL: You have approached distinct subjects, such a failed relationships from a humorous point of view, but also other themes, for example, in the stories from Peruvian Inquisitions and in the essay, The Discovery of Spain.
FI: Chesterton said that the essay was the territory for jokes and what Bertrand Russell wanted was for us to never look back at things solemnly. Both were marvellous essay writers and I would love it if my essays had that irreverence and fluency. Because of this I haven’t renounced a large portion of myself, my humour, in The Discovery of Spain (1996) and it’s sequel Republicans (2008).
VL: What are your current projects? Are you working on a new literary piece?
FI: For me, fiction and non-fiction titles are as important as each other. Even though I don’t have enough time to write fiction now, I still continue writing essays, articles, chronicles and lectures. These are later made into books because I believe they are united by coherent themes, such as the review, the language, the journeys or their destination. When I retire I will complete the last two novels I have left to finish. Later on down the line, everything else will be non-fiction. In musical terms, I want to finish with my discography so I can solely dedicate myself to giving live concerts.
To discover more about Fernando Iwasaki visit: