Alejandra Olivera is a writer, a clinical psychologist, gourmandize, musician, artist, designer, and explorer. She has lived in Rome, London, Argentina, the Amazon and is now currently sharing her time between New York and Japan.
Q. From a Japanese point of view, I see you have included many references to Japanese culture, and clearly you enjoy their history. You are originally from Argentina, what drew you to set the novel in Japan? What was it about the culture that drew you to tell your story within that context?
A. I am still in the search of that answer. I never had much contact with the Japanese culture except for a painting exhibition that I made in the Japanese Foundation in Argentina. When I went to Japan, I had no idea how I was going to feel or if I would like it there... But it took a few moments, when we were driving from Narita airport across the suburbs, to feel a connection that started to increase ever since.
Q. There is a lot of creative, unique prose that I liked, for example the phrase "a magnificent rebellion of objects" and "their heads were crowned with damp towels", what is your creative process to come up with these intricate descriptions?
A. When I write, there is a musicality that comes with words and phrases, a rhythm, a tone... I write in images and sounds. Almost as if in a movie. That is the reason why I personally took care of the translation into English - since I wrote in Spanish- I did not want to loose this. We found ourselves, with the translator, working almost as musicians with it. The translation took two years...!
Q. Here Be Dragons tells the tale of interweaving life stories that take us through a complex and changing culture. How did you come up with the basic structure for the book?
A. It wrote/developed itself. I had no idea where it was taking me. The story is always he same; it is always about searching... about love and a place in the world. It the “story of human”...
Q. Throughout your novel you cover mental illness and in my opinion, healing. Did you base this on a specific patient of yours?
A. No, no specific patient had its print here... There is experience and knowledge, if you wish, but the boundaries of what we know as “mental illness”, in this case, is like written in the sand. People walk on it and what you read gets distorted. Then come the tide and washes things away. There are things, most things, we don’t know. We construct our world with the few “Lego” we have available, and then we explain to ourselves, our children and to whoever is available to listen, how the world is, how reality is, but the fact is that we have no idea. We can only talk about what we perceive, and perception is deceiving. The archaic ways to express dis-functionality in personality sometimes differs from “modern”ways. So things like “fright” or “possession”, need to also count.
Q. Here Be Dragons includes ancient maps from Japan complete with dragons. The maps are literal, outlining physical dangers, but they are also metaphorical. Can you talk a bit about that?
A. The figure of the Dragons, I find fascinating, indeed because it is polysemic: it has several signs to it, meanings. In the book, dragons are everywhere; as the Great Chinese Wall in Tanaka’s dream, which is significant; then as creatures on the borders of cartography, signaling danger but also limitation, then at the entrance of shrines -you always have two-, then as impersonations of fears. The dragons are always metaphors, as they do not physically exist, but we do not have to confuse a physical inexistience with lack of reality. They are still real, in some realm.
Q. Each writer has different motivations and expectations, what would you like your readers to take away from the reading of this novel?
A. I would like the reader to be able to find something that was forgotten, to remember themselves, in some point. I also want to deliver things of the Japanese culture that are unknown to most, and to enjoy!
The message will be individual, and still universal, because in one way or the other we are all into this journey and we all have “dragons” to battle or seduce, “dragons” to learn from, and “dragons” to respect and leave alone.
About the book:
The phrase “Here Be Dragons” was coined by Roman cartographers, placed in the margins of navigational charts. It meant to warn sailors away from the unknown, where sea monsters were believed to exist.
In her new novel, Here Be Dragons, Alejandra Olivera, weaves a kaleidoscope of intertwining sagas and life stories. The novel forms a map of human relationships, that are, in turn, embedded in yet another map: the one of the complex and rich Japanese culture.
In this deeply magical novel, Olivera captures the beauty and sensitivity of Japanese narrative. The story grapples with the pain and upheaval of a reality marked by the encounters and missed encounters that dominate everyday life.
Here Be Dragons, is shrouded in an atmosphere of suspense in which characters, driven by an intense inner search for what lies beyond the horizon, will have to confront their own “dragons”.
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