Longlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize, Jonas Eika is the author of After the Sun.
One of Denmark’s most exciting writers, Eika tells us how a feeling of exhaustion prompted him to write his longlisted novel, and why he challenged himself to write unplanned and without boundaries.
What first inspired you to write After the Sun?
There wasn’t any moment of inspiration as such. What there was, was an exhaustion both personal and collective, a general sense that the future could only be a continuation of the present or perhaps slightly worse. The dominant temporalities seemed cruelly realistic. So I wanted to write something that started from that exhaustion and stayed within it, while at the same time insisting on a potential for transformation. This meant remaining open to the unforeseen and the unplanned, in terms of genre and narrative, and on a sentence level too. Feeling literally exhausted myself, I had to write in a way that could surprise myself.
What’s your earliest reading memory?
Reading the Valhalla comic books as a child and being very fascinated by the human-like, changeable, and sometimes ridiculous characters of the Gods in Norse mythology and all of their intrigues.
What authors have made the biggest impact on your work?
Oh, that’s a difficult one. Limiting it to three, I’d go with Simone Weil, Clarice Lispector and William Burroughs.
How does it feel to have your work translated for people in the English-speaking world to read?
It’s a privilege, and it’s strange to think about how many readers in many different places it might reach. Seeing my own work in translation (in a language I understand) also makes it feel even more separate from me – it feels kind of like a different book now.
Tell us a lesser-known (fun) fact about you.
Hmm. A job I used to have consisted of driving around Jutland to old wells and measuring the level of the groundwater. OK, not particularly fun, but anyway: I just typed in the numbers and never learned anything about groundwater, but I did learn that there is a surprisingly large number of dead animals in old wells in Jutland, even though the wells were closed and sealed off. I didn’t learn how the animals got there either.
And an interesting fact about the book.
One of the stories, ‘Rachel, Nevada’, came from something I dreamed: an elderly woman comes home from a concert, uplifted, almost exalted, and tells her partner that the artist approached her during the show, saying something like ‘We’ve met before. We met on the radio’. I woke up and had that scene in my mind (and a vague sense of a hazy, desert-like place), and then writing the story was about finding out what might lead up to it, and who the artist might be.
Seeing my own work in translation (in a language I understand) also makes it feel even more separate from me – it feels kind of like a different book now
What’s your favourite bookstore to frequent and why?
There’s Storrs Antikvariat, a second-hand bookshop here in Copenhagen that I really like, mostly because of its great selection. Sometimes you’ll find Danish translations of feminist sci-fi from the 1970s and radical political theory. And you can ask the owner to keep an eye out for specific books that are otherwise almost impossible to find.
Tell us about a book that changed your life.
Gravity & Grace, the posthumous collection of Simone Weil’s notebooks. The writing is dense and paradoxical, yet simple and clear. It’s mystical, moral and political all at the same time. Reading it for the first time was an encounter with an intelligence that felt alien to me, but that nevertheless spoke to my world. In Weil’s writing, there is something like a belief in absolute principles and the possibility of opening oneself up to them, that I think has affected how I think about love, subjectivity, politics …
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
‘Attach yourself to what you feel to be true. Begin there.’ It comes from The coming insurrection by The Invisible Committee, and it’s really advice about how to find each other, how to find friends and comrades, but I’d say it works for writing, too: Embrace your inclinations and tastes, not what or how you think you should write.