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Tijana Živaljević — Keep the Conversation Going

Translator: Ana Klikovac

Interview published in "Gracija" magazine

Tijana Živaljević, born in Cetinje (Montenegro), is a writer and diplomat who in recent years published two books. "Dialogues in Paris" inspired by her life in Paris, and "Dialogues in Montenegro" influenced by her native country

Today, she lives and creates in Montenegro.

  • Your new book "Dialogues in Montenegro" has recently been published. In it you noted a selection of real conversations practically in poetic form which evoke a powerful internal experience. How did this book come about and which artistic yearning of yours is reflected in it?

I wrote the book Dialogues in Paris whilst I was living in Paris and when I returned from France to Montenegro, I continued writing down dialogues. The writing process of Dialogues in Montenegro has lasted six years, from my return to the summer of 2020. Neither one of the books had a preplanned outcome, instead, they have freely followed the course of my perception, which has constantly been focused on the essence, the existence of one of the most complex secrets – human being and his or her destiny.

  • Your need to listen to yourself and the world around you, through language, the manner in which you do that in stories reveals your worldviews, what are those values that you aim to uphold? What does your tailor-made world look like?

As you have previously mentioned, Dialogues in Montenegro are not the product of imagination, instead they are excerpts from real conversations, thus, they are a real-life transcript. Allow me to make a parallel. When we photograph nature, everything is given, everything is there, it is up to us to choose the frame, to choose an important detail, not to create a scene in a studio. In that way Dialogues are very similar to photography. Every dialogue is my real-life frame, scene, detail of choice. The world composed out of all the chosen dialogues reminds us, among other things, that poetry is omnipresent, accessible to everyone and it is up to me, as the author, to help readers see it as well, and to keep noticing it when they reach the final page, and when they finish reading the book.

  • Would you share with us one dialogue from the book which fully alludes to that?

Prosaic insert from page 17 .

"I remember that you were the only gentleman in Cetinje who wore a scarf under his shirt collar,"

"Yes I was. It is my father's scarf. I wore it all the time. As the silk tore along the edges, I would fold it differently to hide the ripped spots. I can't wear it now, it looks like it's been through the battle of Wolf's Valley."

  • Your first book was "Dialogues in Paris", how different are those dialogues?

The most interesting comparison was given by a musician. I will share that fragment.

"Have you read the manuscript?"

"I have. Dialogues in Paris are jazz, Dialogues in Montenegro are pop-rock."

Additionally, there is a dialogue which describes the difference between French and our language, but we know that language is the most exact vector of one culture and, in this case, the book itself. In the following part (pg. 221):

"Do you know how many times I've read the translation of this poem and I'm thinking how beautiful our language is – full of sharp points just like karst stones."

"Then what does French language sound like?"

"French is like…flute in jazz."

  • In the work "Dialogues in Paris" it is clearly visible how important books are in your life, in the relationships with others, in your world as a whole? Have you always taken books with you wherever you moved?

I have never brought my books from one city to the next, I was always ready and open towards new books. Today our home library is full of books in French, English, Slovenian language together. I always feel safe and humble, in the library, next to books. Wherever I lived, I familiarized myself with the local culture, learnt local language and read local publications. When I returned to Montenegro, I continued exploring our culture, among other e.g., to discover aesthetics of jewelry found on our landscapes dating from Illyrian and Roman period.

  • Your life path is quite interesting. From Cetinje where you were born, schooling has taken you to Slovenia, then to Nice and Paris. You built your career as a translator, in economics as the Advisor for the Delegation of the European Union in Podgorica, then in Paris in European Council's Developmental Bank. To what extent is all that variety of experiences, cities, encounters, cultures united in your dialogues and how have they shaped you?

There is one common thread for my entire career. Whether it in international organizations, tourism or writing, my attention is always focused on the intercultural dialogue. In international organizations we are surrounded by people who come from different cultures, in tourism- naturally. Dialogues in Paris gather people from all around the world that live in that fascinating metropolis, whereas in Dialogues in Montenegro important dialogues are also with travelers, that have arrived to meet our country and brought with them their spirit and their culture to us for a at least a few days. In terms of how has all that variety of experiences, cities, encounters, cultures shaped me, the best portrayal was given by associate professor Jasna Tatar-Anđelić in a comment regarding the book Dialogues in Montenegro: "There is an openness of the spirit, which makes borders turn into bridges, spirit air out in the sun and grow from every travel."

  • Which dialogue, during the time of epidemics when nothing is the same, are you having with yourself these days?

I always remind myself that writing and travelling are ways of exercising freedom. Now, during the time of epidemics, when travels are significantly more difficult or denied to us, we are left with writing and reading. Book as a form of an encounter, is always there.

  • You have received the support from the Ministry of culture of Montenegro, through "Živimo kulturu" (Living through culture) project, how important is it to you that your creation has gained recognition? To what extent are we in Montenegro living through culture too?

I am very pleased that the Ministry of culture has recognized the artistic strength of Dialogues. I believe that we are slowly being forgiven for dealing in arts through every recognition. In Montenegro it is most important for us to continue exploring our own culture and to continue to create… that is, in the nature of Dialogues, to continue to converse.

Follow Tijana's work on her website.

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