Santiago Nazarian

The Bizarre Existentialism of Santiago Nazarian

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By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN/SÃO PAULO – Forty-one-year-old Santiago Nazarian was born in São Paulo, in the family of plastic artist Guilherme de Faria and writer and translator Elisa Nazarian. He studied literature and graduated in Social Communications at the Fundacao Armando Alvares Penteado (FAAP) in São Paulo. He worked as a bookstore salesman, advertising (and dial-up sex) writer and English teacher. Nazarian practiced body art and traveled a lot. He soon achieved prominence as a writer.

In 2007, Nazarian was selected by the International Book Fair in Bogota as one of the 39-highest-profile Latin American writers under the age of 39. In 2010, the influential Brazilian newspaper Globo named him among the 8 most interesting domestic debutants in the literature of the last decade. His books include Olívio (2003), Nameless Death (Planeta, Brazil 2004), Holiday of Me (2005), Chewing Humans (2006), The Building, Boredom and the Blind Boy (2009), Pornofantasma (2011), Biophobia (2014), Dark Snow (2017), and Dead Dragon’s Party (2019). Nazarian received literary prizes and his works have been translated into Spanish, Italian, English, German and Serbian. He is also a translator and does scripts for television.

Santiago Nazarian

What concerns Santiago Nazarian the writer? Your literature is classified as “bizarre existentialism,” in which you mix classic references of existentialist literature with pop culture, trash and horror. Could you please explain this style?

Although my writings are deeply rooted in Goth, Romanticism and Surrealism, I also have this huge influence of pop culture, of course, including videogames, pop music and horror. I guess it is pretty common for anyone who was born at the end of last century, but many writers, especially in Brazil, try to deny that influence; their books are always influenced by Sartre, not by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So, as a (once) young writer, I tried to incorporate those new aesthetics into my literature.

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Dear Santiago, how much you can be called a successor of the rich traditions of Brazilian literature?

Uh, I wouldn´t know. I really do not try to follow any traditions and I do not even think Brazilian literature is that rich. But for sure I was born and raised in Brazil and my writing must be soaked with Brazilian traits that I could not tell. I guess it would be easier for you guys out there to identify it.

Who are your preferred authors in Brazilian and international literature? Mine is Jorge Amado.

I love queer literature, and most of my favorite writers are gay: Oscar Wilde, Thomas Mann, Dennis Cooper and James Baldwin. Here in Brazil: João Gilberto Noll, Marcelino Freire, Lúcio Cardoso, João Silvério Trevisan, Caio Fernando Abreu. About Jorge Amado—I have only read in high school his Capitães de Areia – it is a good book, I remember enjoying it. But his universe is not really my cup of tea – actually there are loads of soap operas in Brazil inspired by his work, do you know?

I did not know. And today Paulo Coelho is considered as the most famous Brazilian writer. I remember when he came to Yerevan. At the meeting with him it was even impossible to enter the Union of Writers of Armenia. He is not my preferred author, but how you could explain the huge level of his popularity?

He does self-help literature travestied as fiction; so people read nice messages they can apply to their lives. Also they read what they already know, because it is common sense, so they feel smart when they read it. It is a rewarding, not a challenging experience.

Your books’ titles hint of gothic and vampire subjects. How urgent do they remain for 21st century literature?

As I told you in the beginning, I think my books mix this gothic feeling with a more modern pop sensibility, and this is not very common in Brazilian literature yet. I use to say that in Brazil you are either a solemn writer or a bad one, because the use of those references from popular culture are only found in commercial literature, or something for young readers. And it is not easy for me, you know, because people do not know how to label me. Young readers usually find my writing difficult, and the literati find my themes dumb.

What kind of cooperation do you have with TV? I hope not with soap operas, which at one time were also very popular in Armenia.

No, I am not a big fan of soap operas, although they are very big here in Brazil. So far I have only written 13 episodes of a TV series about crimes of passion for a cable network.

You bear the family name of your mother, writer Elisa Nazarian. Do you know where her roots go back?

A little; my mother’s father came from Kharpert. I know they came to Brazil around time of the massacres of the 1890’s. My grandmother’s maiden name is Gasparian, but I do not know much about her side. Actually, my grandparents never talked much about their roots and they have never been to modern Armenia, although they were always proud to say we are Armenians.

You traveled a lot. And you have been also in Armenia. Was this trip special for you?

The most special. I never really understood what was to be Armenian – was not it a nationality? So was it like an ethnicity? Could you be Armenian being an atheist? My visit to Armenia in 2015 was a way to get closer to those answers, starting with getting a visa in the embassy, where our surnames made a difference; and there… I would walk in the streets and see so many people that resembled a cousin, an aunt… I have been to almost 30 countries, and I have always had the feeling of being kind of a… an intruder, that is, being a tourist. But there in Armenia, when I was doing tourism, it seemed I was facing the history of my own people, and the people there made me feel that way.

Santiago Nazarian with his mother at Garni in Armenia

Do you have some Armenian traditions in your family?

No, not really. My grandfather died when I was 13, and he never spoke much about Armenia, we do not know much about his past. There is the story of a brother who disappeared in 1915. Well, there was some food, basturma. I’ve never been close to my father – I am much closer to my mom’s side, the Armenian side. That’s why I bear her name, even though my full name is Santiago Nazarian de Faria.

Recently you published your first book for children, which was a surprise for your readers. Many writers of Armenian descent include some Armenian topics in their writings. Have you done it so far and do you intend to do so later?

I have never felt capable of doing it until now. After 2015, my visit to Armenia and all, I thought it was about time. So I started doing my homework, reading memoirs about the genocide. I have read a lot for this next novel, mostly historical accounts and memoirs on the genocide. My favorite one is Four Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan by Aram Haigaz, even though it is a very… particular view on that period, but also some old Armenian folk tales – Zoolvisia, the Golden Maiden and all that. All in English translations! I loved Mayrig, the book by Henri Verneuil… I had a great uncle, Fernando Gasparian, that published lots of things about Armenian history – things like Toynbee and Michael Arlen. I got those books from my mom. I even translated a very good memoir, A Hair’s Breadth from Death by Hampartzoum Chitjian, into Portuguese and it is coming out now in Brazil. I also talked to key members of the Armenian community in São Paulo, as unfortunately we do not have “direct survivors” anymore. Actually my next novel on the Armenian Genocide and the life of a surviving family here in São Paulo is a little about my Armenian grandfather, trying to understand his origins. It is coming out later this year or early the next one, published by Companhia das Letras, in Brazil. I hope it sees an American edition soon.

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