Vasken Berberian

Vasken Berberian: ‘There Are Always Autobiographical Parts in My Novels’

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YEREVAN / ATHENS — Film director, producer, and creative writer Vasken Berberian was born in Athens and lived in Italy for more than 35 years. In 1977-1982 he studied engineering science at University of Toronto and has worked most of his life in advertising. He is author of short stories, scripts and novels. In 2011 he co-authored with Sonia Raule Like Sand in the Wind, about an Armenian woman, survivor of Spitak earthquake, who finds refuge in Italy. The novel has been published in English in 2014. His Italian novel Sotto un cielo indifferente (Under Indifferent Skies, 2013) was awarded the recipient of three major literary awards: the Premio Acqui Storia, Italy’s most prestigious literary award for historical novels, Prize Horcynus Orca and Prize Ippolito FNISM. It has been translated into Greek, English and Russian. As the book announcement states: “Under Indifferent Skies is an enticing novel, recounting the story of the Armenian genocide and beyond, from the shores of the Mediterranean to the frozen Siberian coast, from the plush palazzi of Venice to the cruel Soviet concentration camps, following the lives of two twin two brothers, Mikael and Gabriel, and their younger sister, Rose.  The story moves in space and time against the background of many of the significant historical events of the last century which shook the very foundations of humanity. It is compelling, full of suspense and unexpected narrative twists.”

“Vasken Berberian is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and authentic literary voices of present-day Italy. He shows he is an interpreter of the deeper meaning of History. Through his literary filter he manages to reweave the painful fate of a family in a style which revives the canons of ancient Greek tragedy. For this reason, our jury has decided to award him the prize for the Best Historical Novel of 2014, in acknowledgement of the ethical/epic value of his book and his ability to portray articulate, complex and evocative scenarios” (from Acqui Storia Prize’s jury’s official press release).

Vasken, first I learned about you as the director of 1997 short Italian film, “Amen.” As far as I understand, you have made advertising films, but what film is “Amen?”

“Amen” is a tribute to postmodernism, inspired by Bret Easton Ellis’ books, which fascinated me at the time. The film is about a rock star and his huge ego who, gradually, comes to terms with his shortcomings.

Being Greek-born Armenian your literary language supposed to be Greek, but you are an Italian writer. How so?

I’ve literally grown in Italy, at least mentally. Writing in Italian came as a natural consequence. If one’s mother tongue is important, it’s even more so the language one has matured with.

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Now living again in your birthplace do you continue writing Italian?

I think I have mastered Italian, it’s a language which I feel deeply, after so many years. If I ever wrote in another language, I’m afraid it would not be in Greek, but rather in English.

I have read your novel Under an Indifferent Skies in Russian translation. Some actions take place at Armenian college of Venice. How this city influenced on you as writer?

Most people have erroneously thought, after reading Under Indifferent Skies, that I’ve graduated from the Armenian Mkhitarist college in Venice. However, I do admit, I was stunned by the beauty and the history of the college, let alone Venice, the minute I set foot there. You must fall in love with the places you describe in a novel.

The personal story of each Diaspora Armenian might be fodder for books and films. I think that of your ancestors is no exception.

My grandparents were refugees from Anatolia, fleeing the atrocities of the Genocide. My father’s dad, Hampartsum, never recovered from his traumas. He kept on telling us how beautiful Adana, his native city, used to be. There are always a few autobiographical parts in my novels, wisely woven with the fictitious parts. I don’t like writing about my family, I’m afraid it would be too egocentric and personal.

Topics: Books, film

Greek Armenians, being almost fully integrated into Greek society, usually keep the Armenian language and traditions. How do you see their future?

Needless to say, no culture may truly survive unless within the boundaries of its own country. I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but matter how hard we try, we are bound to lose part of our identity.

Have you some idea about Armenian literature and film?

My notions regarding Armenian literature are limited to whatever I was taught at the elementary Zavarian Varjaran (college) of Athens, and that’s a long time ago. We were taught all about Bedros Tourian, Daniel Varujan, Siamanto. I have even recited Silva Kapoutikian’s “Ko mayr lezoun chemoranas” (Don’t forget your mother tongue) during a Genocide commemoration. As for movies, I’ve seen only a few, mostly those that have participated in international festivals.

Will you share some memories from your trips to Armenia?

I’ve been to Armenia three times, and it was love at first sight, I admit. Everything felt so familiar. What I cherished most, during my visits in Armenia, is the legendary Armenian hospitality. I remember distinctly, in the outskirts of Spitak, when we stopped to ask some information at this tiny house and we were invited to join them for lunch. Just amazing!

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