Manuel Vilas

“Everything that we love and lose, that we really love, that we love without realising that one day it will be stolen from us, everything which, after losing it, was unable to destroy us, even though it used supernatural forces to do so and tried to ruin us, cruelly and persistently – sooner or later, all this eventually turns into joy.” This is how the enormous novel by Manuel Vilas, Alegría (“Joy”) begins. The writer received IN PALMA in Madrid.

I will quote a few lines from your book. “The life of a parent and the life of a child are full of ignorance that only love can transform into the most beautiful odyssey.” Being someone’s child, or father or mother, is a mystery. As a child, you never know of the life of your father or your mother, and they take that unknown part away with them when they die. And they leave you with a huge question mark, like some unfinished business that you never know how to resolve. And at the same time, you give that question mark back to your children, because they will never know you as a woman or a man. It is a social demand that your children do not become aware of your fears, your weaknesses, your frustrations, your most terrible thoughts as a man or a woman.

“Death is not bad; we have made it bad.” We have blamed it, turned it into something cursed and removed from that which is social. Death is a mystery. I am not afraid of death, but of deterioration, and of leaving unfinished business for the people I love. I fear how my death will impact others. I would like to vanish, doing as little harm as possible, without people having to go to my funeral. That would be wonderful.

“Because life always continues, at times it seems like a dark hole, but time passes and the sun comes out again.” Anyone who falls into an abyss, for whatever circumstances – a loss, a bad economic situation, a divorce, a death – feels as though the world is coming to an end. But no, you really are reborn after a year, or two years, depending on each individual. This is one of the greatest, most enigmatic and wonderful experiences of life, how it manages to find a way to carry on.

“I dream that after my death, I will see my father again.” Do you believe that there is life after death? It’s a magical thought. I am not religious in the sense that I practise a religion, but poetry and the heart lead you to think that you will see the people who were once so important to you again. It’s a lovely thought, and one which brings calm.

“We understand everything late.” I apply this to myself; I have always found it hard to learn things, the lessons of life. I thought I would understand life at 40, but no, it’s later. There are lots of people at the age of 50, 60 or 70 who say they are happier than they were, it’s something I hear frequently.

Many children identify with something you say in your book: “all I wanted was for my father to feel proud.” You try to make your father happy so that his sacrifice and efforts have some kind of meaning, above all in that generation of Spaniards for whom sacrifice meant working a lot so that my child can have a better life. The connection between father and child is very mysterious, there is a great deal of poetry in it.

What is the magic formula for living life with joy? I don’t have it. Each individual has to construct their own, it is a construction that requires effort, it isn’t gifted to you, it is a construction one has to make using the bad times.

What is it that a man should never do, in spite of everything? Deny life. Never. Deny happiness. And above all, we should try not to hurt anybody. 

If you could, would you change anything about your life? Yes, I would change the things that hurt others, I would try to re-think them and act differently, things I didn’t do on purpose but which, with the maturity of time, I see that I could have done better.

Do bad people exist? Have you ever come across one? Yes, evil exists, I have seen it. Actually, there are lots of bad people who don’t know they are bad, they have no awareness of evil. Evil is a horrible abyss because it is real, it seems to me it is one of the great enigmas of the human condition.

Where will all the love, all the joy and all the sadness go when we are no longer here? Into the air. As Quevedo said, “They will be dust, but dust in love.”

After having written a book like this, what else can you tell? If a writer doesn’t write, it’s like a labourer who does not work on the land. I need to carry on writing because it’s my way of being alive. I need to turn on my computer screen in the same way as a lady who needs to open her shop.

Alegría was a finalist of the Premio Planeta award. How do you manage success? I don’t believe in success. True success is when someone loves you and waits for you somewhere. The rest is social convention.

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