Alexandre Massa, editor, interviews, Rachel Bassan, a writer who is launching her novel Bela from Odessa by Editora dos Editores Publishing House.
EE — Who is Rachel Bassan?
RB — I am a Brazilian woman of Jewish Russian/Ukrainian ancestry. I got married early and chose to interrupt my College education to live abroad. I gave priority to my family life. For 25 years, I dedicated myself to the teaching of the English language and another 25 to professional Tourism. I supported husband and three children in their graduations and postgraduations. The storyteller was somehow hibernating inside me. At 56, when most of my friends were getting ready to retire, I decided to challenge myself and run after my dreams. I faced the daunting task to take the college entrance exams. I finally graduated at PUC-Rio in 2014, majoring in Languages. Today, literature is my main activity. I published a book entitled Nada é por acaso, Crônicas da Vida by Torre Publishing House, and I participated in Crônicas de Oficina, a three-volume Collection organized by Carlos Eduardo Novaes, a well-known Brazilian writer. Bela from Odessa is my first fiction novel. I had an enormous pleasure writing it.
EE — What can the reader expect from Bela from Odessa?
RB — I would say that it is a love story, a saga between two young Ukrainians at the time of Imperial Russia followed by the first phase of the Bolshevik revolution. There is little fictional Brazilian literature devoted to this topic. My approach was to deal with the dimensions of this historical tragedy in the lives of ordinary people. The story of some represents the story of many people; it is about a forced migration, a search for refuge, where one can find a safe haven. The action is pertinent to our world today.
EE — What motivated you to write this book? How did you get the inspiration to write this historical novel?
RB — Bela was inspired on my childhood during the nights I spent with my grandmother, a fantastic storyteller. Her favorite ones were about her Odessa. I fell in love with Russia when I was eight years old.
EE — But Bela´s character is a work of fiction. How did you build the characters?
RB — My intention has always been to portray characters with genuine habits and customs. This was a huge concern from the very beginning. I showed their idiosyncrasies, dreams and desires. The family members were created to interact with the historical figures from that time. I was careful to keep the facts credible and as close as possible to reality.
EE — Your book mentions many locations in Europe, USA and Brazil. Did you do any field research? What sources did you use to create the right setting to your novel?
RB — I went to Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. I went back to New York City where I´ve been a countless number of times. In fact, I followed the path of my characters. I walked on the places they had been to. I slept on the beds where they slept. I saw the places that they saw and imagined what they would be like then. I could almost feel their fears and joys; I let myself be carried away by the emotions. My writing is indeed emotional. I am not a historian yet History is my passion. I also counted on the help of historians, literati and specialized guides who transported me back to that setting. In addition, I got some old books of great contemporary writers who narrated – in diaries, short stories and novels -the reality from that time. The internet played a vital role in the creation process.
EE — And how was the writing stage itself?
RB — It was really hard work. Writing, revising and rewriting demanded countless hours in front of the computer. It seems endless. As inspiring companies, I had by my side a small bottle with water from the Black sea, and a handful of sand collected from the beach in Odessa. Absolute silence is mandatory, only replaced by high volume classical music when emotion is summoned in the moments of untying the narrative nodes and more dramatic scenes.
EE — Do you have a group of collaborators for the initial readings, I mean, while you are still in the creation process?
RB — I do have a group of friends — reader-critics who are really special to me and are willing to read and make comments on my text. Besides, of course, you, Alexandre, my editor, and Luciana Villas-Boas, my literary agent. After listening to the comments and observations, I do make the necessary adjustments.
EE — How long did it take you to write this novel?
RB — A lifetime… and three years and six months.
EE — What has Bela from Odessa added to Rachel?
RB — A great desire to keep on telling my stories and the certainty that this is definitely the way I want to go.