Ian Manook, authorFriday, February 10, 2017
‘Literature embodies universal emotions through personal destinies’
Name: Patrick Manoukian
Pseudonym: Ian Manook
Born in: Meudon, France (1949)
Achievements: Author, journalist and editor, he studied Law and Politics at the Sorbonne University and Journalism at the Institut Français de Presse. His articles have been published in Vacances Magazine, Partir, Télémagazine and Top Télé, among many others. In the 1980s he founded Manook, a communication agency specialised in travel authors and travel chronicles.
Books: Along his long career, he wrote many scripts, as well as comic strips, travel books, among others. Yeruldelgger, muertos en la estepa (Salamandra) has been recently released in Argentina and is the first of a three-volume saga.
French author Ian Manook’s career is highly unusual. Though he started writing fiction when he was very young, it wasn't until a few years ago that he released the first of a three-volume noir saga set in Mongolia that startled the literary world with its realism —its detailed depiction of the country — and the strange appeal of its main character, an old-school detective named Yeruldelgger. Yet the author assures us that he's not really a noir writer and that over his lifetime he's had little contact with the genre. During his last visit to Buenos Aires -a city he likes and where one of his daughters has lived since 2009- Manook, who has worked as a travel journalist for many decades, talked to the Herald about his job and the recent release of the first part of the saga in Argentina, Yeruldelgger. Muertos en la estepa (Editorial Salamandra).
Do you think your former job as a reporter and your travel chronicles were useful to your fiction writing?
The thing is that even in fiction, my books always contain a lot of facts that come from reality, from what I know or remember of the places I've visited. I think in a way there's something related to journalism in this. I would say that I travel as a journalist, being a curious person, but I write as a fiction author.
In the novel there are many details of Mongolia, how people live there, their history, its problems with immigration, its local politics. Why did you choose that country for this story?
It was a challenge my daughter put to me. I tend to write a lot and then have many writing projects going at once, and never finish them. So when she moved to Buenos Aires, she told me she didn't want to read my manuscripts any longer, she wanted the books to get published. So the challenge consisted in writing at least two books a year in different genres, with different pseudonyms as well. The noir novel was fourth on my list, since I didn't have very much prior contact with noir literature as a reader. Anyway, I followed a technique I used in my former job when choosing photographs and editing catalogues: I thought of what would be pertinent and what would be unexpected. If what you produce is merely pertinent, it lacks something, it’s common, banal; if it’s merely unexpected, it might be seen as out of place. With my novel I tried to combine both aspects: the pertinent was to write a book with a strong plot, as almost all crime stories have. For the unexpected, I looked for a country with a mineral atmosphere. Among the places we'd visited, I had Iceland, Alaska, Patagonia, and Mongolia. I finally picked Mongolia because of its shamanism.
Does such a place provide material for noir literature?
Well, shamanism provides many aspects related to noir novels: violence, redemption, revenge. And it also provides a perspective that's far from a western point of view. That way, I thought, I'd be able to come up with original characters and an original setting.
And how did you create a character like detective Yeruldelgger (with such a difficult last name to pronounce)?
(Laughs) It’s an actual last name in Mongolia. Mongolia is the first Soviet country after Russia itself. The Soviet years were very tough for them, in fact even the Mongol writing system was banned then. Something similar happened with last names, so people started using their first names, but that turned out to be a bit confusing. Yeruldelgerr is a combination of two ideas: one of promise and one of abundance. In a sense it was a nod to my editors about royalties from book sales (laughs). Anyway, I find it interesting that Yeruldelgger should be such a violent, strong character, yet have such a light name..
You say you had little contact with crime stories before. Do you look for material to inspire you?
Unconsciously I think I’m more inspired by TV crime series than by so-called noir literature. To write all I need is a first sentence I like, then I take it from there. I don’t look for specific material. What I really like is the novelistic side of the stories. In fact in the French edition, the book’s not labelled a roman noir but simply a roman, a novel, because I don’t want to be branded only as a writer of noir novels. In fact there are many novels that can be considered as noir novels that aren’t. I think Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, is the noir novel par excellence. Or Cien años de soledad, by Gabriel García Márquez, or Land of Miracles, by Jorge Amado.
Are you interested in the media today?
Yes, I read the newspapers. Today I read Página/12, yesterday Clarín. And of course in France too.
Do you think it’s important for writers to be aware of of what happens in the real world or should they be detached from it?
I think the material for those who write is in reality and in the present time. Then, how you write is a very different thing, which has to be completely free. That’s the real mix writing involves. So with the same material someone can write science fiction or crime stories. The best definition of literature for me is that it embodies universal emotions through personal destinies. People feel touched by those universal emotions and that’s why we generally talk about the present. But then those personal destinies are moved by the authors as they decide.
Having been a journalist, do you think the role of journalism had changed lately?
What's changed, in my view, is not the role of journalists but the direction of the newspapers. In France, for example, almost all the media are owned by just four great fortunes. So those who run the media give them their sense and direction. There are just a few media outlets that are really independent from that scheme. In fact, the last recent scandal involving (François) Fillon’s wife was released by a cooperative magazine called Le Canard Enchaîné. Journalists do their jobs; what's changed is the independence of the media when deciding whether or not to release certain material. In any case, there are certain structures that never change. But some of those who run media outlets are directly linked to corruption cases because they somehow involve the owners or just because they have the ability to influence audiences. Fillon’s wife, we now know, has been receiving that salary for over 20 years. And we know it now after the Canard’s investigation, whereas all the other media outlets neglected that information or never looked for it in all these years. So, in a way, whenever we're talking about corruption, the media are involved in one way or the other.