Hernan Diaz grins when the photographer asks him to pose at a particular angle. It’s not because he doesn’t like being photographed. This recent Pulitzer Prize winner has quickly had to get used to it. No, the back has taken a beating during the ongoing European PR trip. For days on end, he sits in interviews about the book “Trust” (which was recently published in Swedish with the title “Egendom” translated by Fredrika Spindler) and then he cheated on the training.
– But I won’t complain. It’s wonderful that a book I’ve written takes me out into the world, says Hernan Diaz, flashing a big smile while patting his back.
It will continue to be busy when he returns to the US “after that crazy thing that happened two weeks ago”, as he himself puts it. He is of course referring to the Pulitzer Prize, which he says he was completely surprised by. But for those who have read “Egendom”, it is not as surprising that it won such a price. The novel is both rap, smart and intricately structured. In four parts, essentially the same story is told: about how the financier Andrew Bevel becomes unimaginably rich via extremely successful stock deals and through various stock maneuvers is a strong contributor to the great Wall Street crash of 1929.
I love both reading and writing books that are like Russian dolls
In the first part we meet Bevel as an anti-hero in a novel within the novel called “Connections”, in part two he himself describes his life in a memoir, the purpose of which is to give a more flattering picture of himself than in “Connections”. The actual author of the second part’s biography is Bevel’s secretary and ghostwriter Ida. In the third part of the book, as a successful author in her own name, she looks back from the mid-1980s on the work on the memoirs. The fourth and final part of the book consists of Bevel’s wife Mildred’s diary entries.
– I love both reading and writing books that are like Russian dolls. They fascinate me immensely for some bizarre reason!
It might sound more complicated than it is. But as a reader, you need to be alert and not miss details, especially since the different parts contain contradictory information. Which narrator can you really trust?
– To use an economic metaphor, I build a capital with the reader in part one and then I tear everything down and start again. Because I wanted to examine how we constantly shape stories about the world, many of which cannot be trusted, this became an appropriate format.
I was drawn to that buzzing, vibrating feeling that proximity to great wealth can bring
That Hernan Diaz choosing an economic metaphor to describe his novel is logical. It is about a financier and the central themes are money, wealth and stock trading.
– I knew nothing about it when I started writing, so I have spent a lot of time reading about how Wall Street worked.
He has been working on the book for four years. It started with the realization that there are so few novels that deal specifically with money.
– I was drawn to that buzzing, vibrating feeling that proximity to great wealth can give. I don’t know what it’s like to be very rich, I’m really not. But I think many of us have felt the allure and pull.
At the same time, it is somewhat taboo to talk about money.
– Really! That duality also interested me. Celebrities like to show off their wealth, but the literature lacks depictions of money and stock trading. There, it more often becomes a story about class antagonisms. They are in my novel too, but are not the focus.
I have found that most people are isolated by their wealth
One more aspect of extreme wealth and financial success that Hernan Diaz addresses is the great loneliness that surrounds the truly rich.
– Again, as a writer, I’m guessing here. I don’t know. But I’ve read an awful lot of—mostly boring—books about corporate tycoons, and I’ve found that most people become insulated by their fortunes.
In the novel, it also rubs off on the people around the financier. In a central scene, secretary Ida rides a limousine through Manhattan. She is in the middle of the city, among all the people and at the same time secluded. She feels crippling loneliness.
– Thank you for noting that scene, even though it’s only four, five lines long. It is really central and I had to work with it for a long time so that it would fit perfectly.
It does. Like the English title “Trust” – which, however, is difficult to translate. The Swede’s “Egendom” captures the economic theme, but misses important aspects such as “trust” and “trust”. Because Hernan Diaz grew up in Sweden and speaks a little Swedish (in the middle of a long exposition about storytelling technique, when I take the opportunity to take a snuff, he stops and cheerfully shouts “snus” in Swedish, before continuing his exposition) he is aware about the problem. But adds that he is satisfied with both the Swedish and the English title.
– The original title, of course, contains more. My novel is very much about property, but also about trust and confidence.
Even money is a kind of fiction that we have to believe in for it to have value
That he is a diligent reader and scholar of literature is evident in the book. He has read Henry James and Edith Wharton to get the exact tone of the realistic novel of the first part of the novel; Virginia Woolf’s diaries and Ludvig Wittgenstein’s philosophical treatise on language to get the more modernist diary entries in the final part.
– Author friends say that they absolutely do not read fiction while writing. I don’t belong to that school: I read a lot! We are all shaped by stories all the time, even if we choose to take a reading break.
We will return to the trust. In the end, the English title also alludes to what is usually called the reading contract – that is, the trust between the author and the reader.
– That’s really what it’s all about. Even the history of nations, or the stories of successful businessmen – all that is fiction. Like money is a kind of fiction that we have to believe in for it to have value.
Behind the great businessman stands his wife as the real protagonist of the novel. It is of course unclear – as the stories are contradictory – but it is likely that she has a system to make maximum profit on the stock market.
I created this mathematical genius, described elsewhere as the “gentle housewife”
– Exactly, but in the 1920s, women weren’t even allowed to have their own bank account. Do you know when the first woman was allowed on Wall Street to trade?
Much later probably.
– Yes! 1975 it says on a plaque outside Wall Street. When I had decided to write about money, it was also obvious that I wanted to write about how excluded women have become in all the myths about rich businessmen. That’s why I created this mathematical genius, described elsewhere as the “gentle housewife,” says Diaz, drawing quotation marks in the air with his fingers.
Even the financier’s ghostwriter is a woman and thus has power over the text. She first stenographs the conversations, which are called “sessions” as in a psychoanalysis, and then writes cleanly on a typewriter. If you add that her father is a typographer and sets texts by hand and that the financier’s wife Miriam Bevel writes illegibly with liquid ink in her diaries, you realize that Hernan Diaz also wanted to capture the purely concrete text work.
– I wanted to portray different writing technologies. Possibly this is a holdover from attending too many Jacques Derrida lectures in my twenties. It took years to get out of the most Derridian ways of thinking, and as you can see, I’m still marked, says Hernan Diaz, laughing.
Speaking of writing techniques, I’ve read that you first write everything by hand, with a Montblanc Meisterstück pen.
– It’s a bit embarrassing, but yes. I got it as a gift twenty years ago and I have to write with it. If you knew how much time I spend trying to find my pen and worrying about losing it.
Born: in Argentina in 1973. The parents later fled the military dictatorship and came to Stockholm, Hernan Diaz grew up on Lidingö. When he was nine years old, the family moved back to Argentina.
Living: Brooklyn in New York.
Background: Has published a book about one of his literary role models: Jorge Luis Borges. The debut novel “In the distance” (2017) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and is about a Swedish immigrant during the American gold rush.
Current with: “Property” (in translation by Fredrika Spindler, Brombergs förlag), which won the Pulitzer Prize in early May 2023.
Reading: “I recently read about “The death of the beekeeper” and “The tennis players” by Lars Gustafsson – what a stylist he was! Humorous but with a tightness in the prose that is very tasteful at the same time.”