Interview With Reza Emilio Juma
by John Bascombe on Monday, August 25, 2014
Reza Emilio Juma is a talented young author that has recently released his first book Mil Besos (A Thousand Kisses). Born in Toronto and raised in countries around the world, he attended and graduated from the University of British Columbia. Upon graduating he came to Spain and fell in love with the country and culture, especially the diverse cultural mix that Andalusia offers. Presently living and working in Mexico as a university professor, we caught up with him on his tour of Spain promoting his work—the story of a young boy's journey from adolescence to manhood all the while following his dreams.
Why did you want to learn Spanish?
I was studying international relations and I thought it would be useful for my studies and future career.
What made you want to write your book in Spanish and not your native language? What is your native language by the way?
My native language is English, but I've lived the last 13 years in Spain plus 2 more in Mexico. Now, I can speak Spanish as well as English and I've found there are more linguistic options in a Spanish novel than in an English one.
What role has don Quijote played in your book?
I write about how a decision is made to come to Spain to study Spanish and I write about the don Quijote schools in Spain and the role they play in that experience.
What was your experience like at our school and how does it appear in your book?
The experience at don Quijote was very important to me. Not only was it the key to learning Spanish, but it also opened the doors for me to want live in Spain since it's there that I decided to call home and work to make a living.
Why did you decide on Elche and Granada for the location of your story? What do these cities have that others don’t?
Granada has always been special to me. Not only for its infinite beauty, but also for its magical qualities that can captivate anyone. It was also the first city in Spain that I got to know when I began my own personal adventure.
Who does your protagonist give a "thousand kisses" to in your book?
You'll have to read the book to find out.
Have you found what you were looking for in this life adventure or are you still looking?
The novel is fiction so I can't speak for the protagonist, but I continue to dream and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. It's what keeps me alive.
Tell us the truth: What is it that Granada has that Alicante doesn't? What does Alicante have that Granada doesn't?
Granada has the Alhambra—the greatest landmark in Spain, beautiful arabesque streets, a unique Moorish feel and Spanish guitars playing for you on every corner. There isn't another city like Granada anywhere else in the world.
Are your characters based on teachers or classmates from our school?
Not one. This is a fiction novel and although some of my experiences are reflected in it, the majority of the book is not related to any of my personal experiences. My stay at don Quijote Granada appears at the start of the protagonist's adventure. Personally, coming to Spain and spending those three months in Granada was a turning point in my life.
Tell us about the creative process. Did you take notes for your story during the breaks between classes? Did you find inspiration during any of the class excursions?
I was living in the jungle on the coast of Oaxaca when I wrote the book which was an important source of inspiration and it is there where the creative part of me came to the surface—before that I didn't know I had it in me. I lived and breathed my book. Since I already had an idea as to how the book would end, I wanted to finish it as quickly as possible; I had an idea and I decided to run with it. I wrote an average of six hours a day while sometimes going to bed at two in the morning. Sometimes I would wake up from dream at five in the morning and I would start writing because I wanted to include my dreams into the story and not let the moment slip away.
Did you use any Spanish writers as an example for your writing style?
I read many historical novels about Granada and Al-Ándalus like El Mercenario de Granada, Azafrán, A la Sombra del Granado, La Profecía del Corán, La Esclava, La Perla de Al-Andalús, El Perfume de Bergamota and La Escalera del Agua. They didn't influence my writing directly because my novel isn't one of historical fiction. Instead, my book is an adventure situated in the present day and written in the first person as if it were a diary. But, I must admit that after writing the novel there is one book, Son del Mar by Manuel Vicent that shares some similarities with mine.
In what city would you like your next novel to take place? Are you looking for a change or would you prefer to continue along the same lines?
I'm already playing with the idea that my second novel will take place in the jungle of Oaxaca where I've been living the last eight months. It's where I wanted to return not only to write, but to live as well. Right now it's where I'm most comfortable and where I feel most at home…at the moment.
As more than just a language, what has Spanish taught you?
I come from Canada and, like the US, money plays a fundamental role in daily life. Spain has history, culture and a population that is more conscientious of the political situation—not just in Spain but around the world. I have been in more than 25 countries and if I want, I can sit and have a caña and enjoy a nice intellectual or cultural conversation.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to come to Spain to increase their creativity?
The first day I arrived at the don Quijote academy, I distanced myself from groups of people that were speaking English. I tried to build friendships with the locals and that was, without a doubt, the most enriching experience for me. These new acquaintances and friends opened up a new world for me that wouldn't have been possible if I conformed to making friends with people from the same culture and the same language. Spain has so much to offer and one must live the experience as if they were just another Spaniard.
Keywords: learn spanish,granada,study spanish,learning spanish,book in spanish,speak spanish,young author,spanish novel