Q&A with Hossein Asgari

A square photo of Hossein Asgari is placed against a banner. The banner displays a close-up section of the TSR #32: TENACITY cover by Rebecca Stewart, featuring intricate illustrations overlaid with shades of blue and teal. In his photo, Hossein is shown from the shoulders up. He has a blue-and-white button-up on over a dark blue T-shirt, and a blue cap. He wears rectangular glasses, and looks straight to camera. On the left side of the banner, the words ‘Issue #32: Tenacity, an interview with Hossein Asgari’ are displayed.

Hossein Asgari studied physics and creative writing. His short stories have appeared in The Saltbush Review and Overland. His first novel, Only Sound Remains, was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2024.

As the name suggests, an ‘Anti-Theft Door’ signifies the entrance between safety and violence, domesticity and insecurity. In the story, even your use of prose can move between the breathlessness of a macro view to the intensity of the micro details. How do you approach the balance of such polar tonal shifts, and how do you decide the exact scale of a scene?

I’m not sure if I have any precise answer for this question. I have one simple rule that I try to adhere to: no word should be on the page unless it must. Every word earns its place by making a meaningful contribution to the story. It’s through rewriting and getting rid of inessential words that I try to create a balanced story. However, how can we decide that a word is essential or not? End of the day, writing is largely an intuitive process. It’s also instinctive, in the sense that there is always something unconscious about it. When we rewrite a story over and over, trying to create a proper balance between different scenes, characters, or tonal shifts, we are making intuitive and instinctive decisions. And those decisions are informed by our personal understanding of life and beauty, and by who we are. 

The characterisation of ‘Maman’ includes a sacrificial quality, where much in the home is left unsaid and there is a battle between what is seen and what is shared. As a writer, I am curious about how you approach the dynamic of the said and the unsaid in your own writing practice. 

We think of music as a collection of sounds. However, the intervals between the notes, and the absence of sound, are what, to some extent, define the mood and character of a piece. This is true about writing too, and a story is formed and framed by what is left unsaid as much as by what is said. What I leave unsaid in a story depends on the mood I’m trying to convey, the characters I’m dealing with (some characters tend to share more than others), and the complexity of the issues that those characters are dealing with.

One of the reasons that ‘Anti-Theft Door’ reverberates through our #32: TENACITY issue is that it spotlights a collision between the political and the personal. Why do you think the theme of TENACITY was the perfect theme for this piece, and what exchange do you hope will be opened with your readers?

Many choices one makes in life are collisions between the personal and the political, and this is more common when one lives under a totalitarian system. The irony lies here: a totalitarian system is highly sensitive to ‘political’ activities, however, by not believing in the personal, and by trying to control every aspect of the lives of its citizens, it turns almost every trivial choice into a political act of resistance or rebellion. In such an environment, tenacity becomes a necessary trait for survival—mentally, emotionally, even physically. And what I hope to communicate through my writing is reflected in this line by Leonard Cohen: ‘And the dealer wants you thinking that it’s either black or white, thank God it’s not that simple in my secret life.’

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