“In North Korea people sleep on mats laid on a heated floor”

Writer José Luís Peixoto talks about his novel Uma Casa na Escuridão [yet to be translated], in which the main character falls asleep at the end of each chapter and wakes up in the next one – an element intended to make the reader “grasp the negative”. Also known for his journeys to North Korea and having written a book about it, Peixoto says that North-Koreans “go to bed quite early” and “sleep on mats on heated floors”.


Literature has many references to sleep and dreams. It seems to be a mystery that writers like to explore…
It is naturally so. Sleep is a fundamental part of our lives, a part of this cycle that we seem to fulfil. Literature’s object involves everything that pertains to life. Dreams, in turn, are very much made of something that also belongs to literature, as is the case of memory, for instance.

In writing your books, have sleep and dreams been a source of inspiration?
In one way or another, they end up being present. In my second novel, Uma Casa na Escuridão, though, these matters play a significant role. At the end of each chapter, the main character falls asleep or looses conscience and wakes up at the beginning of each chapter. Because the logic dominating that reality is rather oneiric, my intention with that detail was to suggest that maybe the reader was getting to the negative, I mean, that the character is awakening to dreams (or nightmares) and, after all, it is precisely that reality that is at stake.

What do you feel about the saying that God does not sleep?
It seems to me that it is one of the many ways of showing the superhuman nature of God. Human beings certainly cannot go without sleep.

You know North Korea quite well. Did you become aware of the sleep habits of that country?
In North Korea people normally sleep on some sort of mats laid on a heated floor at night. During the day, the mats are kept in a closet that is specifically designed for that. Not all family members have their own bedroom. People there go to sleep very early and wake up very early as well. It is part of the country’s lifestyle, but it is also a way of seizing the daylight, since electricity is scarce.

Was there any situation in which sleep was a good advisor to you?
This situation is very frequent. In my writing, if I am facing any problem, I often chose to give the text some time. In the following day, after a good night’s sleep, I am already able to take another perspective and generally find a solution for whatever it was that was intriguing me.

Do you fall asleep easily? Have you ever had insomnia? Are you more of a “night owl” or a “lark”?
I have never had insomnia; I guess I have a fortunate relation to sleep. There were times in my life where I had the habit of falling asleep and waking up late. Nowadays, this is usually not the case. I fall asleep and I wake up at times that seem normal to me.

Do you recall a funny story – either personal or professional – having to do with sleep or lack of it?
Lately, because of jet-lag, I sometimes find myself falling asleep in inconvenient situations, but nothing serious.

Can you tell us about a particularly fanciful dream you have had?
I usually have very elaborate and delirious dreams, but I can only remember them for a certain time, a few minutes after waking up. If I don’t write them down, I end up forgetting them right away, which has been happening a lot lately.