Meet the People: Sandi Gorišek, Explaining the Origins of Melania Trump

By , 23 May 2018, 15:30 PM Meet the People
Sandi Gorišek, between projects Sandi Gorišek, between projects JL Flanner

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Sandi Gorišek is a mechanical engineer by training and profession, working on projects that often take him out of the country. By chance he was working in America just as Melania Trump was entering public consciousness there, and soon grew tired of being asked the same questions again and again.

While others may have just waved off all inquiries, Mr Gorišek, who fizzes with energy and ideas, decided to do something more. So he wrote and published a short book on the woman who was born Melanija Knavs – in Novo mesto, not Sevnica – and the world she grew up in. Having purchased and read a copy I got in touch with the author and arranged to meet him for a drink, record our conversation and type it up to share with you, lightly edited for concision and clarity.

May 23, 2018

Why did you write the book?

Well, let’s just say at the start I’m not a fan of those writers who want to get sued, for publicity, so they look for scandal. My aim with this book was different. I’m an engineer, and I often work abroad. After Melania started getting in the news my co-workers would keep asking me what’s Slovenia like, where does this woman come from? No one had a clue.

So I decided OK, I’m going to write a book about Melania Trump, but I’m going to put inside all the things that people wouldn’t expect, so no scandal, no gossip, but something a little more serious. By looking at where she came from maybe we can see why certain things happened, but also maybe not. The butterfly effect, you know? So it’s about what life was like in 70s, 80s and 90s, and what things could have influenced her. For example, Tito was the head of everything, he was the man, and maybe that impacted the kind of guy she wanted to marry.

Writing is my hobby, though, not a profession. It took me a couple of months to write the Melania book, and to be honest it’s not aimed at Slovenians, because they know how it was here. It’s for foreigners who have no idea what the country was and is like. I did some research in English, of course, at the start, and that really inspired me to keep writing, because you look at what they write in America it’s like all they can say was “her parents were communists”. I’m not into fashion, and not into politics, but pretty soon I realized that I can tell stories that even the best American journalists can’t.

Flickr - Ospedale Pediatrico Bambino Gesù  CC BY-ND 2.0.jpg

Not reading the book. Photo: Flickr: Ospedale Pediatrico Bambino Gesù  CC BY-ND 2.0

Where there any problems with her lawyers?

I got in touch with Melania’s lawyer in Slovenia, Nataša Pirc Musar, before I started writing. She wrote straight back to me, same day, and said there’s freedom of the press, you can do anything you want, just don’t put anything stupid in it, because there are so many different stories out there. She said even if you have a source, if that person lies then it’s your fault. So she made things very clear to me, and I didn’t know that before, but it make sense, right? I mean, you tell me something in a bar and I publish that, it’s my problem.

What did you learn about her?

I learned that she’s very goal-oriented, and I think that’s something to be admired, because she had a dream and stuck to it, achieved it. But this is a small country, and I live near Sevnica, so of course I met people who knew and know her, but these things are gossip, and not the focus of the book, although I will say she was a good girl who helped to pick the potatoes. In fact, I was thinking about doing another book with people who knew Melania and influenced her life, and maybe I still will.

Flickr First Lady Melania Trump visits China  November 10, 2017 .jpg

Feeding a panda. Photo: Flickr, The White House:  First Lady Melania Trump visits China, November 10, 2017

You have a lot of ideas.

Yes, and I’m always thinking like this, always interested in people who do something amazing. I think there are no coincidences in life, that everything happens for a reason. So how is it Melanie came from a small town and ended up first lady?

One thing I’ll tell you, if you’re with a Slovenian woman then you can’t mess around, because they won’t accept it. Another thing is that Slovenians sometimes take a long time to decide on something, but when they do they go all the way. You can see this in some of our individual athletes, like Luka Dončić, the basketball player. I was actually going to write a book about him, too, but I got in touch with Real Madrid and they had no interest in helping me. Anyway, back to Melania – there are a 100,000 girls who wanted what she did, so how did she succeed, why? That’s what drove me to write, and what I learned was that she was very driven, and I think this comes out of her background.

In fact, after I finished the book I actually came to admire her more. I get good reviews on Amazon [currently at four stars], but at first I had three guys write bad things, even without reading the book, and I couldn’t sleep, their words just kept attacking me. Now this was just three guys attacking me online, and she gets that all day, every day, so I think she must have a very thick skin. Maybe this came from modelling, because that’s not the easiest job, not as easy as it looks, because there’s so much competition, and it’s so personal.

Maybe that’s why she started her anti-cyberbullying campaign. You look at what they say about her on the Slovenian forums, even before she became First Lady. For every positive comment there were ten bad, and even going after her son. And I really don’t understand why they need to be so personal, or so negative, but as I called one chapter: Slovenians excuse everything but success.

What would you like to ask her?

Well, obviously I’d love to meet her once. No cameras, just us, and I’d ask: How did you do it? Because I’m honestly impressed how nothing stopped her.

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In France, 2017. Photo: Flicker, The White House

What have you learned about publishing?

The reason why the Melania’s book’s short, about 50 pages, is I read that’s the ideal length for an e-book. But then when I wanted to publish it as a paperback I needed to make it a little longer, so I went a museum and got permission to use some pictures. That’s why there’s a photo of factory where Melania’s mother worked, because maybe if she didn’t then Melania wouldn’t have tried modelling as a child. I also included a so-called erotic picture from the 1970s. Although it’s just women in bikinis, at the time it caused a scandal, so that’s a nice thing to have in there.

What were the sales like?

I sold a few at first, less than expected, and then there was a spike, so I thought OK, here we go, but no. Then I had an interview on Breitbart and another on WNPR and sold 300 copies in one day, priced at $3, which was great, but then again that was just a spike. My aim was to get the best reviewed book on Melania on Amazon, and I got that, and I was even the best-seller for one day, but it was nothing like Michael Wolff with Fire and Fury, where he made a million overnight.

So it’s sad but true, but it’s easier to write a book than sell one. Right now I’m just happy for people to read it, because I’m an engineer who’s a storyteller, not a writer. That’s why the e-book is just a dollar and you can download the audiobook for free. Most of the sales are online, but a few bookstores carry the paperback, and you can also get it at the airport. To be honest, it’s a short book, but it’s a souvenir, and a unique one.

flICKR - U.S. Department of State Follow First Lady Trump Attends the 2018 International Women of Courage Award Ceremony.jpg

Attending the 2018 International Women of Courage Award Ceremony. Photo: Flickr, U.S. Department of State

What are you working on now?

After this book was published I went to work on a project in West Virginia, and one of the books I’m working on now is on what I learned there, and elsewhere in America, the cultural differences and so on.

Life in America can be like a dream, but it depends on who you are and what you want. I have a friend who moved there and works on Broadway, so he’ll never come back, because all the opportunities for an actor are there. But as an ordinary person things are different. For example, my parents could never live there, because they need their garden and the people who are important to them nearby. So in some senses, for some people, America’s the best, but not for everyone.

What about for you?

For me, I love New York, because I love cities, but I don’t know if I could move there. I’d need three times as much money to live decently compared to here, if I want the same standard of living. that’s because I’d live somewhere like Washington, New York, or Boston. For now I like it in Slovenia a lot, and I’d like to explore it more, maybe write a book about it.

But the project I’m working on will be called Through My Eyes, and it will be my experiences and impressions of the various countries I’ve been too. For example, Americans are friendlier than other nationalities, and more casual. They also tend to move more, especially compared to Slovenes. Here we go to university it’s really never far from home, but in America, say you study engineering, so you go to MIT, and maybe that’s on the other side of the continent, so you just go home for vacations, then you start work and maybe you just go home once a year, for Thanksgiving.

Americans also more open than Slovenians, less ideological – if it makes money, they’ll do it. Maybe that’s why you need to be really rich to live well there, but here, in Slovenia, you just need a few thousand euros a month. But even then, we tend to complain about everything.

What are some of the other topics in the book on America?

It will touch on racism, of course, and another chapter is on guns. For example, I was invited to a barbecue in West Virginia, and the host had a 16 year-old daughter. He told me how when her boyfriend first came over he didn’t bring some flowers or a bottle wine for the parents, like you’d do in Slovenia. No, he bought a weapon, saying “this is a family gun, and I want to give it to you”. So in my opinion you’ll never get guns out of America. It’d be like getting accordions out of Slovenia – impossible.

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You can get a copy of Melania Trump: Slovenian side of the story as an ebook or handsomely-bound paperback on Amazon (US link here, but available in all markets), and it can also be found at Postojna Cave and in Sevnica’s Tourist Information Center and Castle. A free audiobook version can be obtained, in exchange for your email address, here.

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