David Naimon: Good morning and welcome to Between The Covers. I’m David Naimon, your host. Today’s guest is one of the foremost writers writing today, Jenny Erpenbeck. Born in East Berlin, Erpenbeck apprenticed as a bookbinder, worked as a props and wardrobe supervisor in the theater, and ultimately, pursued studies at The Hanns Eisler Music Conservatory to become an opera director, directing operatic works both in Germany and Austria by Béla Bartók, Mozart, Monteverdi and Schoenberg among others. It was in the 1990s that Jenny Erpenbeck began working as a writer beginning to create the body of work that prompted the critic James Wood in The New Yorker to call her not only the most prominent and serious German novelist of her generation, but also in reference to her most recent novel, Go Went Gone, about the European refugee crisis. He said, “When Erpenbeck wins the Nobel Prize in a few years, I suspect that this novel will be cited.” A sentiment echoed by Neel Mukherjee who calls Erpenbeck “The most profound, intelligent, humane, and important writer of our times.” Her books include the story collection The Old Child, the novella The Book of Words, and the novel Visitation that tells the story of a parcel of land across time and was picked as one of The 100 Best Books of the 21st Century by The Guardian and The End of Days winner of The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and The Hans Fallada Prize, a book whose protagonist dies four times, living five different lives that illuminate the histories and mysteries of the 20th century. All of these books were translated into English by Susan Bernofsky for New Directions. Jenny Erpenbeck joins me today on Between The Covers from Berlin to discuss her first book of nonfiction called Not a Novel: A Memoir in Pieces, translated into English by Kurt Beals for New Directions. A book Deborah Eisenberg for The New York Review of Books calls “Wonderful, elegant, and exhilarating—ferocious as well as virtuosic.” Nicole Krauss adds, “Jenny Erpenbeck’s restrained, unvarnished prose is overwhelming.” John Domini for The Washington Post echoes James Wood when he says, “The impact is of a master at work—Erpenbeck ought to be considered for the Nobel.” Finally, Hassan Altaf for The Paris Review says, “The subtitle of Not a Novel, by the German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, is A Memoir in Pieces, but I think maybe the word shards would be more accurate—the texts collected here come from many eras and many moments and seem to fall around the reader like bits of glass, catching the light at different angles, complete in themselves but tied to one another to create a whole that is provisional and temporary and full of cracks. There is no trail of breadcrumbs in this book, but somehow that makes it feel, as a memoir, even more real. Part of me expects the publication of this book to land like a boulder on an iced-over river: there is something terrifying but liberating about seeing a person construct herself and her history in a way that feels so opposite to everything we are told.” Welcome to Between The Covers, Jenny Erpenbeck.
Jenny Erpenbeck: Hello. I’m happy to be here virtually.
DN: Yes. I wanted to start with the title with your novel Visitation. The word Visitation in German has a negative connotation like the visitation of a plague. But the origins of the word have a more positive connotation, something more like home seeking. You’ve said that you like or are drawn to titles that have a contradiction in them or have a counter current in them. That’s very obvious, more obvious with the title of this book than with Visitation. So tell us about the title Not A Novel; a title that seems to be defining the book by what it’s not.
JE: Once a writer starts to write fiction after one book has been published, one year after publishing it or two years after publishing it, everybody would ask for the next novel. I thought it was funny to call Not A Novel to tell the readership that the book to come is not a novel. It was like a joke. I didn’t like the serious titles like collected essays or collected reflection on this and that which makes it much more intellectual than it perhaps is.
DN: But at the same time even though it sounds like this came as a bit of humor, you do meditate in this book on the relationship between autobiography and how you create fiction and your fictional worlds which connects to this idea of Not A Novel and what that might mean. Even though you don’t write about Visitation specifically in this light, I wanted to stick with it as an example or maybe a counter example to what you’re doing in Not A Novel and this connection between life and art. At the beginning, Visitation was going to be based on your experiences of a summer house where you had particularly memorable summers. A house that your family lost when Germany was reunified. But your own real experience became in the end only the basis for one chapter. The book expanded and became about the many people who had, just like you, lived in this very same house but had lost the house. We have the architect who builds the house in Nazi times and buys the house of the Jews who have to flee who live next door and then the architect has to flee himself when the land becomes part of East Germany, and then the two communist writers who live in the house returning from the Soviet Union post-war which are based on your own grandparents, and then they themselves have to flee. But you don’t only imagine yourselves into these lives. You spent a lot of time in the archives reading everything from property law to the letters of the real Jewish girl who fled this house, what she wrote before she was killed in an extermination camp. It seems like you have a desire to tether these fictional chapters to their real-life counterparts in some very tangible way. And not only that, while many of the characters are unnamed—so some of the characters are the Architect or the Gardener—you wanted to name with their real names these fictional characters. You gave them the real names of who they’re based on, if they were taken advantage of to honor their memory. A Jewish character was given their real life name or if they were someone taking advantage of someone else. You wanted to tie their name to the bad actions of that person. With all this reality in Visitation, I wondered if you could call Visitation “not a novel”. On a more serious note, what I mean is could you talk to us about the differences between facts and lived experiences in your fiction versus facts and lived experiences in your non-fiction?
JE: That’s a tricky question. I was always happy when people told me that they thought Visitation would just be a fictional work. Often, they were surprised to hear that I did so much research and that the stories are mainly based on my research. In a way, if you write you try to hide yourself and to discover yourself and to open yourself at once, so it’s a mixture. If you succeed in hiding you will be happy. But also, some people might ask if this is a true story and they mean, if I, myself, lived through it and they have a desire to read a true story or which is based on real experience. In a way, you can get tired of this question but on the other hand, it’s also interesting because reading is a way of sharing experiences so I also understand this question. When I, myself, am a reader, I’m also interested to not only read the story but also to know the story behind the story, like the biography of the author and how come that he wrote this book or she wrote this book. I think you can be happy if someone doesn’t realize that it is based on research or on true stories and you can also be happy if you can answer the question with a, “Yes, it’s based on something.” I think the point is that you are able to take yourself as an example. This allows you to step back and to look at yourself from a distance and to look at yourself in a way as you would look at any other person in the world. But, of course, you know much more about yourself and also the family that is given to you. I always used to say it’s like an extract of mankind. It’s like the small world in the big world. You will have, not all, but everyone has special relations within this family. But anyway you will have the conflicts, you will have the love, you will have the secrets, the untold stories or the stories that are revealed after the death of someone. You have a small part of the word which is given to you for more thorough research or look at it. From these experiences, also your own, of course—all the experiences of the people that are close to you—you will make a story. But a story is always something that is made up, or made up is perhaps the wrong expression in English. [laughs]
DN: No, it’s the right one I think.
JE: It’s something that is produced and it needs a lot of decisions. Even if these are only decisions about what to take into the story, what to leave out, what to tell first, what to tell in the end, what questions to put and leave unanswered, or what questions can be answered or should be answered, in a way, every art is something that is different from life. If you use the language that people are used to, they perhaps wouldn’t pay attention to it. If I’m a composer and I compose music, it’s much more obvious that this is something that is apart from life or is a different expression, but in a way the language does the same but it’s not so obvious. It’s a mixture. With some stories, it was really difficult to decide if they fit into the Not A Novel book or should I leave them out and wait for another volume of short stories or something like that. You are inventing yourself in a way. [laughs]
DN: I liked this notion of both wanting to hide and wanting to be discovered. I wonder if they’re not opposites, if maybe by hiding you can discover something also about yourself. In your conversation with Neel Mukherjee that was just so wonderful. He brought up autofiction which engages and blurs autobiography and fiction which he characterizes as being very self-focused. I don’t know if I totally agree with him on that analysis but the thing that I did agree with him on was that he distinguished your work from inward-looking books. Your books were outward looking. It feels connected also to the way you were describing looking at yourself in your books from a distance. In Visitation, if we use that as an example, the way your individual story becomes nested within a whole bunch of other stories. But what’s particularly interesting to me is how that looking away from self seems to be an act of self-discovery. That’s why I was hoping you would talk about how Not A Novel opens because you open with this phenomenon about becoming a writer partially through fulfilling the desires of others. Somebody says to you, “Could you write me a short story?” and then you’ve never written a short story and you write a short story and someone says, “Could you do a screenplay?” and you write a screenplay. It made me feel—I don’t know if this is true, if I’m taking this too far—but it made me feel that perhaps you found your voice and maybe even found yourself as a writer by reaching away from what you knew. In a sense, reaching away from the self that you were familiar with, you discover yourself.
JE: You’re right. I’m not the type of writer who says I have to write every day one or two pages otherwise I will die. I’m not this type of writer. I also doubt if someone else would say so because I think you could die because you are starving or because you’re lost somewhere but not because you’re not writing. This is a fairytale. In a way, I always wrote and I always read. I loved reading. I would say the reading was in the beginning and I didn’t feel the urge to write or to become a writer because all people in my family were writers already so there was no need to be another writer. This kind of expression was very common to me, very familiar to me. This was the normal way to express oneself in our family so everybody would write. To find a way of expression is always a way to find your individual existence. My way to find my individual existence was to become an opera director because there was no one before in our family who’s an opera director so I thought this is my way. Of course, when people asked me to write a short story, I have never written a short story until then, but still the writing was the thing which was closest to me. I always used to write diaries and so on and so on. In a bigger sense, you might be right, perhaps, my family expected me to become a writer. The expectation of my family perhaps has more weight than the expectation of someone who wants me to write a short story. But I always kept my writing apart from my family members. I would write and I would use it for my very personal way of being in love and being unhappy. I would always sit down and write in my diary but without the idea of using it as a professional thing. I would always keep it away from my family. The first text that I wrote, I wouldn’t show my father, my mom, or my grandmother before they had been published. I think this was good because it’s like keeping it for yourself.
DN: Yeah. One of the things that I really enjoyed about Not a Novel were your meditations on other writers and the way you would take these quotes from other writers that, to me, felt could have been descriptions of your own writing or, at least, I recognized my experience of reading you in your experience of reading these other writers. A couple of ones that jumped out to me were when you say of Walter Kempowski, “He works with autobiographical material, but he always regards himself as a source for better understanding history.” Even more so, a second one from a speech in the book where you talk about Ovid, you say, “Ovid knows that every static state preserves within itself a process of becoming. That movement is contained within the things themselves in the form of waiting. In his stories, possibility and memory find a refuge alongside each other and with each other and he knows only when we speak of metamorphosis does that which is lost retain its identity.” This quote in particular feels like an entryway into your body work for me in many different ways. The idea of a static state containing a process of becoming and that movement can be found within things themselves feels connected to the way you associate the fall of the Berlin Wall with your birth as a writer. That without leaving your home in East Berlin, from one day to the next, you are exiled from the country. You knew that, in a sense, you became a refugee without flight and that process of becoming and the process of becoming a writer happened through your country disappearing underneath your feet. You say about this, “Freedom wasn’t given freely, it came at a price, and the price was my entire life up to that point. Our everyday lives weren’t everyday lives anymore, they were an adventure that we had survived. Our customs were suddenly an attraction. From that moment on, my childhood belonged in the museum.” I was hoping you could talk to us about this unasked-for metamorphosis in relationship to your birth as a writer and how you connect these two.
JE: I really think that, perhaps, I would never have become a writer without this political change of the systems. It was a strong experience to see how something that you believe is stable in a way, as in general, is lost from one week to the next. Many of my friends, my parents, and my parents’ friends, we all had the idea that the East German Republic needs a change. But I think no one at this time in 1989 and beginning of 1990 thought that the whole system would disappear. It was like we wanted to make it better. We want to change it. We want to have a new government. We have to change the way of the government and how the country is organized, but everyone thought we would keep it and then we could see that it was like a question of minutes and we became a capitalist country. Until now, when I walked through the streets in East Berlin, I’ve always had two films in my head; the film that I see when I’m walking and the film of how it looked like in my childhood and youth. It gave everything a double bottom. It’s like there were so strong changes, especially in Berlin, of course, but also in other cities like the facades were renovated and houses being built, the way the shops looked all of a sudden and all the cafes and restaurants that were opened and so on. It was like the same old city that I knew and the new one on the same film on the same negative, so to say. It’s all double. For me, it was, in a way, the same. I’m still of an East German origin. The way I think or the people that were important to me were East Germans. I’ve also stepped into the new world so I got used to traveling and speaking English. [laughs] It’s like being cut in the middle; you have two souls in one person and this is always a good starting point to write.
DN: As you mentioned, you come from a family of writers. Your mother was a translator from Arabic to German. Your father, a writer. Your grandparents were writers. Your grandmother was a best-selling writer. In some of these essays, we see you writing at the same desk as your mother and your grandmother before putting your paper clips in the same place that your mother put her paper clips, and we feel this intergenerational connection. When you describe this about the wall and you’re writing, it made me think of The End of Days and how you do this exercise with one life being lived five times; and if one or two small things change very, large changes happen over the course of a life in terms of the outcome of the same person. You’ve said that if the wall hadn’t fallen, you’d probably still be an opera director. But your father, who was a fiction writer before the wall fell, stopped writing fiction when the wall fell. I was wondering if you could talk about this. What happened to his relationship to fiction for him with the wall falling that drew him in the opposite direction of you away from fiction instead of towards it?
JE: My father wrote a couple of novels and poetry. He also published poetry and texts of others. He was very used to the world of writing in East Germany in the GDR. His subjects were about what he thought the changes this society needed so that it would work in a better way with other problems. His subjects were subjects of this society up to this point. His starting point was a completely different starting point than the one I had. He would start with his work and thinking in the 60s. It was like the war was really over. The first difficulties had already been there in the history of GDR like the 7th of June in 1953. It’s too much to tell all the political events now. He was starting his writing in a moment when he wanted to develop his society, his community, the political community. When the wall fell, the system he was working on also, as a writer, had failed and disappeared. He always used to say to me that it doesn’t make any sense for him to write about the world we are in from this moment on. It didn’t interest him. It was not his world and so he was lacking his subjects and the things that were interesting to him. My starting point was, as I said before, the fall of the wall and this very essential thing of comparing all the time of like, “How was it? How is it?” and coming from this question leading to the question of what will be or where will we go to now. I started when the socialist society ended. I started to think about destruction, loss, transformation, and transition. All these things were the points that made me write but this was completely different from what made him write.
DN: You sort of answered or, at least, partially answered the next question I was going to ask but I’m going to ask it anyways to see if you have some further thoughts. This idea of the presence and absence of the wall or the fact that in your life, the presence and the absence of the wall feels like it’s connected to two themes which you’ve just touched on that go across your works. The question of borders, who is us and who is them, and the question of time both the metamorphic aspect of time and also the capricious aspects of time, and also how things are passed down or not passed down through time. I was hoping we could talk a little bit more about it, about time and the way you describe your childhood as becoming a museum, how an ordinary childhood for you had become fixed and almost fetishized by Western eyes. The image of gray skies, of people waiting in long queues, of the Stasi spying on everything and everyone becoming the only representation of your life and a frozen representation in the past. You even wonder at one point in the book if this static memory is actually used as an instrument of power. In contrast, when we are with you recollecting your own lived experience in East Germany pre-1989, the past and the present and the future are all present and informing each other. Even the things that you don’t necessarily think were good or ideal are often things that you’re still fond of or have nostalgia for. In your essay, At The Ends of the Earth, where you say, “There is nothing better for a child than to grow up at the ends of the earth,” we are with your grandparents living at the border wall, we get recollections of them taking one bath a week, making homemade wine, the jar of leeches on the shelf, and not washing one’s dishes with running water to conserve resources. But we also see how you are literally living among the past and the future at the same time. You’re living among ruins and you’re also living among construction sites. You quote this line from the East German anthem which seems to capture that, “resurrected from the ruins, faces toward the future turned.” I guess I wanted to hear more about your writing, perhaps partially against this way your life has been made into a museum piece, to re-enter that to combat the way it’s become a relic.
JE: It’s a complicated question but I’ll try. The interesting thing is that for a long time, I thought it was like closing a door or like the door being closed by other people and I can only go back to the museum to look into my childhood. But in a way, we shouldn’t forget that people having been formed under these very different circumstances are still living on as, I, for instance. It’s not all about a door being closed. It’s also about transformation and this is the interesting point, I think, transformations are the most interesting thing at all because it’s like the biggest secret that lays under our open eyes and still we cannot understand what is happening. If there are ruins from a war, there will be the ruins first then there will be an empty space and then people build something new. But if you lift through this process as I did in my childhood in the Leipziger Strasse, you will get a feeling for the possibility of ruins or of becoming ruins again and so on. It’s like a movement and sometimes I think about what you said about using memory as an instrument and the impression that the East German past could be put into a museum and taken away from us the former East Germans could also be used as an instrument. We shouldn’t be content with doing so because we all know that in some attic, they are not only the forgotten and longer used things but there are also the ghosts. [laughs] There are things coming from the attics down into the house again. In a way, we are wondering what they are and we are waiting for them and we are afraid of them, so it’s a mixture. Many things that I learned from East German thinkers like the first one, I have to say his name again, is Heiner Müller. The writer, Heiner Müller, who was, for me, the greatest thinker in East Germany. People like these taught us many things that are still of some use. It’s not like it ended and can be put away. I like museums very much and I’m afraid of museums too. I’m sad about things being put into a museum because at the very moment, you know they are not used in real life anymore, but still there’s something very important preserved in the museum and we shouldn’t forget that what is preserved has no end. It has a connection to the presence.
DN: I wanted to connect two things that may or may not be connected for you. I want to see if you feel like they might be, because you said this really intriguing thing in your conversation with Neel where you said that you were actually unable to write something nonfiction. That even when writing nonfiction, you’re writing the invisible; writing that which is not there. But here in this nonfiction book in Not a Novel, you have a speech you gave about time for your induction into the Berlin Academy of Arts where you say, “We know only one thing. That behind everything we can see, hear, and touch another reality is concealed. A reality we can’t see and can’t hear and can’t touch. A reality made of time. We know, according to scientific findings, that the present belongs to us for precisely three seconds before it plunges down the throat of the past. That means that every three seconds we produce ourselves again as strangers.” I wondered if those two things were connected in your mind. The invisible reality of time and how, when you write nonfiction, you are really writing the invisible thing that is not there and so really you’re not writing nonfiction.
JE: [laughs] It’s all about layers. Meanwhile, I have been writing for some years and I could see that sometimes things I thought about 10 years ago, and I come back to these thoughts, get another meaning or more weight also the thoughts transform. For instance, if I do some research I would read letters of my family for one book and I would look for something else years later, and I come back to the same letter or to the same recording—sometimes I record talks or have my grandmother tell me stories on tape—when I come back to the tapes, I will discover completely other things that were already there on the tape or on the paper but I couldn’t see them because my head was different at this time or my interest was different. It’s like an invisible ink that becomes visible all of a sudden just because you are seeking for something else. This is a process that fascinates me again and again. It’s still the same. You see that in the course of your life you’ll know more things or more different things. You will meet people. You read books. You get so many impressions and every second you become someone you are, in a way, because you understand more or you make a connection of too far away things that you haven’t seen together before. I’m also interested in neurology. Just recently, I was at a conference about how our memory is functioning. There was an interesting lecture from a professor and she explained that every time we remember something, it is produced in you. It’s like there’s a new file produced and put somewhere else in a new place in our head. Remembering is an active thing and not just like going back into the museum if you have nothing else to do and then come back to real life. No, it’s a production that takes place. This interests me a lot and I think this is also something I try with my writing. Perhaps, I could write again and again the same books and they would be different every time because I change.
DN: I love that. I want to stay with this notion of time with also the question of writing and time. To return to Visitation again which is mainly about a house and its history in the 20th century. You, nevertheless, begin the book 24,000 years in the past. When someone asked you about this you said, “The opening to the book is also itself a story of change and disappearing structures. Even though those disappearing structures 24,000 years ago aren’t human structures.” You also said that one needs a big distance to look at all the stories and that is justice to look from so far away.” In Not a Novel in your keynote address called Blind Spots, you say, “How far do you have to step back in order to see an entire historical tapestry extending far beyond your own lifetime? How much do you have to know in order to understand what it really is that’s flourishing in your own blind spot?” I thought of both of these when you said earlier that you wanted to distance from yourself or to see yourself from a distance when writing yourself. I was hoping you could talk about this notion of distance of looking at things from far back rather than from the inside out and its relationship to either or both to justice and to narrative.
JE: In the Visitation, my feeling was that it’s a story about waves. The big waves in the history of the earth—like the ice age some thousand years ago—and here we are and perhaps, one day we will be there no more. It’s a wave of coming and going. Also in the story itself, you could see that from chapter to chapter, people are showing up and then they are taken away one or the other way. Some readers would ask me if this wasn’t horrible to make it my subject that people would be taken away but it’s also a comfort to know that it’s about growing. It’s not only about losing things or disappearing. It’s also about growing and starting anew. Perhaps, this is the reason why I try to get this distance myself and to also put it into my books. As in Visitation, I became just one of the chapters, or my story became just one of those chapters. I’m among others, and this was a comfort to me so that I’m not alone with my loss but I tried to look at all the different kinds of losses and there are stories of much worse losses than my story. It takes the weight from your shoulders to look at others. I start with the disappearance of the East German situation. In the very beginning, we would say we can know who a Westerner is just from the way he shuts his car door. For a long time I thought about it myself. It was true. We could do so. We would know who is from the west and who is from the east and what the difference is. The difference is that Westerners are used to behaving as customers saying, “I pay you and so you owe me to do so.” This gives you strength or power, the power of buying something, and it puts you into the middle if you have money, of course, [laughs] and you don’t need to step back because people owe you to work for you when you pay them. This feeling of being so sure that people owe you something, this made the difference in a way and you could see that. In East Germany, it’s more like we were not sure that someone owed us something. We couldn’t pay for things that didn’t make sense. Money was not an important thing in the east. Sometimes we would have to wait much longer than we wanted to wait and this gave you the luxury of stepping back. This gave you the luxury of being put out without your own will. You couldn’t force someone to do so, and this is the question of the Go, Went, Gone, the last novel I wrote. It’s also about stepping back and having a look at ourselves; what kind of world is it that we live in that gives us the feeling that we are worth living, and peace, and are more or less wealthy surrounding.
DN: I want to ask you about Go, Went, Gone with regards to distance because I find this convincing, this idea of there being a certain justice of looking at things from a big distance. But I almost feel there’s something about the way Go, Went, Gone is being received that argues for the opposite around distance and justice. Go, Went, Gone, I believe, is your only novel that portrays the history we are living now. The crisis of refugees from Africa, and the Middle East, and Europe. It feels like it’s the first novel of yours that’s repeatedly called a political novel, even though all of your novels are engaged with history and politics. I wondered if it’s called political because of the lack of distance and the ways the lack of distance implicates us in the crisis you’re portraying, that it’s more comfortable to read about refugees from a different generation or a different century. We can read about Jews in the 30s and 40s and maybe even imagine ourselves as advocates for them if we were alive then, risking ourselves on behalf of their lives. In direct contradiction to all the ways, we’re not risking ourselves or advocating for the refugees of today whether we’re talking about Europe or the United States. In this sense, it almost feels like distance allows us to preserve a falsely moral sense of self. A sense of self that a book like Go, Went, Gone ruptures because of its lack of distance. There’s no way we can read that book and not confront what we’re not doing or what we are doing. [laughs]
JE: I know what you mean but what I mean is the distance to step back from your own small world to see more, to have a wider spectrum of things that you look at. The point is the main character in the book gets involved and he’s no more distant in the end. But still to write a book about people that are, in a way, completely out of focus of the European and Northern American world’s focus, you need to step back to be able to see yourself in a system of taking advantage of these people that you don’t even look at when you see them on the street because you don’t want to see them and you don’t want to connect them to your own life. You need to step back and remember that you are also someone who could lose his home, who could be forced to flee, or perhaps, your ancestors had to do so or lost their homes. You have to reach this distance from your daily life from the safety, the security of your daily routines. When I started to write the book, I could see that there are not many people who are able to write a book about it because everyone was so busy with making his living and taking care of his or her children. People are busy nowadays, perhaps more than they were centuries ago. People are very busy and you have to jump out of your existence, at least, virtually to look at it from outside, and then you can see that the good life that we have has to do something with the horrors and with the desperate people on the Mediterranean, for instance.
DN: Yeah. I definitely want to spend some more time talking about the way you connect our good life with the horrific life of others elsewhere that we’re not looking at and our complicity, and the way that threads through your work. But before we do, I want to step back across the border and into the past of East Germany and look at something that I wondered if it was connected to this for you. One of the people who I’ve had on the show, who I think of in relationship to you and your work, is the writer, Dubravka Ugrešić, whose country Yugoslavia disappeared. She doesn’t identify as Serbian, or Croatian, or Bosnian, or certainly not as any of those things as a nation and continues to think of herself as Yugoslavian. Because of her Yugo-nostalgia, she has been labeled a traitor, even called a witch, and she lives in exile. Obviously, lots of those details are not like you except for her country no longer existing but having formed her entirely as a writer. About nostalgia, she writes, Nostalgia is not subject to control, it is a subversive activity of our brain. Nostalgia works with fragments, scents, touch, sound, melody, colour, its territory is absence, it is the capricious corrective to adaptable memory.” But she also says something else that made me think of some of your descriptions of life before the wall fell. She said, “When I was ‘local,’ I tried to write ‘globally.’ Now, when I am not ‘there’ anymore, it appears that my themes are more connected with local.” More specifically I was thinking about how you describe East Berlin as the end of the world where even though the border was, a matter of fact, present at the end of the street, East Berlin might as well have been, in some far corner, of the ocean rather than in the center of Europe. But there’s this way that you describe East Germany as being unusually international and outward-looking in contrast to all the ways it’s very insular and self-referential. There’s one way in which it’s much more international and outward-looking than America or West Germany is, and that was with regards to international solidarity, and you describe bake sales or recycling drives to raise money, for instance, to free Angela Davis from jail—that’s just one example—which to me seems inconceivable in the United States as a national project, obviously, to free Angela Davis from jail. But to just imagine connecting across culture and across borders in the national narrative of connection that isn’t national. Neel Mukherjee calls you the Great Novelist of Borders. But I might say that you’re the great novelist of border crossing or crossing borders or crossing boundaries. I was wanting to hear a little bit more about solidarity and thinking collectively and maybe how that might connect to some of what you’re describing about stepping back and out of our bubble to be able to see things that are out of focus. Maybe even the project of a nation itself, by definition is, keeping things beyond its borders out of focus. That’s something that your work seems to be working actively against.
JE: My father always used to say the word nation or the idea of a nation was born during the French Revolution when they wanted to form an army without paying the people.
DN: Oh, wow. [laughter]
JE: To set people in motion, it needs an idea. At this moment, the idea was the nation. The nation is a relatively new idea. When we look at the Austrian Kingdom, the Kaiserreich, you could see there’s also a saying in Latin—other people will have a war to get bigger either to make their territory bigger. Luckily Austria, they just marry to make the territory bigger. We could see that there were many different people put together in this huge empire without any question of teaching in one language or forcing them to feel the same feelings. Everybody could be however and would be just taken into the territory. It was a question of territory, not of nation. Now, all of a sudden, we have this idea of a nation. Also, Germany has a long history of being split into many small kingdoms, it was full of borders until the 19th century. Even now, it’s similar to the United States. It has different states and different laws in the states still. But the idea which should keep it together is the idea to be German. I like the German language. I love to read German books but I also love to read other books. For me, the idea of a nation doesn’t raise a feeling. It’s not connected to me emotionally. In a way, this is also the result of an East German being brought up in East Germany because we were forbidden to say that we are Germans. The word German was cut out and put into the dark corner after the freshest time. It was like nobody would dare to be proud of being German after all we had done before. I didn’t learn this feeling. The beginning of the question was the nation, and the inside, and outside, and the crossing border, so why do I do it. [laughter] The beginning of the question was somewhere else.
DN: I was just thinking about how you were talking about when we were talking before about stepping outside of our own bubbles. I wondered if that was connected to the way East Germany was connecting to international solidarity which is not about nation in the same way.
JE: One of the good things I was taught in East Germany, was this international solidarity and there are some ideas like this that are still worth thinking about now because solidarity is missing, that’s very clear. The idea of solidarity provides people with things that they are lacking like education, or equipment, or whatever, without taking advantage. This is missing in the world we are living in. Perhaps, you know the famous Marxist quote, “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” And this was the idea of borders that are no more needed because the people would unite. Also, the beginning of the Russian revolution was finishing the war and saying that people of one country shouldn’t kill people of other countries just because someone who’s in the government wants to take advantage of the resources of this other country. We shouldn’t fight each other. The starting point was to make peace with others and to get the feeling for being on the same side. The problem is that later on, many of these ideas were forgotten or put aside for a later moment and so it didn’t stay in this pure idealistic state.
DN: Since we’re talking about Marx, I wanted to ask you more about objects, and ownership of objects, and property, and props in your work. For instance, the book by Goethe that the Jewish family flees with, in which features in pivotal moments in the plot of The End of Days, and not only the house in Visitation and the questions of ownership of the house, but also all the items that each owner buries or hides before fleeing and then many of the essays in Not a Novel, they also focus on objects and their legacy. But before we talk about objects and property in relationship to the collective and solidarity, I was hoping maybe you could talk about objects in relationship to storytelling and story, because I imagine—maybe this is just me imagining since I don’t have any familiarity with this—but I imagine having been a props manager for theater that how an object moves during the course of a play might have its own story. If that’s true, I was interested to hear more about the ways you so often tell stories through the stories of objects.
JE: In a way, it has to do with the focus of being put away from the human being but on other things, just experimentally. My feeling was that, of course, things are passive—they cannot move themselves, they are dependent on people that put them here or there—but still, they have their own stories. They have their own ways. In a way, I believe in things preserving time or being connected to things that happened in their presence in former times. They keep a secret. They keep something. They store time. I like this very much about things. When I look at things in my texts and my books, it allows me to step away from myself and to follow a completely different kind of being. Perhaps, it’s the same as if you sit on a table in the summertime and there would be a butterfly, a bird, some bug, or whatever animal lands on the table and moves. You look at it and you forget about yourself. You know how and where he came from. Where does he go? What is his profession? What is he busy with? Or she? Or it? I really like these moments when you realize that you are not the most important thing in the world and not everything is depending on you. There are things that have other ideas or other ways to go. I’m always relieved to see that because it means also that when I wouldn’t be there anymore, life would go on, which is also nice to know.
DN: I think this would be a good time to hear The Pressure Cooker.
[Jenny Erpenbeck reads The Pressure Cooker from her latest book, Not a Novel]
DN: We’ve been listening to Jenny Erpenbeck read The Pressure Cooker from her latest book, Not a Novel, translated into English by Kurt Beals.
There are several essays in Not a Novel that engage with your mother’s death through the process of sorting out the objects she owned—counting them, listing them, accounting for them, deciding their destinies. It made me think of something you said in a conversation about Visitation. You said, “The language of law and legal bureaucracy is interesting because it contains emotions that have been deformed, emotions that aren’t alive anymore, that are mummies of words. For instance, the legal language of the word claim comes from the word for mourning, but it is almost lost.” Then in that conversation, you go on to talk about how you’re interested when a very far away language gets power over real life, how ink on paper can change people’s lives, often in a bad way. When you talked with Neel about the essay in Not a Novel called Open Bookkeeping—which is where you sort out what to do with the belongings you’ve inherited—you say that in part, this piece is a way to fight against an economic or bureaucratic way of thinking. I was hoping you could talk more about that—about bureaucratic and economic thinking and the way that suggests that maybe that’s deforming emotions, but maybe it’s also deforming language. Can you talk to us about the ways in which your accounting of your mother’s property and objects is pushing back against a certain way to view things economically and bureaucratically?
JE: When I started to write the text, it was for a project of someone who wanted me to write a text about the difference between me as an economic entity, a subject in the system of money, and me as a writer and human being. I thought in this situation when my mom passed away, there was nothing else I could write about in this very moment. I was so under shock because I’m her only daughter, so the whole responsibility was on me. I had to take care for her things and for the household. I was kept so busy by the formal letters I got every day, asking me for this and that, filling out this and that form, or answering this and that question, and sending the accounts of this and that. Perhaps it’s good that it keeps you busy at this time because you’re too sad anyway. On the other hand, it has nothing to do with what death is about. It was completely beyond the reality of experiencing death or losing someone who’s close. From the moment the paper gets in between you and someone you love—the paper which is coming from the outside world, so to say—for me, it was like trying to take me away from my mom or to turn her into something that has no soul and no personal life. It was like she became a number in the system. Of course, we all are numbers in the system. But this is not the reality. The interesting thing is that the reality of being a human being has nothing to do with this world of accounting and filling out forms. Of course, a state has to organize its members, perhaps, it also has to keep the members busy so that they cannot have other ideas than to fill out the form, I don’t know. But I have a big distrust to the truth of papers. As we can see, especially in Germany, in Nazi time, they would also have lists for all the people that they sent into the gas chambers. The reality of it is that the loss stays with us until now. There are people still missing on the streets that are no more alive or never came to life because their grandparents had been sent into the gas chambers. We would see the list and everything is counted but the reality is somewhere else, the emotional reality, the human feeling for this kind of experience or loss is different. Perhaps, this is one of the things that a writer could do to keep the real memory alive or to preserve the things that are killed by being put into a list.
DN: Yeah, when you were talking earlier about how people in East Germany, including your family, didn’t anticipate that the country would just disappear, that perhaps, there would be a third way when the two Germanys reunited, not the winning of one and the erasure of another. You’ve also talked about how that’s reflected in property law, that all ownership claims established since the beginning of East Germany reverted back to owners who had the land pre-East Germany. But you’ve asked why that as a border around the law? Why does the law start and end there? Also, you asked why the beginning of valid ownership claims begins at the end of Nazi times rather than at the beginning of Nazi times. In other words, why those dispossessed by the Nazis don’t have the right to return to their property but West Germans had the right to “take back” the properties from East Germans? I recently had the comics journalist, Joe Sacco, on the show. He has a new book called Paying the Land, that’s about the indigenous people of the Northwest Territories of Canada and resource extraction. In his encounters with them, one of the things he was most impressed by was a radically different relationship to land altogether. He read a quote by Jean-Jacques Rousseau actually that went, “The first person who, having enclosed the plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had someone pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!” This made me think of the character, the gardener, in Visitation, a character who transcends ownership. I also think he transcends borders and boundaries. He’s the gardener of the house regardless of who owns it. He’s almost quasi mythical, but he continues to take care of both the house and the land, and seems to also be a bridge between nature and culture. You’ve called him the real owner before, or if not the owner, the person with the most authentic connection to the place and to the house. That it is a relationship and the work you do, the actions you take to establish a relationship, not paperwork or money or laws that matter. In a way, I imagine you as the gardener, that each of your different books is the temporary occupant of a house that you are tending. But I’m curious if you see the gardener or the notion of the gardener as an alternate path to much of what you portray in your books, like much of what you portray is the opposite, but the gardener feels like a countercurrent to the histories we read when we read you.
JE: I really think he is the true owner because of his work, and because of his real connection to the place which is founded again and again, day by day, by physical doing, physical work. Now, a long time has passed since the wall fell, and now we can see that in all so-called good districts in Berlin or also outside of Berlin, the rich people would buy places or build houses, it’s like a dictatorship of the wealthy. They would set foot on a place, and stay there forever as it seems if the system stays the same. In East German times, it was much less organized neither by money—because money didn’t play a big part—nor by power. You would find—in the good places around lakes for instance, outside of Berlin as the place I wrote about—a nurse, a mechanic, peasants, the director of one of the biggest companies for a technical company in East Germany, a doctor, writer, whatever, it was a mixture. It was not about money, it was a bit about privilege, but not only. Some privileged people got good places, but in between they were completely normal people still living there. They did all, they didn’t have to pay much for their places. It was like the money was taken, not out of the system, but the money didn’t play a big role or a big part, and this changed a lot. I think the idea of privara—privara in latin is to take something from someone, it’s stealing, privara is stealing in translation—if you start to fix them, to fix the law in a way that gives the right only to the wealthy people, it will cause problems in the long term. As we see it now in our cities, no normal person can pay for a two-room apartment in New York or even in Berlin, it’s hard. You would pay like €400 for one room in a community of people. This is completely mad. It means it destroys the social structure of living together, it destroys the taking part in cultural events, and having short ways to interesting places, and so on. It destroys a lot. If you ask for the reason, it is because private owning is supported, and alternatives are not supported. In Berlin, we have the very rare situation of empty houses in the middle of the city. In one of the houses, a friend of mine has opened a cinema just recently in an almost ruined, East German ruin, in the very center of Berlin which is nice. There’s a group of people that want to invent a new kind of living together with old and young people, having things like cinema, theater, and whatever in the same house; a wonderful idea. One would think, “Okay, this is like utopia coming true to invent living together again.” They were accepted for one year, trying or having a test, but after one year, offices will move in, and the center at Alexanderplatz will be dead or will become dead again. It’s interesting why offices are supported or there are so many ugly houses built just to make as much money from them as possible, like in terms of square meters, it’s not the question if they look nice or if they have spaces for the community, it’s just a building for private ownership, to make as much money as someone can make out of one square meter. These are problems that we are all facing, we are the ones who have to leave the centers when we are not having enough money. Also, the poor people, the beggars are forbidden to be seen in the centers of our city. Everyone who comes to Berlin thinks, “Okay here, there are no beggars anymore.” But this is not true, they are sent away, they are forbidden to be in the center, to be seen in the center. This has also a lot to do that we should keep our eyes also on the dark corners which are taken away from us.
DN: The unfocused parts.
DN: I want to take a short detour into language, style, and syntax. Because if we think of the gardener as someone beyond nation and beyond borders, also in a sense beyond time since he endures, and doesn’t seem to die, I guess, I wanted to ask you your thoughts about how language can capture something beyond language? How language can capture something that transcends language? And mention two things that you say in Not a Novel. Here’s one of them, “If the language that you can speak isn’t enough, that’s a very good reason to start writing. As paradoxical as it may be: The impossibility of expressing what happens to us in words is what pushes us towards writing. Whenever I have not been able to understand something, I have not been able to capture it in words, that’s when I’ve started writing. And that’s how it was in my first book too.” Then also, you’ve talked about how opera directing is a good starting point for writing novels, because music and literature are both connected to silence. You even talk about the silence beneath the very loquacious books of Thomas Bernhard, books that most people witness wouldn’t immediately think of as having a silence in them. I was hoping maybe, you could talk more about why the failure of language is a great starting place for a writer, and how music and writing are connected to silence, connected to the absence of sound, and the absence of words.
JE: Now what I always try is to create a surface which has gaps to the dark underneath so that you would step on the surface of words, then all of a sudden you would reach such a gap, look into the dark underneath, and understand that the essential thing is taking place in the darkness. What I always try is to write a passage or a chapter, then start writing the next passage or next chapter, and in between there, if I succeed to do so, I would like to create a space of the unsaid or the space for all the things that you cannot write about. You can come close with words, then you reach the point where the reader should use his own feelings to step in for the things that one cannot put into words. In many books that are read nowadays, or perhaps also in other times, it’s only about contents, it’s what happens. I think this is not enough for literature, it’s not all about content, it’s not all about plot, the things that really interest me are behind the content, like if someone is doing this or that, I would ask myself, why is she or he doing so? When he’s saying a sentence, I would ask, what is behind the sentence? What is the sentence used for? It’s not all on the surface which could be easily understood. In music, it’s the same. My favorite passages are the passages when the music continues the sentence. I cannot sing now, [laughter] but there are some passages in Wagner Opera for instance, someone is singing, then all of a sudden he has to stop or he doesn’t know how to continue, then the music will step in, and open up. Then you can see that this is the thing which is the reason for writing an opera, and the reason for seeking expression.
DN: When you mention Thomas Bernhard, that the silence in his work or underneath his work is related to the repetition in his work on the sentence level, is that related to what you’re describing with the opera in some way? That it’s something about the music of the sentences rather than the content of the sentences? The overabundant content and underneath it is this music, that is the silence?
JE: Yeah. We often have these repetitions. It’s like someone being forced to speak or to think in order to avoid, which is the real force on work. [laughs] In Bennett, I’ve got the feeling, the more a character is speaking, the less you see– how to express this? You see, I’m not a speaker, I’m a writer. The problem [laughter] is if I have to express myself speaking, I’m completely stupid.
DN: No. You’re a great speaker.
JE: I try. Speak a lot is also a way to avoid to really speak. I also told Neel, before I studied opera directing, I studied two years, like the theory of drama, being a drama talk which is a profession that doesn’t exist in America, the one who’s reading a lot of books and supporting the director. We would always ask, “Why is someone speaking?” Only in the very few passages, you can see that someone is speaking because he wants to tell someone a certain content. In most of the cases, a character in a play is speaking because he wants to manipulate someone, he wants to avoid speaking of other things, he’s misleading his partners on stage [laughs] or he is hiding his inner soul by speaking out loudly. There are many reasons for speaking out that have nothing to do with the contents of what is spoken, this is interesting.
DN: I want to finish our conversation with a discussion of the final section of Not a Novel, the first section being Life, the second section, Literature and Music, and the third, Society. Society is the shortest of the three, but I also felt it was the most powerful. I think it is the most powerful, because as we mentioned earlier with regards to your last novel, going on these pieces implicate us in ongoing living history, in ways that are uncomfortable. In earlier pieces, you explore the writings and the lives of writers who many people might not have known were refugees. Thomas Mann was a refugee. Ovid was a refugee. But here in the section Society, we open with an obituary for an African refugee who you knew, and who was also a character in Go, Went, Gone. I was hoping you could tell us about the real-in-the-world work you did with refugees in relation to writing the novel, and more specifically about the life that you are describing, naming, and honoring in this second to last piece in the book.
JE: When I first met the group of refugees I later wrote about, one of the first persons I met was Bashir. He was a Nigerian. He had lost his two children while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. He had to leave behind his own company, his own family, the children were lost, so he reached Europe. He was so impressive to all of us because he never gave up. He was always fighting for a change of politics. He never thought of his own advantage. His interest was not his own destiny, like being safe himself, but what he fought for was a change of thinking of the European politicians. What was so special about him was that he formed a group of all these people that were coming from different African countries, normally, they wouldn’t know each other, and sometimes they didn’t even share the language. Many of them spoke English, but normally, they would never have been a group. He made a group out of them. He really organized demonstrations, and things that he tried to get attention for the general problem, not just for his own. He had a big heart. He was a very special person. After many, many, many bad places, I helped him to find an apartment, a small one and a half room apartment. Then when he had died, we found out that there were like, I don’t know, I think eight people in the apartment, living in the one and a half room apartment, because he couldn’t say no to his friends, and to the people that were looking for a place to sleep. He was fantastic, and was a great loss when he died. It was also the movement. As movement ended, the moment he died, the people were spread all over the city, some were accepted later, most of them were not accepted, and sent back to Italy, so they were lost and the group didn’t exist anymore. I think it’s important to be aware of the situation that also destroys movements. It’s interesting that also the Occupy movement was attacked. If you want to change things in general, you need to be organized, otherwise, you will be spread over, and not reach anything.
DN: One of the things that I think is really important about Go, Went, Gone, and the work you did in the world at large around refugees is pointing out that arriving in Europe is not surviving. We really learned about the way paperwork can be an obstacle, and status can be an obstacle even once you hear, because Bashir, his father was burned to death in Nigeria, he ends up in Libya where Black Africans are hunted openly on the street. His children died when the boat capsizes. But when he arrives in Europe, you would think that would be the end of a narrative arc like, “Okay, now he has asylum, and asylum is going to rescue him.” But he’s a skilled person. When we think back to the gardener and you saying the most authentic connection to the land is his work, he isn’t allowed to work. You have these lines in the obituary that you wrote, “If you aren’t allowed to work, you can never really arrive. If you aren’t allowed to work, you remain trapped in your own memories.” It also made me think of a recent talk, I was in the audience of a Native American Poet, Natalie Diaz. She was talking about questions of belonging, citizenship, and how in the US, asylum paperwork has always been available in Arabic. But census paperwork, the census which counts who is an inhabitant of the country, is only now being discussed to be allowed to be in Arabic. In a way, the paperwork isn’t a sign of a change in status, but a way to reinscribe or enforce the status that already exists. That the person would only be seen as an asylum seeker, but never as an inhabitant, and someone who belongs. But I guess where I’m going with this is, part of what you’re doing is answering a question, an unasked and asked question of people who say, “Well, we’re not guilty for the problems Africans have now,” or in America, “We’re not guilty for the problem someone from Honduras has now.” Before we end, I was hoping maybe, you could speak to that, to the collectivity around finding and reaching for solidarity across these agendas which seem to be reinscribing the dynamic rather than changing it.
JE: My impression is that the main mistake is in thinking of “they” and “we”. The thought of borders and the thought of [border both senses] to someone out and to be safe ourselves. I think this is the main mistake, once you have started to work or to support refugees, you will see after a few days only or perhaps after some hours already, that of course, each of them is an individual with his or her own story, and of course, it’s a story that we can understand as human beings. No refugee was not a human being that we could connect to, by our own emotions if we want to do so, because they have families, they want to save their lives, they want to find an existence and find it, instead we all can understand. I think the mistake is to make a distinction as if some people are worth living in peace, and in a good life, others are outside and we have kept them outside. This is the mistake, we are all human beings and there is no outside. The outside of us is the universe, there’s no other outside. But if we could understand this very simple thought, we would understand all of a sudden, there’s not one single person that we could just let die in the Mediterranean or somewhere else or keep in the Limbo forever, like the poor children and families in Moria, that the day they burned the refugee camp in order to get attention, that they are still there. They are all just human beings as I am or as you are or as our families are. They should be given the right to take care for themselves. Another thing, also to think that they just want to take advantage of the European or the American system, but there are not so many advantages. Even if you are living here, you have to struggle to find your existence. It is not easy even if you are accepted, even if you speak the language and they have studied. It isn’t simple to make a living here, they would have to try hard anyway, [laughs] but they should be given the chance to think their ways. The freedom is not reached as long as it is a freedom within borders, like having the right passport or not having the right passport, this is not freedom.
DN: I want to end on, perhaps, an impossible question. In this final essay, Blind Spots, you say that we fear what we can’t solve, that true listening is not only a skill, but a risk, because it can reveal our own impotence, and thus we fear the gap between sentences, and we fear listening itself. You’ve said elsewhere that one of the main problems with East Germany was that language became devastated by fear, that it wasn’t theirs anymore because one wrong word could lead to your death. I can’t speak to Germany today, but in America today, on the verge of an election that might or might not be legitimate or respected if it is legitimate, that language has been devastated not by fear, but by being removed from any sense of truth or responsibility to a shared reality. A recent guest of mine was Lance Olsen, who has lived in Berlin. His last novel, My Red Heaven, takes place during the early years of Hitler’s rise in Berlin, but feels like it’s making commentary on America today at the same time. We were talking about how well Germany has grappled with the actions of its past compared to America. There are no statues to Nazis like we have statues to Confederate soldiers that fought to defend slavery for instance. There are stumbling stones or tripping stones in Berlin, places that commemorate, where, for instance, a Jewish family was taken from their home to an extermination camp as you walk around the city. But what’s frightening to me is that perhaps Germany can be held up as an example of a country that did a particularly good job of historical reckoning and spiritual inventory around its history, yet even with that, there’s been a resurgence of far-right and fascist sentiment in Germany, that reckoning hasn’t been a vaccine against that. It’s easier for me to understand why America, in its willful ignorance of its own past, has gone toward Trump. I guess in light of that, I wanted to hear thoughts you have about the power of listening or the limitations of listening or the power or limitations of national reckoning and writing in the face of this. Then if you’re willing to share what you’re working on now, what we would expect from you next like what you’re doing after having written about the European refugee crisis, and now having collected 20 years of your writings of a non-fiction, what we could expect to see next from Jenny Erpenbeck?
JE: Yeah. I honestly said, I doubt that remembering things that happened, let’s say two generations ago, can help to avoid making the same mistakes again. I think remembering is good as long as there is a generational or familiar connection to the past so that there is at least a bit of your own in the history. But after two generations, the experiences have to be made again, I think. The chance is to enable people to make experiences themselves. For instance, giving kids in school the chance to meet a refugee, to listen to someone who has gone through all these hardships. All the stories and all the things that good people try to pass to the next generation [2:03:37] I think, their own experiences cannot be replaced by remembering. Making mistakes cannot be replaced by telling how they should do. It’s a problem. Perhaps, art is a way to transport emotions. But I doubt that someone is reading a book and becoming a new person. I could also see with my book, no right wing people would read my book. This is the problem. No people who’re not already interested would read my book. Many nice, wonderful, and good people read my book, liked it, and wrote me letters. I want to do the same things I did like Richard, the main character, which is nice, but they already were interested, all these were people that already have a feeling for how hard it is for a refugee to arrive in Europe or America or somewhere. Real experience is the only thing that can help. We should take care that [2:05:22] of making people meet each other, that these opportunities are not cut or it’s always also a question of money, that these places where you could find people coming from somewhere or facing other hardships, then the newer failing, that these places should be still financed or given some support from the communities. I think this is the only way to keep this rather left-wing thinking alive, the connection, and the solidarity alive. My new book, [laughs] I’ve been writing now since one and a half or even perhaps two years, one and a half, I’ve been writing a new book, a novel, not Not a Novel, [laughter] it’s my first love story, and it’s connected to the end of the GDR of East Germany. It’s a love story in the foreground and a story of decay in the background, both mixed together, sad to say.
DN: I can’t wait to read it. I’m so glad you’re on the show today, Jenny.
JE: You look like Karl Marx. [laughter]
DN: You mean with my pandemic beard? [laughs]
JE: Yeah, a bit. I got the feeling I’m talking to Karl Marx, [laughter] but thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk so thoroughly, it’s rare. Okay, thank you so much.
DN: Thank you. It was a real pleasure.
JE: It was a pleasure, Karl Marx.
DN: [laughter] Okay, bye.