but thousands of bells clanged inside me

Dear Clarice, Rereading your stories after so long makes me feel as if I were looking through colour-stained glass: each story comes with the shadow of my previous reading of it. The shadow of how it felt like at the time; the stain of what I had not understood properly then, and do now; or…

Everyone was fleeing and everything was temporary

Dear Anna, Do you know this feeling we have when something terrible happens in a dream and we must scream or run, but we find ourselves suddenly unable to do it? We have no voice, or our legs are suddenly unbearably heavy. This feeling of being trapped: that’s the stuff your novel Transit (tr. Margot…

They didn’t dare before; now they do, that’s all

Dear Anna, I was halfway through Manja (tr. Kate Phillips, 2003. Manja: Ein Roman um 5 Kinder, 1938) this past week, when your book acquired a new poignancy for me. Do you know that eerie feeling, when we overhear a stranger on the bus or out passing by us in the street, and, by accident,…

Pain never belonged to just one of us

Dear Affinity, As the title of your novel suggests, Mischling (2016) is an hybrid: revenge and forgiveness; horror and wonder; hope and despair – these opposites mingle here, escaping their entrapment in any fixed classification, and become one and the same formless thing. The novel’s background is Josef Mengele’s “Zoo” – Barrack 14 of Camp…

Who can live with a volcano?

Dear Esther, How can one read a volcano? Your semi-autobiographical novel Deborah (Der Shaidim Tantz, 1936, tr. Maurice Carr) can be subtly misleading: behind its veil of domesticity, we can hear your raging voice against the thwarted dreams of intelligent women forced to consign their lives to housework and motherhood. Deborah, the protagonist, is a…

With my difficult eyes

Dear Judith, I came to you through my husband, who is a huge fan of your poetry. Some of the first Dutch poems we translated together were yours (I may post some of them here eventually, if you want). Soon afterwards, he gave me a collection of your early poems, translated into English by Shirley Kaufman. But…