And it could have been any street in the city

Dear Ann, How can one write a naturalist novel and still convey strong symbolic effect? I don’t know the answer, but I think you achieved that. The Street (1946) in your first novel is both a concrete space and a distorting mirror for a perverse version of the American Dream, a thin surface impossible to…

I don’t know what my limits are anymore

Dear Irmgard, The eponymous heroine of your novel Gilgi (2013, tr. Geoff Wilkes. Original title: Gilgi, eine von uns, 1931) is a twenty-one-year-old German middle-class girl who lives in Cologne, during the rise of fascism, in the 1930s. Gilgi, short for Gisela, is independent, matter-of-fact, and ambitious: she is determined to climb the social ladder and…

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,…

This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine

Dear Margaret, You ingeniously managed to fulfill the task of writing a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest – and, most importantly, you did it precisely by escaping from this task, taking it to its limits, with the help of some tricks of theatrical illusion. Hag-Seed (2016) is, at the same time, an attempt at…

The walls of her home were falling down, there was no refuge

Dear Elisabeth, Your novel The Blank Wall (1947) is a gripping psychological thriller, in which a housewife get entangled in a web of murder, blackmail and pressing domestic demands, while remaining fiercely determined to protect her family from scandal. The novel is set  during World War II in the countryside near New York. Lucia Holley…

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…

I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus

Dear Ottessa, The protagonist of your novel Eileen (2015) is one of the strangest yet most endearing literary misfits who have crossed my reading paths in recent years. The story is told in first-person narration, by the eponymous narrator, Eileen Dunlop, who is telling us, from the point of view of 50 years in the…