Some Remarks on the 2013 Ingeborg Bachmann Prize

First of all, the good news. The Ingeborg Bachmann prize is safe (Warning: Really creepy commentary by Jörg Haider supporters at that link). Though some still worry about the role of cultural programming in Austrian public TV in general.

What is more, Ukrainian born German writer Katja Petrowskaja has won the 2013 Ingeborg Bachmann prize. Petrowskaja’s text was one of those I heard and saw read live on TV. And I knew as soon as I heard the text that Katja Petrowskaja would win.

No, I’m not psychic. It’s just that German literary awards, including the Bachmann prize, are predictable as hell. And Katja Petrowskaja’s text is exactly the sort of text that wins literary awards. It’s a text about 20th century German history, in this case about the holocaust as perpetrated by the German army in the Ukraine, told as a family story. This text was even more of a surefire winner, because it’s narrated from the POV of a Ukrainian born narrator, whose Jewish great-grandmother was murdered by the Nazis and whose father only narrowly escaped death, because another Jewish family fleeing the oncoming Nazis on a truck threw a potted plant from the truck bed to make room for the narrator’s father and his family. The whole text may be read here BTW.

Now Katja Petrowskaja’s text is not a bad story. It wasn’t my personal favourite, but I liked it quite a bit, unlike Maja Haderlap’s similar 2011 winner (also a family tale of the Third Reich, though this time involving the Slowenian minority in Kärnten in Austria rather than Ukrainian Jews), which failed to hold my interest. Nonetheless, whenever yet another Nazi era family saga wins a prestigious German literary award, I think, “Oh please! It’s been almost seventy years since the end of WWII, so can we please start writing about something else?”

The two recent Nazi era family stories that won the Bachmann prize also illustrate another problem with the insistence of the German literary establishment that serious literature must either be about Nazis or Communist era East Germany, namely that almost seventy years after the end of WWII, writers with first hand memories of the Third Reich are getting thin on the ground. Maja Haderlap was born in 1961, Katja Petrowskaja in 1970. Neither writer experienced the events they are writing about. And so both stories are told from the POV of a contemporary narrator recounting the story of their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. It’s also telling that everybody – jury, journalists, audience – assumed that the stories in question were autobiographical, because the personal details of the author roughly match those of the narrator (Maja Haderlap is from a Slovenian family in Kärnten, Katja Petrowskaja was born in Ukraine), when there is no real evidence in the text itself that the story is autobiographic. Katja Petrowskaja doesn’t even mention the gender of her narrator. That said, I do believe that both stories are at least partly autobiographic, but the point is that we cannot know for sure. Nor do I have a problem with youngish contemporary German language writers recounting the story of their family during the Third Reich. Every family has these annecdotes about the Nazi era and/or WWII and many of them do make good stories. But it is kind of sad if writers born decades after WWII have to recount half-remembered second or third-hand tales about their family during the Nazi era in order to win literary awards in German in 2013.

Katja Petrowskaja actually does integrate the fact that those Nazi era family anecdotes are nigh impossible to verify into her story. The story is called Vielleicht Esther (Maybe Esther), because no one, not even the narrator’s father, remembers the name of the grandmother shot dead by the Nazis, because she was unable to walk and still reported for deportation, because she believed that Germans were civilized people and she wanted to show them that she was civilized and educated as well. And the anecdote about the abandoned potted plant that saved the life of the narrator’s father is incredibly important to the narrator, who always keeps such a plant in their appartment as a reminder of the plant that saved their father’s life and assured their existence, whereas the father claims not to remember the bit about the potted plant at all. Indeed, my initial reaction was, “A ficus tree? In the Soviet Union in 1941? Doesn’t seem very likely.”

And so Katja Petrowskaja’s story plays very cleverly on the fact that the Nazi era is gradually retreating from living memory and that while we all have these family stories, we have no way of knowing of those stories are really true, especially as older relatives keep contradicting themselves. I have a great-grandfather who may or may not have died in a shipwreck in approx. 1938 (a year there were no shipwrecks in the respective part of the world) while trying to return to Germany for his daughter’s wedding or who may or may not have been arrested by the Nazis upon his return to Germany (Because he was a Communist? Because he might have had information about the US military? Because he might have been mistaken for Jewish?) and who may or may not have been killed. The point is, anybody who might know the truth is dead and so the story (and it’s a good one – all versions of it) is impossible to verify. And believe me, I tried. For all I know, none of the many versions are true and instead my great-grandfather once again proved himself to be the flighty and irresponsible jerk he seems to have been (he had a habit of wandering across the globe from France to Germany to the US and back, opening shoemaker shops whereever he went, and abandoning his wife and four kids to poverty during the hard years of the early 1920s) and simply never came to the wedding, although he promised, and lived out his life in peace repairing shoes in what might have been New Jersey (but no one knows for sure, cause his daughter wrote down the wrong address). I actually hope he lived long and happy to repair shoes – it’s far better than either drowning or getting killed by the Nazis. Even if he was something of a jerk.

Still, the Nazi era is retreating from living memory. Instead of the visceral first-hand accounts written in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s (and sometimes written well into the 1990s – the literary mag I used to be involved with once published an incredibly powerful memoir by a then teenaged survivor of the Dresden bombing), we now have writers born long after WWII retelling half-remembered family anecdotes that may or may not be true. So why are those half-remembered anecdotes still the gold standard of contemporary German fiction? Why can’t we write more stories about the way we live now?

To be fair, there were plenty of stories about “the way we live now” read during the Bachmann prize readings. For some reason, most of them were about broken relationships. I think I heard three broken relationship stories from three different authors in a single day at one point. The reaction of the jury, particularly the male jurors, to the broken relationship stories was interesting. For example, all male jurors felt that Anoush Mueller’s story Falunrot about a woman finding the strength to break up with her emotionally abusive boyfriend was too hard on the boyfriend and demonized him too much. Duh, the story is narrated from the POV of a woman who has finally decided to dump her jerk of a boyfriend. Of course, she won’t be objective about the soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. The same male jurors were also shocked, shocked I’m telling you, that Heinz Helle’s text Wir sind schön (We are beautiful) talked about an abortion in a semi-frank way. Because writing about abortion in a literary text is apparently still controversial in 2013. Heinz Helle’s story is narrated in a first person plural POV (that is “we” rather than “I”) BTW, which is pretty rare. And in a world where certain readers will call a writer narcistic for writing in the first person and “uneducated” for using first person present tense narration, first person plural POV is probably more shocking than the abortion scene which lasts all of two paragraphs.

As a matter of fact, even the contemporary set stories all had a certain “autobiographic” feel. They were all written in the first person – I don’t recall hearing a single third person story in three days of Bachmann prize readings – and the narrators were mostly very similar to the authors in race, class, ethnic background, etc… I recall one text by a female writer which had an obviously male narrator (still first person, though) . Individually, many were good stories, but collectively, they tended to feel similar, more like personal essays than short stories. It’s also telling that none of the texts I heard dared to have a narrator that was significantly different from the author. And of course, Peter Wawerzinek’s 2010 winning text Rabenliebe (Raven love) was blatantly autobiographical (and made me want to yell, “Oh, just get over it already! Yes, it was awful, but it also was fifty fucking years ago.”). Now I don’t mind autobiographical texts, but having the whole contest comprised of nothing but autobiographical and faux-autobiographical texts is way too limiting in my opinion.

Those “broken relationship” stories did fit the formula (and there is one) for contemporary set texts competing in high prestige German language literary awards. For contemporary set stories do occasionally pop up on the shortlists of the German Book Award or the Award of the Leipzig Book Fair, as long as they conform to a certain formula. The protagonists must be youngish – usually in their late twenties and thirties, perhaps even early forties – and solidly middle class. If jobs are mentioned at all (often they aren’t), it’s some kind of vaguely defined creative field or finance. Cause everybody hates bankers. The stories are usually dripping with disaffectedness and ennui. The characters are too detached to be able to form meaningful relationships (hence the focus on broken relationships). They refuse to grow up, they make pop culture references intended to show us how shallow they are (the above mentioned abortion text by Heinz Helle included references to Sin City, 24, Super Mario Cart, football and Peter Sloterdijk’s philosophy discussion on German TV), they indulge in pursuits deemed overly extravagant by judgmental elderly relatives (who often pop up in the stories dispensing moral wisdom), whereby “overly extravagant” can be as trivial as going out to the local Vietnamese restaurant for a bowl of Pho, and they never have children and seem indifferent towards having them (see the abortion in Heinz Helle’s text, which occurs largely because the protagonist and his girlfriend are unable to make up their minds whether they want a child and express their opinion that yes, they do want kids, so others make the decision for them). All of these are bad things BTW. Because the good people, the authentic people, marry at 23 and have kids at 25, they only read Goethe and Schiller and they never care about pop culture and never eat Pho. It’s the same sort of nasty cultural suppression that has been plagueing German cultural production for decades now, only dressed in slightly newer clothes. If you want to be a proper German, you must disdain all things foreign, whether it’s pop culture or food or travel, you must love your home, live a proper life, marry, have children, build a house. If you like fashion and pop culture and non-German food and foreign things in general, you are shallow and a bad person and will never find true happiness. This attitude, which pervades German cultural production from highbrow to lowbrow, is a large part of the reason why I don’t write in German – because I have hated it for most of my life. It’s also incredibly toxic, because whenever I have a character who genuinely wants to get married or have children or who genuinely loves their home, even if it is an alien planet, I find myself questioning my own work and fearing that it is too conventional and just like those stories I’ve always hated for being so limiting.

All this sounds rather negative, which would be unfair, because I liked many of the individual Bachmann prize texts. I liked Katja Petrowskaja’s rememberance of Jewish life and death in WWII Ukraine. I liked Anoush Mueller’s account of a broken relationship. I liked Heinz Helle’s first person plural story about a couple that watches 24 and Sin City and plays videogames like normal people do, even if he uses pop culture as a metaphor for shallowness (and isn’t it telling that the jurors latched onto the football references, but not onto the 24 or Sin City references, because they likely never watched either). I liked Philip Schöntaler’s text about a musical genius who is executed/commits suicide on stage at the end, because he cannot fulfill the expectations of his audience (probably the least autobiographical sounding text in the whole competition). I liked how Brazilian born author Zé do Rock played with the German language. But I still wish there were more stories we could tell to win literary acclaim than family stories set against the backdrop of German 20th century history or tales of modern ennui and shallowness.

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10 Responses to Some Remarks on the 2013 Ingeborg Bachmann Prize

  1. Mark says:

    I agree with you that giving Katja Petrowskaja the prize was predictable and not very original. To be fair, however, the jury did address some of the points that you brought up: the impossibility of writing authentically about that time today (they quoted somebody, was it Semprun?, who said something along the lines of now that the last witnesses are dying the next generation has to invent stories about that time), so if that was the central theme of the story it at least tried to add something to that genre. Also one juror said that there are bad holocaust stories, too, and mentioned that in a way stories like that get a certain bonus.

    One insteresting aspect regarding Petrowskaja and last year’s winner is that they both are non-native German writers. I still remember competitions from maybe 20 years ago where the occasional non-native writer wasn’t taken very seriously (oh, look that funny small Japanese women tries to write in German — I’m thinking of Yoko Tawada who was already a highly regarded writer at that time).

    I think the central problem with a lot of stories in the competition (I only heard/saw/read about half a dozen, though) was that they were well-made and that they were well-meaning, but especially well-meaning is not a literary virtue by itself.

    Take Larissa Boehning’s story about the child without eyes for example. So it’s not about the holocaust, but this story, too, mostly was a vehicle to show compassion. Contemporay story or not, if that is what a story is mostly about, it feels flat to me.

    I was also disappointed about the post-doomsday story by Roman Ehrlich. It was SF, but it didn’t add anything new. That setting is really done to death, both from genre writers and from writers from the literary end (Atwood, McCarthy), and I was a bit irritated by the comments from juror Paul Jandl who made the impression as if this was the first dystopia he has ever read.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, the jury did remark on the issues with Katja Petrowskaja’s text. But in the end, the holocaust story still won. Just as Maja Haderlap’s Third Reich family history won in 2011 and Peter Wawerzinek’s “My horrible East German childhood” story won in 2010. When in doubt, the jury still goes for the predictable and marketable (to those readers who care about German literary fiction awards). Indeed, I read somewhere that the one year the German Book Award did not go to a predictable middle class family saga with a dollop of German history, but to a quirky immigrant narrative, was the only time a German Book Award winner did not sell.

      You’re right that we’ve had two non-native German winners in a row (Olga Martynova and Katja Petrowskaja). This year’s competition also included Zo de Rock from Brazil. Plus, 2011 winner Maja Haderlap is Kärntener Slovenian and thus not your typical ethnic German/Austrian either. We’ve also seen more non-native German writers pop up on other awards shortlist in recent years such as Ilya Trojanow or Melinda Nadj Abonji, the Hungarian-Serbian-Swiss writer who won the German Book Award in 2010. I think it’s simply a consequence of the fact that Germany, Austria and Switzerland are a lot more diverse than they were 20 years ago and that we have more people from an immigrant background writing in German.

      Wasn’t Larissa Boehning’s story the one that started with the terminally ill Bavarian woman cooking traditionally Bavarian dishes and annoying her son/nephew/whatever he was to death, until he found himself hoping she would just hurry up and die already? I had to leave halfway through that one, but I assumed it would turn out to be a fairly predictable crime story.

      Roman Ehrlich’s was one of those stories that I missed. But literary critics who are completely genre-blind are not rare unfortunately. A few years ago, they were discussion Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go on Literatur im Foyer, as if they’d never read a “clones used for organ donations” story before, and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America as if they’d never read a “Nazis victorious” alternate history before. But to have never read a single work of post-apocalyptic or dystopian fiction is truly a feat, considering that The Road and The Handmaid’s Tale were widely acclaimed and that 1984 and Brave New World and sometimes also Fahrenheit 461 are staples on school and university reading lists (We also read The Machine Stops by E.M. Foster at school). So how did Paul Jandl manage to miss all that?

  2. Daniela says:

    You just show-cased very nicely why I’m not at all interested in the German literary movement. The few contacts I’ve had with it have left me completely baffled.

    It’s nice to see I’m not the only one struggling with the legacy German cultural movement has left behind. Though I have this imagine in my mind that a lot of German literature is about passive male characters (Spießbürger most of them) whining about the awfulness of their life. Maybe I just had to read too many Nachkriegsautoren and they left that impression behind.

    I also have this weird reluctance to locate stories in Germany, especially UF, paranormal, SF, and romance, but that might have more to do with the fact that I write in English too and wonder if an international audience would want to read about werewolves running around the Black Forest. I don’t have the same issue with historical stories though.

    Maybe it’s a reaction to what you mentioned. By distancing myself from this limited and very German view and the narrow focus and rejection of everything foreign I’ve started having issues with German things in general and went to the other extreme, where everything non-German is more shiny and more acceptable?

    The only Third Reich novel I think I would be interested in reading today would be a current time narrator actually exploring the issue of myths and the lies families tell themselves so that they don’t have to face reality and how that impacts her reality today and what lies she might be telling to make herself or others look better. Maybe exploring family history because someone was portrayed as non-involved or a hero and then realizing that the truth looks very different. Basically a fictional approach to Katrin Himmler’s extremely moving and painfully honest look at her own family-history and the questions that come from that. Even if I ever wrote something like that I guess it wouldn’t get me nominated for the Bachmann-Preis ;-), because it would focus to much on growing up and facing harsh truths and I hate ennui in my characters and my pop-culture references would show character-depth not shallowness *g*. You know, the more I’m thinking about this, the more I’m tempted, but in the end writing Fantasy or SF is just more fun. *hugs genre fiction close*

    I have some of these family-stories too and some of the details just don’t add up. I’ve so far not tried exploring them but occasionally I feel tempted. If only to satisfy my own curiosity and see if I’m right with some of my suspicions.

    • Cora says:

      I’ve had my share of the ennui ridden postwar writers and their incomprehensible references (a teenager in the 1980s will have no idea what a Kartoffelfeuer or a Latrine is, so maybe the teacher should have explained rather than telling us we were spoiled and stupid for not knowing) at school as well. “Deutschbuchschriftsteller” is one of the worst for a German writer I know. In retrospect I suspect that a lot of those postwar Gruppe 47 type writers were permanently ruined for me by incompetent teaching. Ditto for Erich Maria Remarque and Ernest Hemingway.

      I also had (and continue to have to some degree) a bad case of blanket rejecting anything German in favour of anything non-German. When I was a kid, there were only two kinds of films and TV shows for me. The good ones were American and the bad ones were German. It was only years later that I figured out that some of those “American” films and TV shows were actually French, Italian, British and sometimes even German and that the reason I was never able to locate that hauntingly scary Star Trek episode I remembered so clearly was that it was actually an episode of Raumpatrouille Orion. It took me even longer to realize that those rare exceptions of good German books, films, TV shows were actually a pretty decent list of German cultural production that was actually good.

      But the automatic rejection of anything German as a reaction against the rejection of anything pop cultural by the cultural establishment has harmed German genre writing a whole lot. Why are Perry Rhodan and Jerry Cotton American, why is John Sinclair British, why was there not a single German crewmember aboard the Orion 7? Because we’ve been given the message for years that Germans simply do not have such adventures. Add in the fact that pretty much the only time we ever see German characters in foreign pop culture is as villains, usually acme go-to villains (with some notable exceptions such as Nightcrawler from the X-Men), and you get a whole lot of German writers and filmmakers and other creatives who erase German characters and settings from their works. I can’t recall a single German character in any of Roland Emmerich’s films. Even the early Joey and Moon 44 had US characters.

      I actually have two German set historical romance novellas in the work. One is set during the Thirty Years War, the other is set in the Moselle region during the Reformation. No idea if Americans want to read about that or if they ever know what the Thirty Years War was. But then they happily read about Czarist Russia or the Ottoman Empire in other historicals of mine.

      • Daniela says:

        *Incompetent teaching* might also play a role, but for me it was school and university. But I also had incompetent English teachers (actually they were worse than the German ones) and that didn’t stop me from enjoying English lit. Of course the things I read now were things we never even touched in school and I’m not only talking SF/F, Romance, or Thrillers here.
        Despite that there are a few German writers I want to try and re-read again just to see if with over a decade of distance I can stomach them better.

        I once talked to a German writer who told me that with certain genres (I think it was thrillers) the location can never be Germany and the hero can’t be German even if the writer is German. Which struck me as extremely weird. If I remember correctly he also mentioned that crime stories from a German writer should always be located in Germany. Even weirder, as if German writers are unable to do research.

        I guess that plays into this whole concept why Perry Rhodan/John Sinclair/Jerry Cotton can’t German.

        I was also thinking about StarGate (1 and Atlantis). Granted, US show, but they tried for a bit more internationality, especially on Atlantis. They did have a German soldier (!!!) running around but no German scientists or politicians. It was rather obvious that the nations actively mentioned (US, Canada, UK, France as the representative of Europe) were the WWII allies or the obvious modern-day enemies (Russia, China) while the actual bad guys of the show (Wraith, Genii) looked liked the Wehrmacht and the SS (Nazi-iconography). Some of the old enemy-stereotypes are still firmly anchored in the heads. And considering how techheavy the show was it would have been so easy to bring in a few German scientists or some German diplomats (honestly, France???).

        I think historical settings are different than modern-day setting. With historical novels people expect that they will be confronted with things they don’t know and cultural aspects that will be unusual to them. With modern-day novels, especially romances I’m assuming that some readers want to recognize parts of themselves or their lives in those stories. Might explain why US New Adult isn’t very popular in Germany. Even with all those horrible college movies German readers just can’t relate at all to the whole college/losing virginity-experience. Just like romances centered around Baseball (just read a review on DA) or American Football will leave most German readers cold.

        • Cora says:

          I did have incompetent English teachers as well and one of those ruined Hemingway for me, but I also had many good English teachers, both in school (Oberstufe mostly) and at university. And for some reason all of my really bad literature class experiences involved German literature. Even the text selection is often horrible. Willhelm Tell in 8th grade? Really? Emilia Galotti or Effi Briest for a contemporary teen audience composed mainly of girls? All Quiet on the Western Front for 10th graders at a time when “war is wrong” was as obvious a truth as “Water is wet”? I suppose it’s possible to foster a love of German literature, but not with those texts. Never mind that the only book by a woman author we ever read in school was The Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend. There also was an Ingeborg Bachmann poem and a novel about a depressed woman in East Germany that I mistakenly attributed to Christa Wolff before I realized that it was really Christoph Heym. Honestly, who came up with those curriculum choices?

          For the lack of German characters, one need only look at Star Trek, which had plenty of more or less overt “Nazis in space” episodes, but only a single German character in all five series, a red shirt (blue shirt actually) in Squire of Gothos in the original series. People talk about the lack of Chinese characters in Star Trek (though there were a bunch of non-defined Asian red shirts as early as the original series), but Germans are as invisible in the new series. Never mind that I’m getting very weary of all of these obvious Nazis in space tales or alternate history where the Nazis/Japanese won WWII stories (I swear, there are more alternative realities where the Nazis won than where they lost) or those “Let’s travel back in time to the Third Reich/WWII to kill Hitler and admire the plucky spirit of bombed out Brits” stories. I mostly try to avoid that sort of story, but sometimes it’s difficult, if your favourite SFF TV series springs such as plot on you (and they all do at some point), or if a seemingly harmless space opera or SF romance turns out to be filled with blatant Nazi stereotypes. I sometimes wonder whether our American and British friends realise how offensive this stuff is.

          Though the French don’t normally fare any better (outside Stargate Atlantis, that is). NCIS had a recurrent villain who was a French arms dealer nicknamed “The Frog”. Now NCIS is really bad about race and stereotypes in general. All Asians are villains, even if they used to be regulars on the show, blacks were almost non-existent in the early years of the show, Mexicans are drug dealers (though one of the stars is hispanic, but plays an Israeli) and so on. Of course, every single one of the approx. three Germans to show up on the show was a murderer or villain as well. But even a show as utterly insensitive as NCIS would have thought twice about having a villain named “The N-Word”, but “The Frog” was somehow okay.

          The romances of Susan Elizabeth Phillips actually sold quite well in Germany for a while, even though they often have American football player heroes and are very American in general. I have never been able to stomach Phillips, because I always want to strangle her heroes, yet for some reason lots of Germans bought them. On the other hand, Suzanne Brockmann’s Navy SEAL romances used to be nigh impossible to find in Germany, probably because Germans could not be persuaded to read about Navy SEALs. I’m not surprised that New Adult romances don’t flourish in Germany either, since the entire US college experience and the “OMG, I must lose my virginity now, cause it’s my final year and I’m almost 21” plots are totally foreign to German audiences. Not to mention that New Adult protagonists often read very young, more like highschoolers than university students. At least in Germany, university students strike me as more mature than those New Adult characters. Just recently, I clicked on a link for one of those USA Today/Kindle Top 100 New Adult romances (written by someone who posts on the Kindleboards), cause everybody was raving about it, and couldn’t even get past the blurb, because the first person narrator made my 8th grade Hauptschule students sound coherent. Totally different culture there.

  3. Daniela says:

    I think the only book we ever read by a woman in German was Das Siebte Kreuz by Anna Seghers. English only slightly better, we read <emIn Country by Bobbie Ann Mason and poetry by Maya Angelou.
    I still have an irrational hatred for Max Frisch because we had to read Stiller and that book had no paragraph breaks and was just hundreds of pages of a white, privilidged male whining about his life. I did have some fun in class though when I argued that Stiller was actually homosexual which is why he views his wife a frigid and has the closest emotional connection to his prison guard. My teacher was somewhat floored but as I was able to base my argumentation on the text he accepted the interpretation. But then he was the only teacher we had who tried to make German class interesting. Even when he had to force impressionistic poetry on us, and Stiller!
    I think we read Faust in 8th or 9th grade and oh yes, Effie Briest. One German teacher read the German translation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet with us. Eve back then that was a huh?-moment, but kudos to her for pointing out the highly sexualized and crude language.

    NCIS is horrible when it comes to other races and cultures. Women are also a hit and miss with them. Have you ever watched NCIS:LA? I gave up when they had this episode where Hetty was fake-married to an East German spy, the German intelligence was a bunch of bumbling idiots, and the Russian(!) spies were identified by the hammer and sickel(!) they had tattooed on their wrists!?!
    And true about the French. The whole story-line was ridiculous. There are some stereotypes that are just hard to get rid off, like the one almost every CSI-shows drags out, where bad teeth=European. It does explain though why so many people don’t believe me when I say I’m German because I don’t have much of a German accent (I seem to sound Irish with a dash American thrown in) and it seems that Germans have to have a thick accents and love to drink beer (yuck).

    LOL, agreed on the whole NA thing. College is just weird. Highschool too, but College in the US is nothing like University-life in Germany. I’ve read a few college-romances (before they were called NA) and jsut no, really no. If it says fraternity in the blurb I’m putting the book back down afain. Unless it’s one that deals with the whole hazing issue and has someone taking a stand.

    • Cora says:

      Oh yes, Max Frisch. I had to endure both Andorra and Homo Faber in school and thus had more than my fill of Frisch and his old straight white guy problems. Though a big part of the reason why I hate Max Frisch is that we were all carted to the theatre to watch Andorra in 9th grade. That day, my Mom made pea soup for lunch. And that evening in the theatre, the pea soup took effect and caused me to have an attack of repeated and very noisy farts. 9th graders being what they are, my classmates mercilessly teased me and giggled right in the middle of this very serious play about anti-semitism. The giggles were so loud that the other theatre-goers felt disturbed and apparently complained to the teacher who was very shocked that we were apparently unable to grasp how serious and solemn the play was and berated us for not behaving properly and not grasping the seriousness of the play. So in addition to getting bullied by my classmates, I also got blamed by the teacher for my whole class failing to grasp that anti-semitism was a serious problem. I can actually laugh about the whole episode now, but at the age of 14 it wasn’t funny. And as a result, I really fucking hate Max Frisch and Andorra.

      We also read a lot of creepily misogynist literature in German class. There was Effi Briest and Emilia Galotti a.k.a. honour killing as an act of democratic resistance, as well as Kabale und Liebe which isn’t much better. There were both Mann brothers with their well known issues with women (Professor Unrat and Felix Krull respectively), there was the creepy incest of Wälsungenblut, there was the perpetual victim Rose Bernd and of course Gretchen in Faust and last but not least, Drachenblut by Christoph Hein, of which I remember nothing except the line that “hitting a woman is normal, like hitting a dog or a child”, oh yes, and that the heroine was doomed to perpetual emptiness and loneliness, because she had had an abortion. And the teachers frequently parrotted received (and male dominated) wisdom about the importance and true meaning of those texts and got irritated when a bunch of opionated teenaged girls objected. With texts like this, it’s no wonder that they didn’t manage to foster a love of German literature.

      I have seen a lot of NCIS and NCIS: LA, because my Mom is a fan and will watch even the umpteenth rerun. And of course, she completely refuses to recognize how problematic those shows are and consistently tells me, “Those shows are just entertainment, they are not talking about you.” Except that whenever a villainous German or Frenchman or a European with bad teeth (hate this one, especially since my teeth are yellow and don’t look standard due to a genetic quirk) shows up, they are talking about all of us. That said, I find many of the NCIS and NCIS: LA characters likable, which makes the repeated fails of those shows even more infuriating. The women are mixed. I really like Ziva, Abby, Hetty, Kenzie and Nell – all of whom are great and varied female characters. However, I couldn’t stand either Jenny Shepherd (Why was that woman director again?) or Kate (like the actress in Rizzoli and Isles, but Kate was awful) or that E.J. woman who showed up recently. The Asian NCIS agent who eventually turned out to be a traitor was the nastiest sort of stereotype (she’s Asian and a complete slut and a traitor besides) and the daughter of the Frog incorporated every stereotype of the clingy, needy girlfriend. She made me feel sorry for Tony and that’s saying a lot, considering I can’t stand Tony. So NCIS and NCIS: LA are the type of shows that can be absolutely infuriating with regard to race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc… and yet manage to remain halfway watchable, because several of the characters are likable and played by good actors.

      As for NA, it’s not just that the US college experience is alien, but that the characters don’t behave like any twentysomething university student I have ever known and have problems that no twentysomething person I know has ever had. Whenever I look at the blurb for a highly touted NA college romance, I wonder, “Where are the campus feminists and campus lesbians and when will they show up to rescue the totally clueless virgin (and no actual twentysomething, virginal or not, ever was that clueless) from the domineering, cage-fighting tattoed software billionaire who is still in college?” I have some theories why those books do so well in the US, but whatever their appeal, it’s not something that works over here.

  4. gold price says:

    Then there was the public arena, in which a young author read a previously unpublished text and would either be applauded by the jury or trampled to the ground with everyone listening in – either in the studio or over the radio. Then-juror Marcel Reich-Ranicki would bluster in with his often outrageous critiques. After the author Karin Struck had finished reading, Reich-Ranicki shouted: “Who’s interested in what women think, what they feel, while they are menstruating?,” and said her text was not literature, but a “a crime.” Struck ran out of the room in tears.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, I know that this is one of those occasionally on topic robot spam comments, but the Reich-Ranicki quote was too good not to approve the comment.

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