First public reading in english. I guess I was a little nervous due to the question I was asking myself since I went to bed last night: will my tongue manage almost an hour of reading english? But, guess what happend? She didn’t only manage but made me enjoy it. People in the room were silenty turning the photo-copied pages of my novel THE NAMELESS. There were about 40 people sitting in front of me and I was confronting them with a character that till then I had experienced absolutely germany-specific. After the reading people asked questions, a lot of them, and to my surprise a lot of them were inspiring.
There is something very different in the way questions are asked here to the way they are asked back home. I will try to look at this closer in my next readings and see if I can keep spreading around such a thesis. By now I definitely can. At home, after an hour of intense reading during which I try to do my best to reach and entertain the listeners, I look up in curious excitement and they start asking me questions like: Have you ever been hurt? (Who the hell wasn’t?) Are you an emotional person? (how would I write such a book if I wasn’t???) and whether I get up at 6 o‘ clock in the morning. Here people stayed less close to the book and yet much closer to what I was trying to say. This time I hadn’t spent an hour reading to end up being mistaken for my protagonist, no, people really started talking and asking me about the topics addressed in my book. Wow! I(!) was not(!) the issue but the topics and the character in my book. What a relief. This felt like writer’s paradise and I immediately sent my parents to hell for not emigrating to Canada. These people were not asking at what age my heart broke but about human experience as it was discribed in this book. Might sound a little nerdy to Canadians but back in Germany everybody who admits having had a human experience is treated like someone having a disease. Especially if that person dares to talk or write about these experieneces, then they easily give you the feeling of not only having a disease but being in serious need of a cure for it – which should definitley not be writing a book. The fact that concrete human experience is a source of inspiration offering universal insight into human life seems a concept people are scared of.
So if they hadn’t been overwhelmed by it, I would have thrown around a million of compliments to my Toronto-audience for being so damn clever, for being silent about topics writers want to be silent about and for asking everything out of the book that was possible. Soon our conversation was about media and film and the way this effects our perception and experience of life. One of the listeners was really struck by the way the Nameless experiences her mother in hospital almost as through a screen. I loved that this question was almost the first one, because it opened up pandora’s box and in it there were a lot of questions about urban life and consumer society which is part of what the book is about. There were remarks I had never heard back at home, which was astonishing to me since, after all, it is a translation, and normally we expect things to get a little lost in translation. But I felt like people got even closer to the core. One particularly sensitive woman in the audience asked if the follwing effect was intended by me: the namelessness of the nameless protagonist brings the character even closer to the reader’s inner world. Since the name was missing she was actually unable to give the feeling to a chracter outside herself. If I could have given a hundered points to any of my listeners she would have been the one! Leaving the protagonist in a nameless state is almost unbearable to the tradiotional reader but gave me the opportunity to be very specific and daring with emotions without shutting them into the inner world of a chracter who will then be looked at from the outside and considered awkward. It’s the awkwardness of this world and the way we live our lives that I wanted to point at, how we, too, are not the normal civilians we dream ourselves to be.
I was surprised how literature can effect people in really different contexts, how, after all, art is simply about universial human experience.