Jakob Arjouni faces his unified homeland

Don’t expect 39-year-old German author Jakob Arjouni, who spoke to Kathimerini in Athens earlier this month, to talk about homelands and dreams. «Which Germany are we actually talking about,» he asks, «when each person goes back to his apartment to go on with his little life?» It’s not that he has a dark vision of the world, but he is very careful – as with during the fall of the Berlin Wall when, through the «rivers of tears» he could detect «a certain arrogance.» What is left to hate, when everybody is «German» now? Talking with the author about Germany is a never-ending discussion: new nationalism, anti-Semitism (the subject of his new book) skinheads and minorities. Born and raised in Frankfurt, Arjouni took off to Los Angeles and Montpellier, France, before moving back to Germany, where he is now very well known. He belongs to a generation of writers who emerged after unification – a German nouvelle vogue. Arjouni does not like to be categorized, and with reason. His novel, «Magic Hoffmann» (published in Greek by Kastaniotis Editions, translated by Stefanos Tzannetakos), is a very special one indeed. Its hero, Fred, Magic Hoffmann, has just been released from prison and believes that things will soon return to normal. He thinks that he will get his friends back, that his life will move away from the shadow of his imprisonment. Though the destruction of Fred’s illusion is harsh, Arjouni’s writing is humorous. «If you want to be funny, you have to be serious,» says the author, while moving away from the notion of «mandatory humor» – increasingly popular with young Germans. In the unpredictable world we live in, where after the demise of Yugoslavia (which deeply affected Arjouni), basically anything goes, the author insists on talking about broken dreams. In «Magic Hoffmann,» for example, while narrating Fred’s loss of hope, he writes about a collective, national illusion. In the book, Arjouni builds a metaphorical fictional scene in which the city of Berlin casts its shadow over this apolitical hero, who is obliged to experience the consequences of political megalomania and the way politics cultivates myths and below-ground boundaries, under his skin. One thing on the author’s mind is what is happening in the world – in terms of social solidarity – while he dislikes stereotypes and labels. That is why in his popular crime series featuring a Turkish detective, he goes against all those who judge the «Germanized» detective based on his origins. «It’s about how you are perceived, not how you really are, but about how others believe you should be,» says the author. Overall, Germans are supposedly content with the fall of the Berlin Wall – he is not one of them. «It was a moment between the winners and the losers,» he says. «There was this hysteria for happiness, which I find dangerous. Now that Germans appear to be sharing an emotional moment, it’s sensible to say that they will look for hatred replacement, for scapegoats.» In Germany, many see unemployment as a logical explanation for the birth of extreme ideological phenomena and attitudes, such as neo-Nazism. This simplistic interpretation drives him mad. Arjouni believes that, once again, his country is ready for both good and bad. «Just go back to what followed the German cultural spring in the 1920,» he says. And though he has not made up his mind on whether or not he is a political writer, he concludes that «one’s political viewpoint is determined by the angle one chooses to narrate a story from.»

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