Writing a political allegory

For Jenny Erpenbeck, the 37-year-old writer who was born in what was then East Germany, there is no nostalgia for the past, yet there is caution and questioning. As was also the case for many Germans of Erpenbeck’s generation, the transition to a unified homeland did not take place without a moral, psychological and financial cost. Erpenbeck’s first literary undertaking, the book «The Tale of the Old Child» (translated into Greek by Alexandros Kypriotis and published by Indiktos) caused a stir and was considered a political allegory. The launching of the book brought Erpenbeck to Athens’s Goethe Institute. Brought up in a protected family environment, with intellectual parents, Jenny Erpenbeck stepped into the post-Cold War world leaving behind a romantic past marked by teenage commentaries she used to publish in the press and 19th century classic literature. Abruptly and almost violently she opened her eyes to a new, insecure reality. «We are always followed by the environment in which we are born,» she said. Although she believes differences will eventually be evened out, she spoke with striking honesty: «We outdid ourselves and that is why our pleasure sometimes resembles hatred.» It is not easy to discern the political allegory behind «The Tale of the Old Child,» maybe because that story (which Erpenbeck first heard from her grandmother, writer Hedda Zinner), about a strange girl who lives in isolation, is not primarily political material. «It was a story I liked. I saw common points with myself, especially after the collapse of the old order and the spectrum of all these fluid choices.» As she spoke, she released a tamed kind of romanticism which was surprising. She seemed particularly attracted to historical events and to all that becomes decadent yet appealing with the passing of time. She thinks about the concept of loss, which is apparent in all her work, her plays and her prose writings. She talked about death, losing people and buildings collapsing. «Two of my closest friends were an aged farmer in Austria and a photographer, who was also quite old. I sometimes have the feeling that nothing remains, that everything flows and goes away and there is no replacement. Now, for instance, I don’t feel that I have migrated, since I have always lived in Berlin, but it’s like the country itself has moved away… In the past, when we watched state television, we were aware of the fact that some of the programs were silly, but we were also hoping something would change.» The dry compromise into a system which does not work either has led Erpenbeck to creation. «I will keep on writing as long as I have something to say. Besides, when I wrote ‘The Tale of the Old Child’ I didn’t have any readers in mind.» This young mother who is gradually winning over an international audience as a writer of depth and thinking has an unaffected style. She has received a musical and theatrical education from the channels of old Leipzig and Berlin, an education rooted in the heart of a homeland she is constantly seeking. Her play «Cats Have 7 Lives» will be staged at Thessaloniki’s Sofouli Theater in the spring and her new novel will be published in Germany in February.