Germany, a Love-Hate Relationship
“Before raping my sister Claudia, the guest from Moscow filled his belly with our food.” It’s not just the uncommon opening words that make Maxim Biller’s family stories so remarkable.
By Holger Moos
The newly released short story collection Sieben Versuche zu lieben (Seven Attempts at Love) by Maxim Biller published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch contains thirteen stories previously published in various collections between 1990 and 2007. What they have in common is the power of the past.
And the fact that it contains exactly 13 stories may not be a coincidence. Every character is firmly in the grip of unlucky past experiences. For Biller, stories about the past are stories of loss and hurt, even when they are softened by his ironic, mocking tone. All of the stories take place in Prague, Hamburg, Munich, or Berlin, Biller’s life stages, and they tell of familial relationships similar to those of the author.
Exile, a story of lossThese personal events are often linked to historical and political events. They are stories of Russian-Jewish immigrants who came to Germany via various paths without ever escaping their lost homeland and past. Exile is a story of loss.
The narrators explore themselves in the mirror of the past, a mirror that reveals no clear, distinct images. Family secrets are disclosed but not aired. Were things really the way the old people or one’s own memories recall them, or were they completely different? In “Why Did Aurora Die?” The main character suspects that “even as they happened, things ... became obscured and mystified on their own.”
the polemic shows his loving sideFor Biller’s characters, Germany is a country where they can live a good life, but it can never be home. In “Memory, Be Silent” we read that Germany is a “country in which, I think, not even Germans themselves can be happy.”
The narrator in “A Sad Son for Pollok” notes that he has gained a foothold in Germany and has had a much easier life than his parents, but at most he has a love-hate relationship with the country and the Germans. As Suada says, “I hated its petty politicians, its condescending, parvenu-like writers, its soulless academics, its affected romantic delusions of the past ... I hated the unreasonableness and pretentiousness in every German conversation ... I hated the envy that prevailed in this country ... I hated their lamentations and their avarice, I hated their desire for idylls and routines.”
As a journalist, Biller is a polemic, but in his literary work he reveals his melancholy and also his loving side. The author became known in the 1980s and 1990s for his column “100 Lines of Hate,” but the title of this short story collection is still fitting. It contains not seven, but thirteen attempts to love what we often also hate: our families.
Maxim Biller: Sieben Versuche zu lieben. Familiengeschichten
Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2020. 368 p.
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