Interview with Author Christopher Kloeble

Christopher Kloeble, Photo: Valerie Schmidt
Christopher Kloeble, Photo: Valerie Schmidt

Raised in the Bavarian backwater of Königsdorf, studies at the Literaturinstitut Leipzig, commuting for a several years now between Berlin and Delhi and in the meantime other places as well, the German writer Christopher Kloeble ceaselessly makes his way around the world while always coming back to Germany in his novels.

In October, he can be found in Toronto at the 37th International Festival of Authors to present the English translation of his second novel Almost Everything Very Fast. In the story, 19-year-old half-orphan Albert and his father Fred, who has only “five fingers” left to live, heads off in search of his mother. The translation was issued in February by the US Graywolf Press, giving Kloeble the opportunity to journey across the United States for a lengthy reading tour. Although Almost Everything Very Fast does not spare with weighty themes – including death, incest and the excesses of the Third Reich – the narrative is mostly told with a humorous touch. And, during the reading tour, his return to the book that was published in Germany in 2012 was a chance for Kloeble to see his work in another light, “as a result of the fact that the people sometimes read it differently, perceive it differently. For example, I noticed,” the author recalls, “– and this is probably not very different in Canada – that the people have easier access to the irony and the humour in the story. At least during the readings it was far easier to bring that across.” He admits that this is not necessarily a unique trait of the German disposition, but may well lie in the differences in the two languages. “The English language is simply lighter in tone and in German you really have the problem that it is sometimes more difficult to tell something lighter.” It particularly surprised him that reading translated literature is far more uncommon in the United States than in Germany. “That was a very central aspect of most of the readings and meetings. How often the people said, ‘Hm, maybe I’ll read a translation this summer!” he recalls. Thanks to the close collaboration with his translator Aaron Kerner, however, Anglophone readers needn’t worry about any of the content being lost. Kloeble considers the English edition as close to the original as it could probably come.

In conversation, he is always searching, a question is never answered briefly, but factors are weighed, assumptions are considered and anecdotes told; a chain reaction of thought. This view of people, conditions and events also characterizes the structure of Almost Everything Very Fast. Similar to the American writers John Irving and Jonathan Safran Foer, his focus is on the plot, with the individual characters lovingly eccentric and even secondary characters constructed of multiple layers. It is therefore not surprising that the 34-year-old author sees the German literary tradition, with its emphasis on style and linguistic craftsmanship, rather critically and his predilections for storytelling always shine through. “I think language is indeed very important,” he says, “and sometimes I labour over a sentence for hours or even days. But if someone would force me to decide whether my work is only about language or only about content, then I would probably give preference to the content.”  Almost Everything Very Fast skillfully links various time spans to make the cross-generational family conflict emotionally explicable in its significance for the present-day protagonists Albert and Fred. And again, his latest novel The Shadows of the Salz Family, which was published in late August in Germany, chronicles a family over more than a century, starting in the First World War and ending in modern times.

The fact that his stories repeatedly examine the entity of family arises from several, in part unconscious factors: the urge to tell why something is as it is; the possibility of thereby playing through a variety of circumstances and models, “because the people are bound to each other for better or worse;” and also, perhaps, as a way of dealing with his own extroverted family, “full of conflict, but also tender.”

This time the narrative is anchored into the plot of German history even more than its predecessor novel. His commuter life and recurring absence from Germany caused Kloeble to increasingly narrow his intellectual and artistic focus on his country of origin. “The less I am in Germany, the more I deal with Germany. When you’re here, you don’t always see the relations accurately; you’re simply in the midst of the forest. Often when I return, and not necessarily from India, I am repeatedly amazed how regimented everything here is, in the good as well as bad sense.” He has been married to the German-Indian author Saskya Jain for three years and gradually, impressions of the country where he now lives half of every year have been making their way into his writing.
“That’s naturally a cultural cosmos that quickly thrusts itself upon you,” he says. “At first glance. At a second glance, you notice that it is very difficult to write about it without drifting into exoticism. I believe that since I’m married to someone from there, I’m more aware of myself – or rather, my wife makes me even more aware – of how many mistakes are constantly being made in this west-east thing. Nevertheless, it sometimes pushes itself in. In the new novel this is literally the case because most of it is set exclusively in Germany, but towards the end – as it has been in my life so far – a small part is set there. To this extent, this will also play even more of a role in the future.” In fact, he has already begun a new book that grapples “with this life between Germany and India.” This time, however, it will probably be non-fiction. Life itself often writes the best stories.