Thank you for the compliment. I am undeserving. I am just an simple observer hoping the others around stop to observe more and react less with haste. I wish I could see things from the perspective of being outside of the U.S. to get a clearer picture , so I envy you that vantage point on occasion. At the same time I owe my ability to observe, think and speak out to the ideals in this country... as in other places in the world where I could not for fear of imprisonment, torture or execution. I would guess that you feel as blessed.
The Nobel Prize Committee tends to embarrass itself with its literature choices. We Americans are still scratching our collective heads over John Steinbeck and especially Pearl S. Buck... What do you think the Italians thought when Dario Fo copped a prize?
...Yes, I should get back to reading more fiction. I have my own ambitions in that arena (didn't you guess?).
A terrible thing I have noticed about myself over the past couple of years is that the ratio of nonfiction to fiction in my reading has swung way out of balance. At the moment I am reading Freefall by Joseph Stiglitz and How Markets Fail by a pretty well respected economics journalist named John Cassidy. Glanced at a survey of 800 years of banking failures and economic defaults by Kenneth Rogoff. Most recent novel was a goodish but forgetable mystery set in Bangkok featuring a Buddhist detective.
I've never read Vargas Llosa or very many of the South American novelists. They are, as you'd imagine, very popular in America. In fact, a favorite Canadian novelist of mine, Robertson Davies, started referring to his own books as "magic realism" to borrow some of the respect and attention Central and South American authors like Marquez were getting from the American literary establishment!
I skimmed a volume of collected papers about German novels centering on the Stasi. German Writers and the Politics of Culture: Dealing with the Stasi. It was intended for scholars so all the quotations were in German, untranslated. Unter dem Namen Norma by Brigitte Burmeister seems to have a very compelling premise but it is difficult to tell which novels are truly excellent and which are included in the book because they are somehow typical or reflect a pertinent point of view.
The contributors are mostly English with a sprinkling of Americans and one Australian.
I've never actually heard a Biermann song or read one of his poems. I was interested because he was a famous target of the Stasi. I found a collection of essays my local library is ordering for me: German Writers and the Politics of Culture: Dealing with the Stasi. Also an article in a journal about Hermann Kant's Stasi file.
Do you think people who equate the GDR with the Nazis are serious, or are they just trying to be unpleasant and "score points"?
I've seen The Lives of Others but it is about spying on strangers. The theme I find interesting is betrayal among friends and colleagues, and within families. I'm sure some German writers have already explored this because it is a temptingly rich topic, but I wouldn't know where to look for the best fictional treatment.
Reassuring to hear from you that Sarrazin is being treated as a marginal figure, a provocateur. I'm not sure where the free speech issue applies since his book was published and he seems getting plenty of opportunities to express himself.
Last week I finished a book by Timothy Garton Ash called "The File". I used to read Ash's journalism about Central and Eastern Europe back in the 1980s and 90s. I had a high opinion of him then and started out feeling rather disappointed in this book. Eventually the book did engage me but I wonder if I would still enjoy his earlier work if I reread it.
Synopsis: Ash gets a copy of his Stasi file and then interviews the people who informed against him and the Stasi officers who managed his case. Ash was studying German resistance to the Nazis and living in West and then East Berlin when European communism first began its final collapse in the early 80s in Poland, followed by other countries. He was well-placed to cover current events but he tried to take a historian's wider perspective (that was his field of study).
The East Germans kept pretty close tabs on him and his file reached about 350 pages--not huge but not trivial. I think my dissatisfaction with his book comes from his very personal focus, but a lot of people might find that a strength. Jane Kramer, who used to have a semi-regular spot in The New Yorker magazine, wrote some chapters about the opening of the Stasi files in one of her books. I admired her stuff quite a lot.
Have any German novelists used the opening of the Stasi files as a theme for fiction? It seems like it has amazing possibilities.