Pandemic and war: on the state of literature in times of crisis

As of: 04/21/2022 7:27 PM

The Corona crisis was insidious two years ago, and there is also a war in Ukraine. How strongly do these events affect our yearning for culture? A look at literature with Jürgen Dipp from the NDR Kultur Department of Literature.

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How does literature interact with these topics?

Jurgen Deeb: Restricted – but that’s also in the nature of things. Good Books Take Their Time There were bad books, or at least bad manuscripts, at the start of the epidemic, and publishers were literally inundated with them. These were draft crime thrillers about viral epidemics or books about lockdown experiences, and mood literature. She didn’t want to read all of it and luckily it was never printed between two book covers.

Now, two years later, it is gradually making its way into somewhat better and somewhat more demanding literature. Take Julie Zeh, for example: in her current novel, Über Menschen, she describes a woman coming from a town with a clear epidemiological situation. But that’s still the background and trigger, but not really the central topic. That could change now in the summer. Here comes Christoph Peters’ new novel “The Sandbox”. Christoph Peters is not exactly a frivolous figure in German language literature. His novel is about a radio announcer who begins to have more and more doubts about the government’s actions regarding the corona, and he is far from joining the camp of conspiracy theorists, but he is right in the middle. This can get very exciting.

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July Zeh © picture alliance / dpa / dpa-Zentralbild |  Soeren Stache Photo: Soeren Stache

The writer captured the zeitgeist with the “Uber Mansion” – her novel has sold more than 440,000 copies. more

What about the readership? Doesn’t that expect answers to pressing questions from literature or at least a little comfort and support in difficult times?

Foolish: Yes sure. Many booksellers will have relevant experiences out there – but not with these cheap and quick solutions. At the publishing house Rault, one should have rubbed one’s eyes at the beginning of 2020: a 75-year-old book suddenly became a bestseller: “The Plague” by Albert Camus. There I saw similarities: the current epidemiological situation and the epidemiological situation as described by Albert Camus. Also what this extreme position does to people. That was very exciting.

But if you’re looking for answers, you’ll basically find them in factual books anyway. They were all there very quickly when the epidemic started. The difference between a pandemic and an epidemic, between a virus and bacteria, etc., has been explained. Today, of course, it is much better and more powerful.

However, in literary life, a relatively great deal also happens outside the book cover anyway: there have been heated debates on the platforms, insofar as they have been able to happen in times of pandemic. And if you assume that the people who write are also people who can think, these discussions are often well-founded. Take, for example, the current discussion about Registrar Deniz Yucel and his position on the Ukraine war. Ukrainian writer Tanya Malgarchuk is reading on Usedom Literature Days next weekend. These are not current books, but they do deal with the current situation on the podiums. And that’s something that people really care about right now.

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A woman and two men look at a selection of books on shelves full of books and on piles - Photo at the Frankfurt Book Fair © imago / Rupert Oberhäuser Photo: Rupert Oberhäuser

Lots of exciting books coming out this year. For example, it was composed by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Yasmina Reza, Orhan Pamuk and Fatma Aydemir. more

But books can still be a perfect way to distract from these crises, from these topics – escaping reality with keywords. Is there more demand now?

Foolish: Not right. I asked a little in publishing houses or in bookstores. There has been such a thing as fantasy like hot cakes for years, and any kind of entertainment is always in demand. But it is not stronger now than it was before. Literature is of great importance – and that has appeared again now. Because in the case of closure, when libraries had to be closed or only partially opened, the demand for literature was very high. The entire book industry, be it the book trade or publishing houses, has economically suffered relatively little from the situation. Perhaps Corona’s big novel is similar to Wende’s big novel: a lot of water has to flow down the Rhine before it comes.

Interviewed by Eva Schramm.

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Culture NDR | The magazine | 04/21/2022 | 4 pm

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