“Everyone remembers differently” | the jewish general

Mr. Liu, when four people were sitting around a table, your family, who had been scattered by the four winds in the thirties, was all together. She was not reunited until her brother’s wedding in Berlin – as you describe it in your novel Where We Are at Home. Do you have a really big family now?
In any case, they are rather prevalent, as it turns out now.

Have you ever tried to follow your family history?
This moment came when my grandfather Gerhard Liu had a stroke in 2008, was in the hospital and could no longer speak. That was the first time I dared raise my voice. Ten years later, my brother got married in Brandenburg Palace and many of our family came to visit him. Then I suddenly realized there were cousins ​​my age and they are now going back to their ancestral home.

Many of your relatives live in England, Vienna, the Netherlands or Israel. As a child growing up in East Berlin, did you look forward to others?
Clear! Until I suddenly realized that I wasn’t the only one looking forward to others who had grown up in these countries. Many also looked at us sadly because we lived in the city from which they or their ancestors were expelled. Her longing was called Berlin.

To what extent does your Jewish background still play a role for you today?
This is a complicated question. What does it do for me to have the spirit of a “Jewish quarter”? It was rarely talked about in our family, it was kind of a taboo. My grandfather preferred to be seen as a resistance fighter. For him, being a Jew always meant being a victim. For me, being Jewish is a kind of emotional affiliation.

When your grandfather lived in Paris, he spent a lot of time in a house where a German-Jewish intellectual lived in exile with Fritz Frankl, Klaus Mann and Egon Erwin Kisch. What can you say about her?
My grandfather always talked about how Egon Erwin Kish taught him magic tricks as a child or how he went with them to Versailles, where he talked a lot about the French Revolution. His sister Ilse also fell in love with Klaus Mann – not knowing he was gay.

Every family has its stories. Which of this corresponds to reality, what might have been exaggerated?
It is often not easy to determine what is a myth and what is the truth. Because a myth will quickly become a reality if you repeat it enough times. In this regard, one should always treat his family stories with caution. After all, human memory is always a fantasy.

This love of acting and storytelling seems to run in your family. also with you?
We have always had a penchant for storytelling, including incredibly exaggerated and made-up stories. My latest novel, The Hero from Friedrichstraße Station, is a con artist. And I have a certain predisposition to it myself. My wife always says you have to subtract about 20 percent of what I tell you to tell us what’s really true. I would say it’s closer to 30.

Are the stories told a little differently each time?
The more stories you tell, the more you change. Circumstances became more exciting, women more beautiful, became more and more courageous. And in the end, what we consider our lives stems from these stories.

Is this part of the remembering process?
Yes, exactly, and that’s how the novel is made. Remembering is an imaginary process. Everyone remembers differently.

I was initially a chemical lab assistant and then I studied political science. How did you get into writing?
When you are young, you initially have a desire not to do what your parents did. In the GDR, it was not an option for me to become a journalist because I would have to bend politically. But then the wall fell down and it turned out I wasn’t going to become an alchemist.

You were 19 when the wall fell in 1989…
True, the timing seemed perfect. In April 1990 I did my Abitur, and you couldn’t have planned better. It was like this with journalism: You don’t set yourself a goal of becoming anything, it just happens. At first I was a reporter, and later a columnist. However, it will take some time before I write my first book. Until then I was only writing books, including crime novels and screenplays, and I was finally able to make a living out of it for a longer period.

Her grandfather worked for refugees. Was this perhaps his way of dealing with what once happened to him as an exile in France?
Take care of people who have applied for asylum. He appealed to the authorities on her behalf. Certainly one of the reasons for that is that he had to experience for himself what it means to be in a country where you are a refugee and have to constantly worry about deportation.

Your latest novel, The Hero from Friedrichstraße Station, is a fictional heroic story. Who or what is the hero for you?
A person who does something whose outcome cannot be predicted and yet takes a risk – with conviction. There are different types of tournament.

Protagonist Michael Hartung slips into this heroic story against his will. How much courage do you need to say: I’m not a hero at all?
It always takes courage not to live up to the expectations of others. A lot is dropped in this character, which has nothing to do with the hero. It doesn’t matter who it really is. I just want him to be the man everyone wants.

Do heroic stories always display screens of our desires and longings?
We see the Ukrainian president embodying just that. He’s a hero because we all want him to be one.

From heroism to humor – it resonates throughout your work. Is humor a survival strategy for you?
Everything is so much easier to bear when you can laugh at it!

Alicia Rost spoke to the bestselling author.

Maxim Liu: “Hero of Friedrichstraße Station”. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2022, 392 pages, €22

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