Maxim Biller

By Arnon Grunberg

A few weeks ago, I moderated an evening with Maxim Biller at the Goethe Institute in New York.

Maxim Biller is a German author, although he was born in Prague and only moved to Germany when he was ten years old. He is definitely German.

The Israeli newspaper H'aaretz published a profile on Biller earlier this year, in which Biller summarized his regular column for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as follows: íJews, Germans, Hitler and Sex.ë

Needless to say, Biller is not only German but also a Jew.

During the evening at the Goethe Institute I tried to discuss the four main themes in Biller's work, but there was not enough time for Hitler. Literary soirees have their limits; one of them is the time limit. To be honest, sex was dealt with in two sentences.

My connection to this author goes back to the time when I still had a publishing house in Amsterdam, specializing in non-Aryan German literature. I had bought the rights to publish Mr. Biller's first collection of stories When I Was Rich and Dead, an outrageous book about well, Jews, Germans and Hitler and sex. But I went bankrupt and I was not able to publish it.

Recently The New Yorker published two of Biller's stories and next year his collection Love Today will be published in the U.S. Hitler is the big absentee in this collection.

In 2003 Biller published his second novel in Germany Esra. Shortly after publication, one of Biller's ex-girlfriends and her mother went to court and tried to prevent the novel from being sold.

What happened exactly is a long and complicated story. For a while Esra could be sold in Germany but with a few pages blacked out—talk about absurdity—but finally the highest court in Germany decided that Esra could not be sold at all.

It took a long time before fellow authors started to express solidarity with Biller. That he had offended many of them (once Biller said that the average German author was a wimp) was not of much help.

Last week Biller told me that Esra could be published in translation if the foreign publisher didn't ask Mr. Biller or his German publisher for permission.

Maybe I should do just that, as a matter of principle.

If we allow ex-girlfriends and their mothers to interfere with novels, poems and plays, then we should start emptying our bookshelves.


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