This month’s issue of Words Without Borders explores the work of writers who will soon gather in New York City for the PEN World Voices Festival. This year’s festival explores the theme “how the world changes and how we change” against the backdrop of “landmark anniversaries – Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), the Cuban Revolution (1959), the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe (1989), and Tiananmen Square (1989).”
Born in Dresden, Germany in 1962, Ingo Schulze is one author whose work most certainly embodies the festival’s theme. Reviewing Schulze’s novel New Lives, our reviewer Robert Buckeye says:
“In Europe today (and among intellectuals in the West), the fall of the Wall has been followed by what is termed ostalgie, ‘less nostalgia for the return of the socialist collective,’ Charity Scribner writes, ‘than “the awareness” that something is missing from the present.’ For Schulze, something is clearly missing, but he can neither embrace the new world nor yearn for the one lost.”
That’s difficult territory to tread, to say the least, but Schulze, whom I saw read at last year’s PEN World Voices Festival, embraces it artfully. In fact, I was stunned by the story he read that day, one of the short pieces in 33 Moments of Happiness: St. Petersburg Stories. I found the book (which, I bought immediately after the reading) innovative and each piece deepfelt yet empty in a way, leaving me with a sense of that in-between that Robert identifies in his review.
In his new novel, Schulze takes on the difficult-to-master structure of an epistolary novel and succeeds:
New Lives is less the epistolary novel Turmer tells Nicoletta he is writing, than a scholarly text with a critical apparatus, similar to Nabokov’s Pale Fire whose method subverts–or expands –the form of the novel. As editor, Schulze plays the same role that Professor Kinbote, the editor of John Shade’s poetry, does in Pale Fire; like Kinbote, he does not let the text stand for itself but directs us how to read it. Kinbote, however, is clearly not Nabokov; he serves as a foil for Nabokov to skewer those who appropriate texts for their own purposes. In New Lives, Schulze (the editor) is often indistinguishable from Schulze (the novelist).