Guest 2008.

Jenny Erpenbeck [ Germany ]

Jenny Erpenbeck was born into a family of writers in East Berlin in 1967. Her grandparents, Hedda Zinner and Fritz Erpenbeck, both prominent cultural figures in the GDR, as well as her parents, John Erpenbeck and Doris Kilias, all worked as writers.

After her schooling, Erpenbeck completed an apprenticeship as a bookbinder. She worked as a prop-maker and dresser at the Staatsoper Berlin before studying theatre and stage direction for musical theatre. Since 1998 she has staged operas as a freelance director – including »Acis und Galathea« at the Staatsoper Berlin (2003); »Orpheus in der Unterwelt« in Palais Potsdam (2004), and Mozart’s »Zaide« in Erlangen (2006). She staged her first original play, »Katzen haben sieben Leben« (t: Cats have seven lives), at the Grazer Schauspielhaus. In 2007 she wrote a column for the »Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung«.

Erpenbeck made her literary début with the novel »Geschichte vom alten Kind« (Eng. »The Old Child«, 2006) in 1999. In sober language she portrays the story of an awkwardly ugly girl who appears out of nowhere, declines to answer every question, and finally ends up in a children’s home. She tries to occupy the lowest social rung through boundless passivity and submission there. »The moment she is shoved …, she feels great reassurance that she occupies the lowest position – the position that no one challenges, the one that she does not have to struggle in order to reach and maintain.« At first it seems as if the girl is looking through the other children’s puberty games from below and waiting for them to become finally adult. In the end it turns out that she is grown-up herself – a woman about thirty years old had posed as a fourteen year-old. In 2003 a version of the novel was performed in the Kasseler Staatstheater.

Erpenbeck’s latest novel, »Heimsuchung« (2008; t: Haunting), chronicles the story of a family in Brandenburg in episodes. Twelve interwoven fates guide the reader through German history: World War I, the »Third Reich«, the GDR and the period after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yet the novel didn’t turn into an epos. Instead, the author assembled it out of pieces which illuminate the characters’ individual fates. It developed into a finely balanced composition, an »audacious experiment, a striking novel«, said Martin Halter.

Erpenbeck’s novels have been translated into over fourteen languages. She has been awarded numerous prizes, including the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize for her short story »Sibirien« (2001; t: Siberia). She was the Island Guest Writer of the kunst:raum sylt quelle Foundation in 2006. In 2008 she was awarded the Heimito von Doderer Literature Prize, the Solothurn Literature Award for her complete works, and »Heimsuchung« was nominated for the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair. Erpenbeck lives with her son in Berlin.

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