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In bed with Ida Hattemer-Higgins

Exberliner · 24 May 2011, 07:41

Published: 24 May 2011 07:41 GMT+02:00

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Her book follows the fantastic journey of an American woman who, after awaking from a state of amnesia, is haunted by the ghosts of WWII-era Berlin and the Third Reich. She spoke with Exberliner magazine’s Cara Cotner.

Like your character Margaret, you left the US and moved to Berlin to study at the Freie Universität, worked as a tour guide and live in Schöneberg. Why did you choose to insert all of these autobiographical details?

Basically out of insecurity. I was writing a first novel, and I didn’t trust myself to dream up radically new or farfetched material. However, that said, the book is a fantasy of what my life might have been had I been a significantly more disturbed, isolated, and troubled individual than I am.

What was it like to work as a tour guide?

To be honest, giving tours is extremely repetitive and quickly becomes very boring. But the job had a very powerful effect on me. I ended up becoming really angry about the way history is not only reduced, but transformed into mythology.

Can you give an example?

For one, people strongly identify with those who resisted the Nazi regime and with its victims, although statistically, almost all of us would have been perpetrators. And the problem is that everybody puts a lot of effort into thinking about what it must’ve felt like to be locked up in a concentration camp, but they’re very slow to try to understand what was happening psychologically to the people who committed these atrocities.

Do you feel that your book romanticizes history?

I feel like the book’s subject is the romanticization of history, in other words, the process by which history is transformed into myth. So the book is performing what it’s critiquing, and I think that’s the reason it’s being widely misread by critics. They see it as only taking part in a certain discourse on the Holocaust rather than critiquing that discourse. There’s an ironic stance, not an enthusiastic involvement in that narrative.

Do you feel it’s impossible to write a novel about the Holocaust or World War II without adding to the mythology?

It is. I think that if you’re going to write a novel, you have to seduce the reader into identifying with a certain romantic way of thinking, because if you don’t, the reader won ’t have any way of understanding what exactly is problematic in the thought patterns presented. If you manage by the end to have come to a point where you’ve deeply unsettled the reader, so that the seduction has proven to be in some ways a trap, then I think that the work has vindicated itself.

The book deals with German cultural amnesia. Do you not feel Germany’s reconciliation with its past has been achieved?

I feel it has. I was very interested in the process by which a person or a society wakes up from a state of amnesia, not the amnesia itself, but the process of remembrance. When thinking about how to describe what Margaret should be going through, I was definitely thinking a lot about what Germany went through as a nation.

Story continues below…

What keeps you awake at night?

There’s always something keeping me awake at night: cooking up a new plan for my life; thinking about China, where I used to live. Recently my mind has been churning over critics’ misreadings of my novel. That keeps me up.

Ida Hattemer-Higgins will read from her novel at EXBERLINER’s Wednesday

Night at Kaffee Burger on May 25 at 9pm.

Related links:

Exberliner (editor@exberliner.com)

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Your comments about this article

10:32 May 24, 2011 by DinhoPilot
Nein Danke. But she does look like she needs some sleep!
16:09 May 25, 2011 by strahlungsamt
Great. Another American hipster who thinks she knows Germany from doing a few tours in Schoeneberg. Honey, when the Third Riech was deck, you weren't born. When the DDR was aktuell, you were too young. So please, go back to Ohio and write about something you know.
16:36 May 25, 2011 by catjones
@strahlungsamt...it's called fiction. It's a literary style. Grow up and get psychiatric help.
18:42 May 25, 2011 by Jack Kerouac
She's very smart! I like her opinion about the romantisizing of history - how everyone imagines what it would be like as a victim of the Third Reich, but not how it must've felt to be a faithful follower! And there were way more followers in Germany than "rebels". Interesting point. The fact that she is American is a little weird - like 'who is she to comment on German hisotry'? But almost all of us are expats, and we embrace German culture, so why shouldn't she? The more German-enthusiasts, the better!
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