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An American Jewish Author Now Calls Germany Home

“For me, growing up, Europe was scorched earth,” she stated. “Of course, that was how my grandmother left it.” But her first journeys to Europe — to Paris, after which to Hungary on the lookout for her grandmother’s origins — left her in need of to understand extra about her roots.

Germany, alternatively, nonetheless held a way of terror. Ms. Feldman’s first seek advice from to Berlin was once deeply provoking. Staying at a lodge within the town’s former Jewish quarter and going to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was once tough for her. But her 2d seek advice from was once very other. This time, she felt the consequences of Germany’s fashionable efforts to recognize the Holocaust. She was once inspired with town’s openness: how welcoming it was once to refugees and respectful of human rights. Perhaps maximum of all, she was once inspired with what number of bookstores there have been.

“It was impossible to overlook just how important literature was here,” she writes, in “Überbitten,” the 700-page autobiographical novel she revealed, to nice acclaim, previous this yr. (Drawn from Yiddish, überbitten interprets more or less to “reconcile.”) “Wherever I turned, people were absorbed in their books.” By the tip of her first summer time in Berlin, she may just now not believe dwelling anyplace else. “Berlin became, for me, a kind of secret paradise,” she stated.

Indeed, books and literature performed an existential function in Ms. Feldman’s lifestyles from early on. As a lady, she was once forbidden to learn books, however did so anyway, risking punishment to sneak into public libraries. Young grownup novels like “Anne of Green Gables” and “Little Women” impressed her. In the principle characters, she noticed the chance for self-determination. She taught herself English with the assistance of do-it-yourself vocabulary lists: peccary, pecuniary, perspicacious. “I really liked words,” she stated. “For me, the biggest problem was that I had never heard the words spoken out loud.”

By the time she and her son, who's now 11, moved to Berlin, Ms. Feldman had effectively revealed her 2d memoir, “Exodus.” But she had determined to surrender writing.

In the New York publishing global, “they’re marketing you as a person,” she stated. “They told me they were going to make me huge, the next Lena Dunham. I thought, ‘how can I be the next Lena Dunham?’ I’m nothing like her.”

“I was a ‘young woman writer,’ ” whose e book covers featured soft-focus pictures of lengthy hair flying loose, she added. “I came to believe that I wasn’t a real writer, that I only had one story to tell,” Ms. Feldman stated. “I thought, ‘O.K., I’ll do something else.’ ”


Once in Berlin, she began putting out in a neighborhood cafe. There, a few of the pals she made was once Christian Ruzicska, an impartial writer. He learn “Unorthodox,” and sought after to submit it in translation. “I said ‘Why do you want to publish it? It’s chick-lit, you’re a serious publisher.’ But he said, “take the cover off, and it’s literature.”

“Unorthodox” got here out ultimate yr, and established Ms. Feldman as a emerging superstar in Germany. Because she spoke Yiddish, she realized to talk German briefly. She made the rounds at the German TV interview circuit. She started writing newspaper columns, about subjects starting from neo-Nazis and the upward thrust of Donald Trump, to why she determined to turn into a German citizen despite the fact that she’d been raised as a Hasidic Jew.

Meanwhile, she and Mr. Ruzicska started running on “Überbitten,” an expanded model of “Exodus,” which each inform the tale of her adjusting to the out of doors global after leaving the group. The procedure concerned in depth collaboration. “I wrote parts in English, then we would sit down together and add whole segments in German. Sometimes I would dictate, or he would translate, or I would write and he would fix my German.”

In the ultimate sections of “Überbitten,” Ms. Feldman seems deeply at her lifestyles in Germany, the place she discovered that the Germans she encountered had grown up with the Holocaust as a relentless presence of their colleges and society, a lot the best way she had. She got here to reconsider her working out of excellent and evil. What, she asks, in “Überbitten,” if she have been a Nazi? Would she had been in a position to withstand going together with the atrocities?

“I’d like to categorically be able to say that I know myself well enough to be sure that I would not have counted among the persecutors. But there is always this 1 percent of uncertainty,” she concludes. “In Germany, I’ve certainly encountered hate, but individual courage, as well, from people who are convinced, thanks to a sense of historical responsibility, of the need to take a stand against hatred,” she continues.

Writing in German was once releasing, she stated. For something, whilst she needed to get rid of maximum Yiddish phrases for an American target audience, she may just put many again into the German manuscript, as a result of Germans perceive them. “I could basically just write what I wanted,” she stated. “My writing’s not cool, it’s not modern. It’s old-fashioned, it’s the language I grew up with, from the 18th century.”

“Überbitten” has been broadly praised. The Neuer Zürcher Zeitung, a Swiss, German-language day-to-day newspaper, described it as “a report on the long journey to the self, a literary survival guide and a formidable philosophical-analytic confrontation with one’s own history.”


Calling himself “a big fan of her writing,” Ijoma Mangold, head literary critic at Die Zeit, a German nationwide weekly newspaper, stated that Ms. Feldman “brings to the German intellectual scene a Jewish intellectualism that is new, vital and fresh.”

“Her readings are always sold out,” stated Susanne Zepp, a literature professor on the Free University in Berlin. “Everybody goes to them.”

Currently, Ms. Feldman is writing a piece of fiction, a part of which will probably be informed from the viewpoint of a ghost.

“It’s a whole new voice,” she stated. “Very light, very amused, you get that really weird Yiddish humor.”

She is reveling on this new voice that writing in German, quite than English, has spread out for her. In rededicating herself to writing, she says she credit the literature that gave her hope in her darkest hours. “When everything in your life is bleak, and you see someone writing lovingly about this bleakness,” she added, “it’s so legitimizing.”

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