From migrant literature to migrant literature by Lena Gorelik

For the first novel that I wrote, they loved me – slightly for the novel and slightly for my story. I was twenty-three. I first arrived in Germany when I was eleven and I couldn’t speak a word of this language. Now I wrote a novel about an eleven-year-old girl who arrives in Germany without speaking a word of this language. They liked the story. And the novel was naturally not based on my own story.

I had to leave Germany to write the second novel – to escape both this story about myself as well as myself; I went to Israel where nobody knew me. I travelled a lot and drifted along more than actually doing anything. At Christmas, which I didn’t celebrate that year, I wrote most of the second novel that was hanging and floating over me like a great, dark cloud. I didn’t like it while I was writing it, and nor did I like it later on. It was set in Israel, at least partly.

Because I didn’t like the second novel, I didn’t write a third. Instead I wrote three books, which I only called books, one of them was even a political book. None of them caused me any particular trouble and I was always still myself. And they loved my story the same as before.

The next novel was perhaps in reality the second; I took years to write it, which wasn’t usual, and I was extremely scrupulous and careful to distance myself from myself while writing. I was careful to note whether the questions still absorbed me. Whether they were still directed at the girl who once, when she was eleven, came to Germany, without being able to speak a word of this language, and only writing novels. They said it was migrant literature and then they also said that we drew on the wealth of experience of migration and the treasure of a second language, and in this case they were right.

The novel, which I recently finished, is among other things about someone who fled to Germany before the civil war in Yugoslavia. I have never been in Yugoslavia. And I was never in any civil war. And I’m curious: is that still migrant literature? When I’m creating things that draw on a wealth of experience of a foreign migration, which occurred in my head, and a second language, which I don’t really speak? Simply because I myself am a migrant?

©Lena Gorelik

Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright

This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe on 2 July 2015.

Category: ELit Literature House Europe Observatory

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