Ruth Fruchtman

 

Photo: Michael Witte

 

(Germany)

 

 

In Ruth Fruchtman’s novel Krakowiak, the protagonist Esther Blu describes herself as a “historian of feeling”. Confronted through the people she meets with very different interpretations and points of view in relation to historical events, she tries to sort the threads in order to understand the present.

 

Levure Littéraire would like to take up the threads of Ruth Fruchtman’s biography and trace their influence on her development as a writer.

 

 

 

 

LL: – You yourself were born in England, but your family came originally from Eastern Europe?

 

RF: – That’s right. My grandparents emigrated to England at the beginning of the twentieth century, long before the Shoa – the Holocaust. My mother’s family came from Lithuania, at least from a place on the map which corresponded more or less with Lithuania. On my father’s side they came from Poland, my grandfather from Galicia, my grandmother from Kalisz. Both my parents were born in London.

 

Ruth Fruchtman, Krakowiak. Roman (KLAK Verlag):

 

 

 

 

LL: – When did you start to write?

 

RF: – I wrote already in my childhood. I used to read a great deal and one day I thought to myself, oh, I can do that, too!  When I was eleven I bought  a small exercise book, and started. I remember, my mother did charitable work and after school I used to go and collect her. That afternoon I sat down in the room next door to where the meeting was taking place, on the bed among the coats and started to write. A woman came in to fetch her coat and asked me what I was doing, and I said: ”I’m writing a novel.” She laughed and I added defiantly, “Yes, and I’m going to finish it, too!” And I did. 120 pages in DIN A5 format. Unfortunately I only imitated Enid Blyton, and the other four “novels” that I wrote before I was seventeen were also only imitations, not of Blyton, but of other writers I used to read at the time. Mainly male authors, and adventure stories, influenced by the films I used to see. Plenty of duels –  and I wanted to learn to fence myself, which I started to do, unfortunately much later, but which I still practise.

 

When I was sixteen or seventeen a story of mine was highly commended in an inter-schools competition, but not long afterwards I started to suffer from  writers’ block. After I graduated from university I worked for a small London publishing firm in Bloomsbury. The director was very pleased with a blurb I wrote, but the outside editor, John Hayward, a former friend and temporary companion of T.S. Eliot, was less pleased. After he had completely changed my text he rang me up, and consoled me with the remark, that T.S. Eliot hated writing blurbs, but also that youthful talent and inspiration often dry up, although no one knows why. That didn’t quite lame me, I didn’t give up, I tried to write  again and again, but I was terribly dissatisfied with what I wrote. I was probably much too ambitious and wanted to write immediately like Thomas Mann or Virginia Woolf, and was frustrated because I couldn’t. It drove me to the brink of a nervous breakdown. Only after my first divorce I started to write texts which were really authentic, but I had to go to work all day to earn my living and also bring my up my small son.

 

When I moved to Germany I began to write book reviews and articles for  journals, first on German-Jewish, later on Polish-Jewish  subjects. And started to write stories. My text Der Auszug aus Ägypten (Going Out of Egypt) was a kind of breakthrough for me.

 

 

 

 

LL: – You came to Germany in a rather roundabout way?

 

RF: – Yes, you can call it that. Although I had studied German Language and Literature at London University, I had no intention of living in Germany. But I didn’t want to stay in England either. I have always felt more European. And the English have never taken me for really British. I always felt like an outsider. My husband was offered a job in Strasbourg and we moved there. After a year we separated and I stayed on with my son for several more years – I speak French – but in 1976 we moved to the Federal Republic of Germany, to Stuttgart. I had had enough of my work at the British Consulate General, and wanted to live a different kind of life, more fulfilling, more creative. A question of finding myself. Because of my own problems I had become interested in Anthroposophy and wanted to know more about it.

 

LL: – And that is why you write in German, rather than in English or French?

 

RF: – No, the move to Germany was not the only reason. I was always attracted to German. Before her marriage my mother used to teach German, she loved the language. She had known Germany well before the Third Reich and I think she never really recovered from the Holocaust. It was a terrible shock for her that Germans were able to behave as they did. But she always used to say, that the language isn’t guilty, although language can of course be terribly misused.  I have written about this in my essay Mein Zuhause  – die Deutsche Sprache (My Home – The German Language) inspired by George Steiner[1]. In my childhood my mother used to recite poems by Goethe and Heine, and sang Brahms’ Cradle song (Wiegenlied). The sound of German fascinated me. But I gradually learned about the Shoa, the Holocaust, this awful history, and I couldn’t fit both together – how the charming Germans I sometimes met on holiday would perhaps have murdered me because I am Jewish. What human beings are capable of – not only others, but myself as well. That is one of my main themes.

 



[1] George Steiner, The Hollow Miracle, in Language and Silence

 

 

 

 

The language brought me to Germany. Even when I lived in England I had the feeling, but unfortunately not yet the ability, that I ought to be writing in German, not in English. English is for me an essentially matter-of-fact language, I just can’t seem to break into it. It can also be of course, that my relatively early preoccupation with other languages estranged me from English. German is  sensual and emotional, even if certain sounds, which we essentially associate with the past,  are raw and unpleasant. My friendships with Germans have often been deeper than those with British men and women – where often a certain lack of commitment has characterized the relationship. My German friends, and also often my colleagues, have usually been very concerned about the Nazi past, while British friends were often neutral, if not indifferent – “It wasn’t all that bad, was it?”  and so on. I like the French language very much, too, but I have never considered it to be my writing language – unless, of course, I had stayed in France. But there again, it has an entirely different  emotional quality. For a time I did think of writing in German and English, I thought I could  divide  the themes between them, but in the end I decided to write only in German.

 

LL: – And now you also know Polish?

 

RF: – Polish is a wonderful language, a constant challenge. Yes, I’ve been struggling with it for almost twenty years. When you think you know it quite well and have made progress, at last you see light, you can communicate and even take part in discussions, suddenly you come across an entirely new vocabulary, other concepts and fields of thinking – you’re completely lost and have to start again. If I had been born in Poland, I should almost certainly have written in Polish. It is a rich, soft language, full of music, with  high intellectual, spiritual qualities. Of course, like all other languages, too, it can be vulgar, loud and ugly. I spend relatively long periods in Poland, but I don’t live there, so that I don’t really know the everyday language and slang. I’ve written only one short text in Polish, in memory of someone whom I once interviewed for a radio documentary.[2]

 

LL: – But Polish history, especially Polish-Jewish history, has become one of your main themes?

 

RF: – Yes, that’s right. I think I must always question – to begin with, what happened in Germany with the Germans, how was the Shoa, the Holocaust, possible? And later, what was this strange symbiosis – this love-hate relationship between Jews and Poles? Perhaps I tend to idealise people, to contradict and question  accepted opinions. I like to look for contradictions.

 



[2]  Stanisław Gąsiorowski

 

 

LL: – And Israel-Palestine?

 

RF: – Palestine-Israel. That is rather different. It’s a political commitment. I was brought up in my childhood and youth to be Zionist and for a long time I believed in it. The first doubts came to me in 1967, after the Six-Day-War. But it was not until 1982, after the massacre in Sabra and Shatila, that I really decided  to become active and publicly oppose the destructive, criminal Israeli policies. I have worked in various smaller organisations and groups and have written several radio documentaries on different aspects[3]. Once again, my meeting with Palestinian people, Arab culture and history, have played an important part. Unfortunately I don’t think I shall be able to have the time to learn Arabic.

 

LL: – In conclusion – do you see your life as having been influenced by particular forces? People speak of fate, of destiny – I don’t want to be too precise.

 

RF: – Terms like fate and destiny are for me suspect. They are too superficially esoteric. Everyone has the possibility, even the freedom, to make certain choices, to go certain ways. As I have already said, my life has been shaped by opposing principles and contradictions, which I have chosen myself and to which I stand.

 



[3] e.g. Der Zionistische TraumDas Ende einer Illusion, (The Zionist Dream – The End of an Illusion) WDR/rbb 2003; Palästina-IsraelEin Wintermärchen, (Palestine-Israel – A Winter’s Tale) rbb 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bio

Writer and journalist, Ruth Fruchtman was born in London and studied German (B.A. Hons.) at London University. After living in France for several years, she moved to West Germany in 1976, where she has been living and working ever since. She writes in German. Her stories, essays and articles have been published journals and anthologies. For the German radio she has written reports and long documentary features on Polish-Jewish relations as well as on Palestine-Israel.She lives in Berlin. Krakowiak is her first novel.

 

 

 

 

Ruth Fruchtman, Krakowiak. Roman. – Berlin: KLAK Verlag, 2013

ISBN: 978-3-943767-07-0, 218 Seiten, 14,90 EURO

 

http://www.klakverlag.de/

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