by Janine Ludwig
For the third William ’71 and Elke Durden Literary Series at Bremen on November 9, 2017, we cooperated with the Institute for Cultural German Studies (IfkuD) at the University of Bremen. The student workshop, organized by Dr. Janine Ludwig, was the opener of a three-day conference on German-language literature written by migrant writers from Eastern Europe and Russia, under the title: Migration Foreground, Province Background. German Speaking (World) Literature from Eastern Europe.
In this workshop, the Dickinsonians currently studying in Bremen and German students talked with the author Lana Lux about her debut novel Kukolka. The novel tells the story of an orphan child named Samira who lives in a protectory in Dnipropetrovsk, Eastern Ukraine. At the age of seven, she loses her best friend Marina who is adopted by a wealthy German couple. Subsequently, she decides to flee the orphange, hoping to make her way to Germany to reunite with Marina. Instead, she finds a new “home” in an Oliver-Twist-like gang of teenage beggars and thieves led by the pimp Rocky who adores her and calls her Kukolka (Russian for “little doll”). For years, she thinks he is saving money for her to make her finally see the “land of plenty” called Germany. When, at the age of twelve, she finds out that this will never happen, she leaves him for a beautiful young man named Dima who becomes her great love and promises to take her to the wonderland that is Germany. He keeps his promise, but only to talk her into and later force her into prostitution. While still clinging to her naïve hopes for a better life, she ends up in a brothel with other Eastern European girls, with similar stories and the same shattered dreams. Samira manages to escape again, and a Ukrainian woman named Olga who can translate between both worlds helps her to finally meet her friend Marina again after eight years of separation.
With Lana Lux, who came to Germany at the age of ten from the same town as her protagonist, we discussed the different images and (mis-)perceptions of Germany as a new dreamland for migrants. Lux read passages from her both funny and hyper-realistic novel which we then analyzed. In this lively talk, our guest answered the students’ questions and told memorable stories from her childhood in the Ukraine, her first impressions as a school child in Germany, her experiences of being discriminated against as a Jew, and her yearning for her homeland which she has not visited in almost twenty years.
The workshop also related to our current seminar “German 340 – Comparative Cultures – USA/Germany” in which we analyze the former emigration from Germany to the United States and the myth of America as a “promised land” for immigrants. Comparing these findings, we opened the discussion to larger questions of flight and migration and cast a cultural studies oriented glance at the current image of Germany in the world.
At the evening of the same day, Lana Lux gave a public reading of her novel which was also sponsored by Bill and Elke Durden as part of our Literary Series. The IfkuD conference, which was open to our students as an opportunity to take a peek at up-to-date German academia, also cooperated with the renowned international literary festival globaleo (November 3-13).