Jun 2015

Margrit Zinggeler

The “Eastern European Memory” in Contemporary German Swiss Literature


The culmination of the “Eastern Turn” in German Literature is certainly the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Herta Müller in 2009. The concept of the “Eastern Turn” can be further contextualized and theorized in the works of a plethora of authors who have recently received prestigious literary prizes, among them several Swiss authors with Eastern European origins. In this article, novels by authors who immigrated with their parents at a young age to Switzerland are analyzed with a focus on memory narratives and sensorial perceptions of early childhood experiences and perceptions in Eastern European countries. The concept of the “Eastern European Memory” represents a syllogism of these narratives. The second generation, called Secondas and Secondos in Switzerland, searches for an identity in a transcultural space where the parental heritage and language collide within a system that is marked by a diglossic German language situation and a divided society on topics of migration and European integration. The gyration of these circumstances can release a narrative force that constitutes a literary “Eastern European Memory” coupled to a distinct Swiss socialization process.

There is no perception which is not full of memories.

Henri Bergson


The phenomenon of what I attempt to define as “Eastern European Memory” or curtailed to “Eastern Memory” in Swiss literature is embedded in the concept of the “Eastern Turn” in contemporary German literature (Haines 2008). Haines discusses a common “provisional unity” in texts written by authors with Eastern European roots by extracting “[…] five sweeping generalizations concerning content, point of view, authorial intent, marketability, and form.” Furthermore, she lists other similarities, “[…] a lived reality of communist rule, […] migration westwards, […] disillusionment with life during […] the liberation of the east, […] conflicts in Yugoslavia, […] and the disorientation of life in post-Cold War Europe today.” These topoi permeate novels and stories by authors writing in German reflecting on their life as a migrant and the sufferings of their families in Eastern European countries, as also described by Biendarra (2012). A critical framework for reading German transnational literature is developed on both sides of the Atlantic. (e.g. Khattab 2012 and Trousdale 2010) A focus on the specific concept of “The Eastern Turn in German-Language Literature” will be the published in a forthcoming special edition of German Life and Letter, edited by Brigid Haines and Anca Luca Holden.[1] Recently, several authors writing from an Eastern perspective have been awarded German literary prizes: Terésia Mora (Deutscher Buchpreis 2013), Saša Stanišić (Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse 2014), Katja Petrowskaja (Ingeborg Bachmann Preis 2013), Sybille Lewitscharoff (Georg Büchner Preis 2013). Although this corroborates the phenomenon of the “Eastern Turn,” in German literature, the term itself is only conceptualized by Haines and Holden.[2]

Because several Swiss authors with Eastern European origins have also been awarded prestigious literary awards, I would like to move beyond the textual and meta-textual content and ask what other aspects constitute literary excellence in the narratives by so many Eastern European migrants—and also by the second and third generation? Why are their stories so compelling and why do authors with an Eastern European background have such a command and mastery of language of the German language, which is the second language of the writer? I focus my investigation on recent contemporary, top-award winning writers with an Eastern European origin in German-speaking Switzerland where authors face an additional language barrier besides the dichotomy between an Eastern-European mother-tongue and German, namely the diglossic situation of regionally (not socially) defined dialects (Mundart). Schwyzertütsch (Swiss German) is used for all forms of oral communication in Switzerland, while the standard German language or High German is the common writing system (Schriftsprache). The diverse, oral Swiss dialects — written only to express Helvetic idiosyncrasies and in a small local “Mundart“ literature — are very distinct from the standard German language. The fact that migrants learning German cannot at first understand the Swiss and have to use the stylized-sounding High German for oral communication adds to a gulf between the native Swiss and the migrants. Overall, the Swiss do not like to speak High German, although it is the language of instruction at schools and universities, as well as formal communication on TV and Radio, where many broadcasts are also in dialect. This dilemma has been an everyday reality for centuries in the multilingual country that has four national languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh), and Switzerland has always been — a fact, which is often forgotten — a country of immigration because it was spared by wars and because of its neutral status. Nevertheless, a referendum to curb immigration was accepted in February 2014 by a slight margin, which was highly criticized by the EU with whom Switzerland has an agreement of free movement of persons.

The emergence of an “Eastern European Memory” in German Swiss Literature after the Second World War began with Erica Pedretti who was born in 1930 in Šternberk (or Sternberg), the former Czechoslovakia. She came to Switzerland in 1945, but only received asylum in 1952 when she returned from the U.S. and married Swiss artist Gian Pedretti with whom she has five children, a fact that cannot be overlooked since telling the family story to the next generation often is an impetus to write. She began writing about her childhood memories of war-torn Warsaw, Poland, Auschwitz, and Prague in the 1970s. She has received many literary prizes, such as the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 1984 and the Maria Luise Kaschnitz Prize in 1996; most recently she was co-awarded the Swiss Book Prize in 2013. Pedretti is also an accomplished artist and sculptor (one of her large works is displayed in Zurich Airport). In all her works, memories of war, flight, and the loss of “Heimat” are expressed by what she defines as a method of palimpsest (in her essay “Schreiben & Überschreiben”), which she also applies in many of her art work (e.g. painting on newspaper). Her texts distinctly belong to the genre of Erinnerungstexte. They are spawned by the “Schwierigkeit, mit etwas fertig zu werden” (the difficulty to come to terms with something)[3] (Heiliger Sebastian 10), namely the haunting memories of what happened in Eastern Europe: the advancement of Russian troops, the deportations and internments, the psycho-terror of control, the murders, the suicides in the family, the rape of women, and life in exile. “Do you remember” (inserted in English into the text) is a sentence that the protagonist Anne deeply hates in Heiliger Sebastian, yet it is exactly this question that stirs up the detritus of history influencing her life and art, reflecting Pedretti’s own autobiographical experiences.

“Wie kommt man um Erinnerungen, um etwas, das war, herum? Nur ein Versuch, jetzt und hier zu sein, jetzt von hier zu sprechen, wenn das möglich wäre […]” (Heiliger Sebastian 78) (How do you get around memories, avoid something that was? Only an attempt to live in the present and speak, here and now, if that would be possible […]).

Practically all texts (and art works) by Pedretti represent attempts to come to terms with her haunting Eastern memories; they cause the reader to reflect on their own lives and memories which consequently fuse with the fictional figures through Pedretti’s style that seeks to trigger a wave of remembrance through fragmentary images — a form of collage — mixed with historical facts, but also with gaps, and distinct, repetitive questions that remain unanswered in the narrative that speaks to the senses of the reader who could feel trapped in the mesh of autobiographical fiction and historical remembrance. Cocalis evaluates the style in Pedretti’s text Engste Heimat as follows:

 There is no coherent narrative line, but rather a series of themes or images drawn from childhood memories […]. One message of the book is that no matter where one currently lives, one’s Heimat will always remain in the memories of childhood, which one must endeavor to preserve, regardless how painful such memories might be (Cocalis 782).

How do memories become words is a central topos in all ten books and a myriad of other texts by Pedretti which she most often connects to fragments of childhood experiences and correlates to open questions to the reader challenging him/her to come up with an answer. Memories are not imaginations; memories are based on sensorial experiences. “[…] the senses operate in relation to each other in a continuous interplay of impressions and values.” (Howes 47). I base my further investigation of literary texts by authors with Eastern-European roots on Howes’ theories of sensual relations since Pedretti’s texts and art epitomize the convergence of memory and text.

At the same time as Pedretti’s first publication of stories and novels based on her Eastern memories, Elias Canetti (1905-1994), another memoirist made his home in Switzerland. Like Pedretti he also became a Swiss citizen. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981. Although Canetti spent only six years in his native Bulgaria, he later wrote vividly about his Eastern impressions in his autobiography (published in 1977). He processes sensory images of his childhood environment, and he specifically elaborates on language acquisition and formation in Die gerettete Zunge since he meandered through many languages due to the constant emigrations forced upon him by the wars and political crises in twentieth-century Europe.[4] He attended the “Gymnasium” in Zurich from 1916-21 and then lived from the 80s until his death in 1994 in Zurich where he was always exposed to the Swiss diglossic language situation. The titles of the second and third volume of his autobiography also allude to the senses or sensory perceptions, Die Fackel im Ohr (The Torch in my Ear) and Das Augenspiel (The Play of the Eyes), as well as other texts such as Der Ohrenzeuge: Fünfzig Charaktere (Ear Witness: Fifty Characters) and Die Stimmen von Marrakesch (The Voices of Marrakesh). As we shall see below, sensory perceptions from early experience in the heritage culture and language(s) mixed with the culture(s) and language(s) of the adopted country are crucial for the development of narrative forces, even though topics such as the dislike of foreigners and an inner identity crises from living in between cultures — which occupy the public discourse around migration as well as migration literature today — are not explicitly expressed in Canetti’s writings. (Sievers 307)

Since then, a rich palette of contemporary Swiss authors with Eastern European origins have exerted a strong influence on the quadri-lingual Swiss literatures in the 21st century. In the German part of Switzerland, women writers such as Christina Viragh (from Budapest, Hungary), Dragica Rajčić (born in Croatia), Irena Brežná (from Bratislava, Slovakia), and Zsusanna Gahse (Hungary) are challenging the controversial, political discourse around migration, neutralization, integration, and citizenship in their novels written in a protean, poetic language.

Writers Ilma Rakusa (Slovakia), Melinda Nadj Abonji (Serbia), Catalin Dorian Florescu (Romania), and Erica Pedretti (former Czechoslovakia) have all been awarded the prestigious Swiss Book Prize since its inception in 2009. Melinda Nadj Abonji also won the acclaimed German Book Prize in 2010 for her debut novel Tauben fliegen auf for which she additionally received the Swiss Book Prize a few weeks after the success at the “Frankfurter Buchmesse.” These honors were unexpected, yet much celebrated sensations and a reassurances of literary excellence influenced by painful “Eastern Memories,” notably also in the light of the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Herta Müller in 2009.

Years before Herta Müller received this highest literary recognition in the world for her writing, she spoke at a poetic symposium in Zurich in 2003 about her early memories influenced by “die genaue Liebe, die Zugehörigkeit und der Diwan im Zimmer des Grossvaters” [precise love, belonging, and the sofa in grandfather’s room] in the

 fingerhutkleinen Dorf mit den dreihundert Hausnummern, sieben Gassen, symmetrisch wie die Rippen der Bewohner und derart flach, dass der Himmel jeden Pflasterstein sah und wie ein Glaskasten von der Stelle unten ganz zu sehen war, (da) kannte jeder jeden (everybody knew everybody in the thimble sized village with three hundred house numbers, seven streets, symmetrical like the ribs of the villagers, and it was so flat that the sky saw every cobble stone from underneath like through a glass box.)

She describes how her father brings each newborn calf into the house and puts it on the bed of her grandfather who was paralyzed for the last nine years of his life. She quietly watches her grandfather, and her mind races, her brain burns with pity and disgust, which she later experiences again and again when she was interrogated and psychologically tortured by the communist state police. Because Müller’s poetic lecture was reprinted in its entirety in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (2003), her influential comments on memory and language are included in this article. Müller describes how she learned Romanian in the factory.

 “Ich lernte dieses sinnliche Alltagsrumänisch, es schmeckte mir beim Reden, als würde ich Wörter essen, nicht bloss sprechen. Ich habe nie auf Rumänisch geschrieben, aber das Rumänische aus dieser Fabrik wird in meinem Deutschen immer mitgeschrieben.” [I learned this sensuous, everyday Romanian (language) which tasted as if I would eat and not just utter the words when speaking. I have never written in Romanian, but the Romanian language from the factory will always be incorporated in my German writing.]

In another essay of the same year, she states that “In jeder Sprache sitzen andere Augen” (in every language, different eyes are seated) and “Wenn ich Gelebtes in Sätze stelle, fängt ein gespenstischer Umzug an. […] Die Innereien der Tatsachen werden in Wörter verpackt, sie lernen laufen und ziehen an einen beim Umzug noch nicht bekannten Ort.” (When I put experiences into sentences, a ghostly procession begins. […] The innards of facts are packed into words, they learn how to walk and they proceed to a territory, which was unknown when the move began). “Über diese Orte schreibe ich” (about these places I write) (Neue Zürcher Zeitung 2003), Müller says.

And she writes about what she saw, heard, and felt under Ceausescu’s dictatorship and the totalitarian state that wanted to drive her into self-destruction, a fate so many of her friends could not resist. She says that she loved the country but hated the state to which she belonged as a German-speaking minority.

 Es war das Ernstnehmen des Dazugehörens, welches das Dazugehören zerfetzte. Ich war wie mit dieser deutschen Minderheit auch in diesen rumänischen Gesprächen hinter oder vor einer verschlossenen Tür, hinein- und herausgesperrt in einem. (It was the seriousness of the belonging that slashed the belonging. I was with this German minority also in these Romanian interrogations, behind and in front of a closed door, locked in and locked out at same time.)

In this poetic lecture from 2003 in Switzerland, Herta Müller practically laid open her Eastern memory, its correlation to her, and what compelled her to write and not keep silent about where “her head” and “her feet go.” While wanting to let go of her small village in the big valley, she gets more and more sucked into love, disgust, and fear because of the perfidiousness expressed to her by the Banat-Schwabian villagers. “Das Kalb, der Diwan, der Gelähmte und ich — dieser Ort wurde zu meinem Schleudersitz.” (The calf, the sofa, the lame (her grandfather) and I — this location became my first ejection seat.) Again and again she experiences this ejection seat, it became a pattern, “eine einleuchtende Formel” (a plausible formula) as a reaction to the interrogations, psychological terror, surveillance, torture, and death threats.

Her Eastern memory extends into the consciousness of the West. Already in the nineties of the last century, critics waited for a text by Müller about her freedom in Berlin, about this free gift. “’Mir wird immer wieder die Frage gestellt, wann ich endlich über Deutschland schreibe. Ich habe jedes Mal Lust zu sagen: Schon die ganze Zeit, aber das merkt ihr nicht.” (Neue Zürcher Zeitung 2003, 66) (I am often asked the question when I’ll finally begin to write about Germany. I am always inclined to say: I do already, but you don’t realize it.)

Explicitly writing about her adopted country is Irena Brežná, who describes in Die undankbare Fremde (The Ungrateful Foreigner, 2012) — a much discussed, autobiographical book — about integration in Switzerland. The author/narrator expresses how “Swissness traumatizes” her Eastern Memory and how the Eastern Memory “traumatizes” her efforts to achieve an abiding Swiss identity respectively, although in the text she never mentions the word Switzerland or her native Slovakia where she was born in 1950, she addresses the latter as “mein Land” (my country) and the former as “das fremde Land” or “mein Mann” (18) to whom she is bound in a dependent relationship, never able to divorce. The narrator’s family arrived in a Swiss refugee camp just as Irena Brežná’s family did in 1968. The narrator describes the journey: “Wir ließen unser Land im vertrauten Dunkel zurück und näherten uns der leuchtenden Fremde.” (5) We left our country in the usual darkness and approached the glowing foreignness.) The officer in the refugee camp asks the family what their religion is. “Was für einen Glauben haben Sie?” (What’s your religion?) The parents were fearfully silent and then he asks the narrator, “Woran glaubst du, Mädchen?” “An eine bessere Welt.” “Dann bist du richtig bei uns. Herzlich willkommen!” (6) (And you, girl, what do you believe? In a better world. Then you are right here with us. Welcome!) These exact sentences are repeated on the last page (140) of the autobiographical narration. Within this structural frame a painful, personal integration story develops besides more tragic and disturbing stories of asylum seeking people from Eastern Europe displayed in italic letters. This form of meta-story (a narrative about the narrative) that the narrator tells are the stories that she has to translate on her job as a interpreter in court, hospitals, psychiatric institutions, schools, police stations, and prisons. They visibly cut by the means of the italic font into her own desperate personal attempts to come to terms with Swiss democracy and society.

Bei uns war alles durchlässig, die Türen der öffentlichen Toiletten ließen sich nicht schließen, wir waren nämlich ein einziger unteilbarer Körper. Und ich wurde von diesem Körper wegamputiert. Ein kleiner Finger hing lose im Weltraum. Äußerte ich meine Trauer, gab man mir zu verstehen, ich alleine sei schuld daran, dass ich nicht zurechtkam. Ich blieb störrisch und weigerte mich in der Zwangsehe mit dem Gastland glücklich zu werden. (35).

At home (in communist Czechoslovakia) everything was permeable, the doors in public restrooms could not be locked; we were indeed one single indivisible body. I was severed and amputated from the body. A pinky dangling in space. If I uttered my grief, I was told that it was my fault that I could not cope. I remained rebellious and I refused to be happy in the coerced marriage with my guest country.

Tenaciously, the author/narrator rebels against laws and flaws, customs and practices, and the malaise of everyday Swiss life and the real injustice and discrimination against foreigners. She generally reports factually to the authorities about her translation assistance in dealing with severe criminal and medical cases in hospitals and courts. Some of the migrants try to outsmart the system; they present themselves as suicidal in order to gain time or a plea for mercy against deportation. The narrator tries to justify her schizophrenic situation in wanting to help these people beyond the mere translation job; she even advises the authorities, yet repeatedly fails to distance herself from the psychological and physical pain of the refugees and asylum-seeking compatriots from Slovakia who came into conflict with the law because so many are traumatized by war, rape, abuse, human trafficking, and the lack of education; an inerasable “Eastern Memory” of many refugees. As the narrator’s own integration progresses, her translation job sets her back again and again, as if these cases of “Eastern Memories” re-infected her wounds by exposing them to a toxin so that they cannot heal. Throughout the book, however, the narrator does not relate and connect this infiltration of the other “Eastern Memories” with her own integration struggles, which constitutes a dramatic irony.

The narration is not without humor — “ich entdeckte erst hier, dass ich eine angeborene Sehschwäche für Schmutz hatte” (46) (here I discovered that I have a hereditary debility of sight since I do not see dirtiness) or “in diesem Land pflegte man fröhlich den Vorwurf, er war so geläufig wie bei uns das Kompliment” (57) (in this country, criticism and reproach is as celebrated as a compliment in my home country.) In the end, her wits and her “Lästermaul” (53) (scandalmonger) which stubbornly adheres to the High German language save the narrator. But the same cannot be said of her friend and fellow immigrant Mara with whom she rebelled against the pettiness of daily life in Switzerland while yearning to find love and recognition in the “husband”-land. Mara is killed in an automobile accident, perhaps metaphorically, because she “[…] hielt den Druck nicht aus, sie fing an Dialekt zu radebrechen[…]. Ihre Anbiederung schmerzte mich” (115) (she gave in and started speaking Swiss-German dialect […] her chatting-up made me sick.) Eventually, the “diktatorisch Geschädigte” (the dictator-damaged woman) —the narrator — becomes a citizen of Switzerland, a political activist, and a spokeswoman against discrimination — “sie wird heimisch im Fremdsein” (136) (she integrates with her foreignness) and she enjoys the ever more multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual realities in Switzerland. This book by Irena Brežná constitutes a valuable contribution to the integration discussions and transcultural tolerance supported by the Swiss Federal Office for Migration.[5]

In an analyses of “Transcultural Embodiment of the Senses and Sensorial Narratives” in Swiss Secondo[6]-Literature (literature by second generation migrants), the author shows that in order to come to terms with the immigrant background and the parents’ culture, many Secondas and Secondos feel compelled to write in order to give them a sense of control over the painful narrative of their family story. (Zinggeler 2011) These Swiss Seconda and Secondo narrators strikingly and deeply describe what their senses conceived from the culture of their parents. They feel the location they left behind (or re-visit), they see vivid images of ancestors, their homes and countries, they hear voices in the native tongue of their parents and relatives, they smell and taste the heritage culture through food and drink, their lives are touched by migration stories and coming to Switzerland where the same senses are overwhelmed with new perceptions and emotions. Secondas and Secondos write about their families’ struggle to integrate and their feelings and perceptions while finding an identity in a space where cultures collide and convolute. The dichotomy between the heritage culture and the multi-cultural, multi-lingual Swiss environment — both often experienced in a double schizophrenic manner — unleashes a desperate search for identity which can find itself in many cases only by writing. Writers such as Franco Supino, Francesco Micieli, Vincenzo Todisco, and Giuseppe Garcia who have Italian or Spanish roots, because their parents were hired as guest-workers during the economic boom in the sixties and seventies, tell their story again and again from a nexus space where the parental heritage culture and language collide with Swiss everyday realities and values, including the diglossic situation. Equally, writers who have one foreign and one Swiss parent (e.g. authors Martin R. Dean, Sabine Wen-Ching Wang, and Dante Andrea Franzetti) and many others who have migrated from countries around the globe to multicultural and multilingual Switzerland, find here a fertile ground to articulate their identity in stories and novels.

I now examine the concept of an “Eastern Memory” in the works of three award winning Swiss authors, Ilma Rakusa, Melinda Nadj Abonji and Catalin Dorian Florescu, in the context of the current socio-political Swiss culture that is deeply divided between conservative forces of the political right, the Swiss Peoples Party (Schweizerische Volkspartei) that opposes a possible European Union membership — the Swiss people have twice voted against joining the EU — and a global, open, hybrid Switzerland that embraces migration and the European spirit as an economic and cultural enrichment.

It is statistically extraordinary that four writers with Eastern European origins have consecutively received the Swiss Book Prize. Why have their narratives captured the evaluation criteria of the selection committee? Is the concept of an “Eastern Memory” somehow correlated to literary excellence?

Ilma Rakusa was the first author to be awarded the prestigious Swiss Book Prize in 2009 for her book Mehr Meer: Erinnerungspassagen (More Sea: Memories of Passages). She also received the Adelbert-von-Chamisso-Prize[7] in 2003. Rakusa was born in 1946, and she came with her family from Czechoslovakia to Switzerland in 1951. She studied Romance and Slavic languages and published several volumes of poetry and essays from her academic lectures at the University of Zurich. In all texts, her language is very poetic and lyrical. Short sentences and elliptical phrases alternate with slightly longer main phrases and sub-clauses where perceptions, feelings, and meaning erupt into literary aestheticism despite their stylistic brevity.

The volume Mehr Meer: Erinnerungspassagen consists of 69 “prose memories” as she calls the short stories. Her texts are predominantly autobiographically influenced and many describe Eastern European scenes and sensorial memories. Some chapters are clearly highlighted as relating Eastern European memories: “Budapest, remixed; Praha; Russische Tage.” Some titles of her short stories are based on Eastern European names: “Dostojewskij; Uliza Schwetschenka…, Konzerte mit Alexej”. The chapters include memories of visiting the hometown of the author/narrator’s mother, Rimavská and Maribor, where she visited her grandparents as a teenager. Rakusa’s memories are keenly connected to her olfactory sense, which researchers classify as “the strongest catalyst of memory” (Howes 2003, 53). Ilma Rakusa writes, “Das Vergessen, sage ich, macht um den Geruch einen Bogen” (315) (Forgetting, I say, forgoes smells), and for her, smelling is the most astute sense of remembering. “Wenn es nach Heu duftet, sehe ich hunderterlei Bilder aufsteigen” (When I smell hey, I see a hundreds of images emerging). Rakusa’s texts are imbued with smells invoking her culture of origin and visits to the cities in former communist Yugoslavia after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the places where her father grew up, and the Hungarian home town of her mother. In the first chapter of Mehr Meer, she tries to remember her father after he had passed away. She goes in the closet to smell his clothes and remembers fragments of the story of his life he told her only at one point, when walking in the woods; she concludes:

Der Osten war unsere Bagage. Mit Herkunft und Kindheit und Gerüchen und dicken Pflaumen. Mit Braunkohle und Ängsten und Dampfloks und sukzessiven Fluchten. Wir kamen von DORT und kappten die Verbindungen nie. Nicht zu den Weinbergen zwischen Podgorci und Jeruzalem, nicht zu den Freunden an Drau und Mur, auch nicht zu den Hügeln von Rimaszombat, das nun offiziell Rimavaská hieß. Die Regime waren eines, die Topographien ein anderes. Die Sprachen, die Speisen, die Gesten. Gefühlsalphabete. Vater rechnete sein Leben lang auf slowenisch.

The East was our baggage, filled with provenience, childhood, smells, and thick plums, filled with brown coal and fears and steam engines, and with successive flights. We came from over THERE and never severed the connections. Not with the vineyards between Podgorci und Jeruzalem, not with our friends on the Drau and Mur, nor the hills of Rimaszombat, which is now officially called Rimavaská. The regimes were one side, the topographies the other. The languages, the food, the gestures. Alphabets of emotions. Father calculated in Slovenian all his life.

Rakusa also remembers visits by Hungarians and fellow Yugoslavians at her parent’s home in Switzerland where ethnic Eastern European food was served, a healing feast for the senses that deeply affected the narrator who grew up with three languages that spawned her poetic talents and turned her into an award winning author of the “Eastern Memory.”

Melinda Nadj Abonji was born in 1968 in Bečej, Serbia, into an ethnic Hungarian minority group. She migrated with her parents to Switzerland in 1974 (when she was five years old; the same age as Ilma Rakusa which seems to be relevant concerning first and second language development). Abonji was awarded the German Book Prize for her first novel Tauben fliegen auf in 2010, followed by the Swiss Book Prize in November of the same year. The novel is highly influenced by the autobiography of her family, her immigrant parents, who eventually became Swiss citizens and proprietors of a cafeteria on Lake Zurich. Her sister and extended family in Serbia are all figures in the narrative.

The writing style in Tauben fliegen auf is unique and challenging: long sentences with trails of sub-clauses, inserted sentences (sometimes in parentheses), direct speech without quotation marks, questions and exclamations, ellipses, associations, flashbacks, and sudden pronominal changes, garner her a distinct structural style. The selection of words, metaphors, similes, symbolism, and allegories, in the 315-page narrative are astonishingly rich and astute, but Abonji also combines simple phrases into a long train of thoughts.

[…] erst als der Zug wegfuhr, habe ich begriffen, dass das der wirkliche Abschied war und nicht der in der Vojvodina, als all unsere Verwandten uns besucht haben oder wir sie […]; jetzt, wo Sie im Zug wegfuhren, war es so, wie wenn meine ganze bisherige Welt von mir wegfahren würde, Ihr Haus, Ihr Garten, die geliebten Tiere, der Staub und Dreck, der bleiche Herr Pfarrer in seiner dunklen Kirche, das Stimmengewirr auf dem Markt, der schwere, süsse Duft nach frischen Pfannkuchen, Palatschinken, Onkel Piris Augen, die schönsten Augen der Welt, so fanden Nomi und ich, Tante Icu, die uns mit Süssigkeiten verwöhnte, an den Wochenenden, die wir bei ihr und Onkel Piri verbrachten, damit sie die frühe und späte Messe besuchen konnten; ich habe mit einem Mal alles vermisst, die lauten Stimmen der Menschen, die ihre Zähne zeigten, die staubigen Strassen und die Pappeln, die Pappelblätter, die so zärtlich waren mit der Luft — ich habe alles, was ich geliebt habe mit ihrer Abreise verloren […]. (276-277)

[…] only when the train had left, I understood that this was the real good-bye and not the parting in Vojvodina when all our relatives had visited us or we them […]; now that she left by train it was as if my entire, hitherto world exited from me, her house, her garden, the beloved animals, the dust and dirt, the pale priest in his dark church, the cacophony of voices in the market, the heavy, sweet aroma of fresh pan cakes and omelets, uncle Piris’ eyes, the most beautiful eyes in de world Nomi and I think, aunt Icu who spoiled us with sweet treats on weekends when we visited her and uncle Piri, so that she (Mamika) could attend the early and late mess; I have immediately missed everything, the loud voices of people who showed their teeth, the dust filled streets and the poplar trees and their leaves gently swaying in the air—with her departure I have lost everything that I loved.

The narrative depicts the struggles of a migrant family who moved from Hungarian-speaking Serbia to Switzerland in 1974, as told by the older daughter in a concatenation of episodes that resemble an intermittent stream of consciousness. In addition, Abonji inserts historical events, travel stories, war stories, a love story, and snapshot images of Swiss society and of the migrant milieu into the main narrative.

The novel is structured into fourteen loosely connected chapters that were written by the author over six years. Although the single chapters could stand alone as short stories, they constitute a coherent narrative. They have similar characteristics, including a consistent writing style and the unchanging narrative voice. The novel tells of a search for identity, triggered by a string of clashes with the parental culture, experiences with racism and xenophobia in Switzerland, and a feeling of bifurcated displacement in a space (defined as the Secondo Space; Zinggeler 2011) where the sensory experiences are permeated with conflicting social and generational values.

Abonij’s topoi derive from perceptions of society around her, infused with her Eastern memories since she and her sister were left with their grandmother in Serbia for two years until they could join their parents in Switzerland. The affinity with the Serbian homeland is associated with her maternal grandmother, her life story and family connections, and eventually her death, a loss that deeply affected the protagonist. The narrator keenly transforms the intensity of her feelings into melodious sentences. “I cannot write about Africa or England, but about lives caught up in the evident antagonism between the migrant milieu and the Switzerland of the political right,” Melinda Nadj Abonji told me in an interview on June 25, 2010, when her second book, the award-winning novel, was in print and its reception unknown. As a musician as well as a writer, she also stressed that the rhythm and melody of a sentence is as important for her as the inherent meaning of words.

In the novel Tauben fliegen auf, Abonji — the author/narrator — describes how as a child, she loved to read, feel, and hear the High-German (standard) language. She read aloud to contrast words and structures with the spoken Swiss-German dialect. She continues that the German she writes is influenced by the paternal Hungarian language, and a faulty “Yugo-Deutsch,” which adds humor and wit to the idiosyncratic word and syntax creations. She also mentions that one of her relatives thinks that she writes “Hungarian in German,” probably in terms of sentence structure and word choices. Hearing the sounds of the Serbian low land where the family returns to visit the native Vojvodina and the voices of the Hungarian minority of her ancestors as well as of fellow migrants in Switzerland, and of her beloved grandmother Mamika, “die mit ihrer Stimme den verborgensten Winkel jeder Seele erreicht” (whose voice reaches to most secret corner of every soul), all play a key role in the “Eastern Memory” of this author.

Anthropologist Marshall McLuhan’s concept of the “acoustic space“[8] might shed a light on why many Swiss Seconda/Secondo writers hear the voices of ancestors. This phenomenon is a powerful sensorial imagery in many of the narratives by Secondas/Secondos. McLuhan states that the act of hearing itself creates an ‘auditory space,’ because we hear from every direction at once. “Yet even intelligent and, especially, literate people flee from the very idea of ‘auditory space,’ because, naturally, it cannot be visualized. […] auditory space contains nothing and is contained in nothing. It is quite unvisualizable, and, therefore, to the merely print-oriented man, it is ‘unintelligible.’”[9]

When Secondas and Secondos first hear the story of their family background, they often feel coerced or guided to fill this void by imagining the foreign places and absent people that are sounding and resounding in their minds. Hearing another language within the family increases auditory sensibilities as sounds are central to making sense and to knowing or exploring the truth about the family background. Constantly hearing two languages interlocks the soundscapes in what Zinggeler defines as the Secondo-Space.

Sounds that are often perceived as voices or a calling also emanate from nature and places. Steven Feld (in Howes 2005) theorizes about these interrelationships of sound, space, and time in his definition of acoustemology.

Acoustemology means an exploration of sonic sensibilities, specifically of ways in which sound is central to making sense, to knowing, to experiential truth. This seems particularly relevant to understanding the interplay of sound and felt balance in the sense and sensuality of emplacement, of making place. For places are as potentially reverberant as they are reflective, and one’s embodied experiences and memories of them may draw significantly on the interplay of that resounding-ness and reflectiveness (Feld in Howe 185).

Therefore the ”experience of place potentially can always be grounded in an acoustic dimension as acoustic time is always spatialized, sounds are sensed as connecting points up and down, in and out, echo and reverb, pointsource and diffuse; […] sounds are heard moving, locating, placing points in time” (Feld 185). In the absence of a first-hand memory of the place of family origin, this constellation often causes confusion in Secondas and Secondos who hear the ancestral language and sounds of the heritage culture. Therefore, many turn to writing to record these sound perceptions in words of their own (German) language. The narrator in Tauben fliegen auf, for example, uses the voice of her grandmother Mamika to tell of their father’s first marriage (74f.), the relationship between her two sons, as well as their political entanglements with socialism (74-79) and how their father and mother met (82f.). The narrator often depicts her father’s voice and describes how he swears in his native tongue. It always has a profound effect on the narrator.

[…] er muss seinen Flüchen freien Lauf lassen, die Wörter, die wüsten, derben, fliegen wie flinke Fische aus seinem Mund, und ich habe ihm nie gesagt, dass ich nichts lieber höre als seine Verwünschungen und Flüche; in diesen Momenten nämlich, wenn Vaters Zunge vor Aufregung federnde Geräusche produziert,[…] dann weiß ich, dass es etwas an ihm gibt, das ich verstehe, und ich wünschte mir, ich könnte Vaters Flüche hörbar machen, so in die andere Sprache übersetzen, dass sie wirklich glänzen […] (164-65).

[…] he allows free play to his swearing, the terrible, harsh words fly like slippery fish out of his mouth, and I have never told him how much I love hearing him swear and shout imprecations […] then I know that there is something in his malediction that I understand and I wish I could translate father’s cursing into the other language (German), to make it sound glorious […].

When the narrator and her sister huddle on the veranda in the house of relatives when visiting the home town and hearing their parents’ voices using words they have never heard before, it sounds like a secret language (115). The narrator’s mother tells a story from her family to the plants outside the window, but it is intended for her daughters since it is actually her own story. The narrator listens to the calm, soft voice of her mother, narrating the story of a girl who wanted to become a teacher but fell in love with a soldier, became pregnant, was eventually betrayed and beaten by her father, and lost her child (125f.).

Hearing the distinct voices of family left behind in the dangerous war-torn country torments a Serbian employee who works in the parental cafeteria of the narrator. Her small son lives with relatives in her native town just as the narrator and her sister stayed back because the parents at first did not receive a visa for the children. “Hörst du wie sie rufen, fragt mich Dragana, wenn du genau hörsch, hörsch du ihre Stimme. […] Unsere Familien rufen uns und was tun wir? (150) (Do you hear how they are calling, Dragana asks me, if you carefully listen, you hear their voices. […] Our families call us and what do we do?) Dragana wants to know whether the narrator also hears the voices and what do they tell her, does she hear them also at night? Dragana hears the voices of her sister, her son and her aunts, and they haunt her. Later, the narrator hears the two voices of Dragana and Glorija quarrelling, and she realizes how disturbing it is to hear two people arguing with each other (219). The two women employees got into a fight in the kitchen of the cafeteria. Dragana is Serbian and Glorija is from Croatia.

The narrator remembers how she heard her grandmother Mamika mumbling when she lay in bed and could not sleep; she heard the soft rattling of rosary beads when Mamika moved them, again and again, and after her prayer she sang with her clear and bright voice (152). The narrator remembers when the family called their Romanian relatives on the phone, and she envisioned her relatives sitting on a sofa taking turns talking with them (156). The narrator has not seen Janka, her half-sister, for nine years, “[…] natürlich höre ich Jankas Stimme, obwohl ich sie nur ein Mal gehört habe, das Ohr hat ein erstaunlich gutes Gedächtnis” (158). ([…] of course I hear Janka’s voice although I have heard her only once, the ear has an incredibly good memory…” (158). The narrator also hears Julia, a mentally handicapped girl, shouting at Mamika’s funeral. One night Mamika told the girls the story of their grandfather, a prosperous farmer who owned his own land. He was interned in a labor camp for opposing fascism and the communist regime in Romania. She makes the two granddaughters sit down and she also shows them a picture of him.

Hört mal zu, so fing Mamika an, euer Großvater wurde getötet und mit ihm viele andere. Ich erzähle euch, was ich darüber weiß, damit ihr in eurem Leben nicht vergesst, dass immer alles passieren kann, das Grausamste, und es gibt Anzeichen dafür, wenn die Menschen sich wieder auslöschen wollen — und die Zeichen stehen im Moment sehr schlecht […] dass es wahrscheinlich Krieg geben werde (250).

Listen, Mamika began, your grandfather was killed and with him many others. I tell you what I know so that you’ll never forget during your lifetime that anything could happen, the most horrible things, and there are signs that mankind will extinguish itself […] there will probably be another war.

Much later it dawned to the narrator that Mamika was the only one who had foreseen another war in Serbia. When finally a visa was obtained for the little girls, Mamika brings them to their parents in Switzerland. Before she herself returns to Romania, she sings a song and the narrator remembers, “[…] ich habe Ihre[10] Stimme in meinem Körper gespürt, und alles in meinem Körper hat sich geweigert, Sie gehen zu lassen […] (276). ([…] I have felt her voice in my body, and everything within me refused to let her go […])

Dalibor, a newly arrived Serbian refugee in Switzerland and eventually the narrator’s boyfriend, told her that his ears are more precious than diamonds (196). Dalibor sings to her and she takes her shoes off when she is with Dalibor and she pushes her toes up his trousers. “Sie wollen ganz nah bei dir sein, meine Füße, und dir zuhören. Vielleicht sollte man wirklich mit den Füßen hören und nicht mit den Ohren […]” (267-8). (They want to be close to you, my feet, and listen to you. Perhaps we should listen with our feet and not with our ears […].) Dalibor responds that people would probably make different decisions if they listened with their feet.

The sense of hearing the voices of ancestors, the voices of relatives living through another war and hearing of atrocities in the safety of Switzerland is thus an integral part of the “Eastern Memory” in Abonji’s award-winning novel.

At the end of the book, the sister of the narrator invites her to go the Sihlfeld cemetery in Zurich on All Saints Day where there is a common grave for the unknown. Here they put flowers in memory of their own dead loved ones, instead of always avoiding this day. Even though it sounds weird to the narrator, the two young women remember their dead ancestors at the side of the grave of others in Switzerland. Her mother once said, “[…]ich weiß schon, dass man mit den Toten nicht sprechen kann, aber sie hören zu, sie hören gern zu, und sie hören schöne Stimmen, überhaupt lieben die Toten das Schöne (291). ([…I know that we cannot speak with the dead, but they listen to us, they love to listen, and they like to hear beautiful voices, actually, the dead love everything beautiful.) The sisters sing a song together at the common grave, they collect colorful fall leaves and lay them with the flowers on the soil to remember their ancestors in Serbia.

Remembering perceptions of childhood in Eastern Europe is central in the novels by Catalin Dorian Florescu. He was born in Romania in 1967 and moved to Switzerland with his parents in 1982. Therefore, his “Eastern Memory” extends over his entire childhood and youth. Florescu is the author of: Wunderzeit (2001) (Time of Miracle), which he describes as “eine Herzensgeschichte” (a story from the heart) describing the author’s own migration story, followed by Der kurze Weg nach Hause (2002) (The Short Way Home), Der blinde Masseur (2006) (The Blind Masseur), Zaira (2008), and Jacob beschließt zu lieben (2011) (Jacob decides to love) for which he was awarded the Swiss Book Prize in 2011. He was also the recipient of the 2002 Adelbert-von-Chamisso Support Prize.

I shall focus on Der blinde Masseur because — in my view and reading — this story most prominently displays an “Eastern Memory” of Romania by expressing a distinct sensory remembrance and a revival of the senses. The narrative follows the Romanian-born protagonist, who fled with his parents to Switzerland when he was nineteen years old, as he returns to the country of his origin after living in Switzerland for twenty years. The point of departure is also closely related to Florescu’s autobiography and stories of his childhood, including the perilous act of fleeing communist Romania at night. Fantasies about his first girlfriend accompany recurring motifs of love and guilt because the family left secretly. Each of the six chapters evolves from memories into a fictional story, in which Romanian and Swiss characters, scenes, and cultures are intertwined.

The language of Florescu’s narratives is rich, with long, well structured, and expansively descriptive sentences, whether they pertain to characters, the plot, or the surroundings. Analogies (often in the subjunctive case), similes, and metaphors triggered by Romanian customs, scenes, and characters are also prevalent. Long, lyrical descriptions (e.g. of a chestnut tree, p. 90) give the text a quality reminiscent of the great classical narratives i.e. by Goethe, Rilke, and Kafka. Romanian peasant stories, their beliefs and superstitions are interwoven into the narrative fabric along with the miseries caused by poverty, alcoholism, prostitution, assault, and war.

Florescu became a writer because he takes personal pleasure in expressing images in the form of language, in telling stories about mankind and the world, and most importantly to him: creating an intelligent art form for self-fulfillment.[11] When he was eighteen years old, he saw a television show on Lord Byron that inspired him to write texts, short stories, poems, and a play about the 1989 revolution. He also wanted to preserve his reflections of the time during the dictatorship in Romania.

Der blinde Masseur includes authentic and fantastic images of the author’s/narrator’s return to Romania, where he meets a blind masseur, who possesses an extensive library of world literature. The first words of the novel describe the smell of garlic as the protagonist named Teodor enters the country. “Dieses Land lag unter einer dichten Geruchsglocke” (6). (This country laid under a jar of dense odors.) Teodor picks up hitchhikers who bring their Romanian odor and stenches of perspiration into his car, and the smells and odors linger throughout the narrative, repeatedly described as coming from various people and places. The smells of Romanian food and feasts, especially within the circle of followers of the blind masseur and among peasants, are meticulously elaborated. It is always a smell of cabbage and potatoes, of bacon and lots of onion and garlic, mixed with the tang of cigarette smoke and a putrid stench of perspiration related to massive alcohol consumption. The blind masseur has the olfactory ability of a dog; he recognizes people by their smells first and then by their voices, which he collects from his clientele whom he coerces into reading passages from world literature recorded on tapes. Beauty — for the blind masseur — is when a book sounds well (121). Just as this character collects the sounds of books, the protagonist used to collect stories from Romanian peasants whom he recorded in his youth. He maintains that finding again the storyteller whom he recorded, and the love of his youth is the main reason to return to Romania.

The good life in Switzerland is described with the smell of bread. “Der erste Morgengeruch war der nach Brot. Ich wurde in der Schweiz Bäckereifahrer […] (128). (The first smell in the morning was the smell of bread. I became a driver for a bakery in Switzerland.) Swiss bread becomes a symbol of freedom and wealth, but also of suffocating affluence and opulence. “Wissen Sie, wie Brot riecht? Ja, das weiß jeder von uns. Aber wie hundert, zweihundert, tausend Brote riechen? Es riecht gut, wenn man es nur hin und wieder riechen muss. Ich aber muss es täglich tun. Ich sitze mitten im Brot, es wird mir übel davon (134).” (Do you know the smell of bread? Yes, everybody does. However, how to hundred, two hundred, thousands of bred smell? It smells good if you smell it occasionally. But I have the smell daily around me. I sit in the middle of bread, I get nauseated by it.) Throughout the novel, perceptions of the revisited and formerly experienced Romania and of Switzerland, where Romanian refugees become citizens, are in stark opposition or they merge into a new amalgamation in the Secondo Space, triggering the urge to write about the convoluting perceptions of mixed and intertwined cultural expressions. “Wer erzählt, hat Macht” (104) (He who tells stories, has power), says the blind masseur. Telling the migration story, the story of remembrance gives power to the migrant author.

When the protagonist Teodor revisits the school of his childhood, his first sensorial experience and recollection is the smell in the building. “Der Flur roch nach dem Chlor der Putzfrauen und die Klos nach Urin, das war schon immer so gewesen” (56). (The hall smelled of chlorine the cleaning women used and the toilets of urine, as it always did.) He visits his old school teacher and when he hesitantly is let in, the first perception is a putrid stench. “Er roch durch alle Poren nach Verwesung, aber am meisten durch den Mund, der Tod höhlte ihn bereits von innen aus” (58). (From every pore, he smelled of decay, mostly from his mouth, death hollowed him already from within.) The dying teacher is like a symbol of the former Romania, as most of the figures in this novel are; the blind masseur and his disciples, or Valeria, the beautiful first love of Teodor who lived through the dictatorship, withered now and with a broken spirit. Eventually, the blind masseur and his followers betray Teodor and travel with his passport and car to Switzerland. Elena, the peasant woman with the most beautiful voice, who does not understand what she was reading for the blind masseur, epitomizes the post iron-curtain Romania. Because of her, beauty and story-telling will prevail, as promised in the last sentence of the book as the narrator tells Elena, “So, nun bin ich bereit. Setz dich ruhig hin und hör gut zu, denn ich werde dir jetzt eine neue Geschichte erzählen” (271). (Now, I am ready. Have a seat and listen carefully, I’ll tell you now a new story.) Memories of people in the former homeland who left an impression on Florescu are often the beginning of a new novel.

The novel Zaira is also based on a real life figure who leads the reader back to Communist Romania. The book is a historically well-researched biography of a marionette artist Zaira that Florescu processed into a fictional novel with a very dark side. His book Jacob’s decides to love, for which he received the Swiss Book Prize in 2011, is a family saga of Swabian immigrants to Triebwetter, Romania, beginning during the Thirty Years’ War and spanning into the 20th century.

We cannot discuss the Eastern Memory in contemporary German Swiss Literature without including poet, writer, and activist Dragica Rajčić. She was born in 1959 in Croatia and came to Switzerland in 1978, but returned ten years later. In 1991 she fled the war with her three children and arrived again in Switzerland. Today, she is a member of the Federal Commission on Migration. She received the “Adelbert-von-Chamisso Förderpreis” in 1995. The other Swiss writers of Eastern European origin to have been awarded this prize are Aglaja Veteranyi in 2000, Catalin Dorian Florescu in 2002, Ilma Rakusa in 2003, and Zsuzanna Gahse in 2006. Rajčić is known for her idiosyncratic, grammatically incorrect, but very poetic language.

Her poem “die linke Zunge” (the left tongue) embodies the Eastern Memory of her native language, transferred into deliberately faulty and caustic German, to convey what happened to the people in former Yugoslavia. The Eastern European wars following the dissolving of Communist Yugoslavia in the 1990s are combined with the smaller, but not less painful, “wars” of integration. Every memory of pain, hatred, and flight is relived in a body that has to come to terms with identity-loss and foreignness in Swiss society through a sensorial outburst of language. The reader of her poems and stories and the audience of her theater plays are doubly challenged because of the foreignness of her ungrammatical language and the pain uttered by the characters. Thus she/he can precisely feel and sense foreignness within the social and political Swiss realities that the migrants experience.

In conclusion, why do Swiss authors with Eastern European migration background write such compelling, award-winning stories, like no other group in German-speaking Switzerland? First, their writing is spawned by the manifold sensory perceptions within the Secondo-Space where the parental heritage, language, and culture collides with the social forces of Swiss education, the workplace, and friends. Through synesthetic writing, Secondas and Secondos try to find their own identity, and by telling the stories of their ancestors, they control the narrative, and it becomes a healing power. Would these authors — had they or their families immigrated to another country, such as the U.S., Canada or another German-speaking country — write in a similar fashion? Is it not also the Swiss environment and society as well as the diglossic situation in Switzerland that shaped the perception and the memories of these writers? Coming back to the epigram by Henri Bergson: “There is no perception which is not full of memories?” we can see how the stark realities of Rumanian, Hungarian, Serbian, Czech, and Slovakian wars and life in communist dictatorships clash with experiences in multicultural, democratic, and capitalistic Switzerland. But how is “the alphabet of emotions” (see the above quote by Ilma Rakusa) transformed into award winning stories and novels? I contend that the tradition of story-telling by the peoples from Eastern Europe has a — perhaps even genetic — influence on processing emotions and memories into words as the above-discussed authors demonstrate. Furthermore, a close reading also reveals a certain, engaging “Eastern European Melancholy” that prevails in the works by Herta Müller, Elfriede Jelinek, Elie Wiesel, etc. where literary aesthetics and painful memories are conjured. But this trajectory requires an entirely different theoretical, critical and socio-historical approach.


Works Cited

Abonji, Melinda Nadj: Tauben fliegen auf. Salzburg 2010.

Biendarra, Anke S.: Germans Going Global. Contemporary Literature and Cultural Globalization. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012.

—. “B. AS IN BALKAN: TERÉZIA MORA’S POST-YUGOSLAV BERLIN REPUBLIC.” German Life and Letters. Vol. 67.2:242-259.

Brežná, Irena: Die undankbare Fremde. Köln 2012.

Canetti, Elias: Die gerettete Zunge. Geschichte einer Jugend, 1977 (Autobiografie, Teil 1), Frankfurt am Main 1979.

—. Die Fackel im Ohr. Lebensgeschichte 1921—1931, Frankfurt am Main 1980. (Autobiografie, Teil 2), Frankfurt am Main 1982.

—. Das Augenspiel. Lebensgeschichte 1931—1937, 1985 (= Autobiografie, Teil 3). Frankfurt am Main 1988.

Cocalis, Susan L.: „Erica Pedretti’s Engste Heimat.“ In: World Literature Today. University of Oklahoma, Vol. 69, No. 4, 1995, S. 782.

Florescu, Catalin Florian: Jacob beschließt zu lieben. München 2011.

—. Wunderzeit. Zürich, München 2001.

—. Der kurze Weg nach Hause. Zürich, München 2002.

—. Der blinde Masseur. Zürich, München 2006.

—. Zaira. München 2008.

Haines, Brigid: “The Eastern Turn in Contemporary German, Swiss and Austrian Literature”. Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, 16: 2 (2008): 135-149. Web: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09651560802316899.

Howes, David: Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press 2003.

—. Howes, David, Ed.: Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culural Reader. New York: Berg Publisher 2005.

Khattab, Aleya (Ed.): Nationale und transnationale Identitäten in der Literatur. Frankfurt a.M., Berlin, New York, Oxford: Peter Lang 2012.

Müller, Herta: “Wie kommt man durchs Schlüsselloch. Die genaue Liebe, die Zugehörigkeit und der Diwan im Zimmer des Grossvaters.” Neue Zürcher Zeitung 27./28. Sept. 2003: 65.

—. Der König verneigt sich und tötet. Essays. München 2003.

Pedretti, Erica: Heiliger Sebastian. Frankfurt am Main 1973.

—. Engste Heimat. Frankfurt am Main 1995.

—. Fremd genug. Frankfurt am Main 2010.

—. “Schreiben & Überschreiben.” In: Gisi, Lucas Marco and Hubert Thüring und Irmgard M. Wirtz (Hg.) Schreiben und Streichen. Zu einem Moment produktiver Negativität. Göttingen 2011, S. 347-351.

Rakusa, Ilma: Meer Mehr. Graz, Wien 2009.

Sievers, Wiebke. “Von Elias Canetti bis Dimitré Dinev oder: Was ist Migrationsliteratur.” Österreich in Geschichte und Literatur 53.3 (2009), S.303-312.

Trousdale, Rachel: Nabokov, Rushdie, and the Transnational Imagination: Novels of Exile and Alternate Worlds. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

Zinggeler, Margrit. How Second Generation Immigrants Writers have transformed Swiss and German Language Literature. A Study of Sensorial Narratives by Authors Writing from the Swiss ‚Secondo-Space’. Leviston, NY 2011.


[1] Anke Biendarra and Anca Luca Holden have presented on “the Eastern Turn” in German Literature at recent professional conferences in the U.S.

[2] The keyword “Eastern Turn” in literature produces no results neither in the Library of Congress, nor JSTOR nor the German National Library.

[3] All translations in this article are by the author.

[4] Wiebke Sievers (2009, 305). “Canetti wechselte also innerhalb der ersten 35 Jahre seines Lebens fünf Mal sein Heimatland. Der Prozess der Migration an sich scheint jedoch so wenig interessant, dass dieser in seiner Autobiographie kaum Erwähnung findet. (Canetti moved during his first 35 years to five different countries. However, migration seems not to be an interesting topic since it was hardly mentioned in his autobiography.)

[5] Federal Office for Migration https://www.bfm.admin.ch/content/bfm/en/home.html

[6] The second generation immigrants are called “Secondas” and “Secondos” in Switzerland. The term originates from the 1960s’ and 1970s’ when a large number of Italian and Spanish guest-workers came to Switzerland during the economic boom. First, the term had negative connotations, but since Iraqi-Swiss filmmaker Samir portrayed Secondos positively in his film Babylon II (1993), the second generation identify itself with this term.

[7] The Adelbert-von-Chamisso-Preis by the Robert Bosch Foundation is awarded annually to German-writing authors of another mother tongue since 1985. It was initiated by Harald Weinrich, who lifted “Gastarbeiter- und Migrantenliteratur” into scholarly criticism and merit in the 80s. The first recipient was Aras Ören.

[8] Edmond Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan first introduced the notion of ‘acoustic space’ in the journal Exploration (1953-9).

[9] Marshall McLuhan, “Inside the Five Senses Sensorium.” Howes 2005:49.

[10] The narrator always uses the German polite form with capitalization when addressing or writing about her grandmother which signifies respect and reverence.

[11] Unpublished interview with Florescu by the author, July, 2010.

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