For a while, I’ve been working on a translation of Maxim Biller’s sulfurous 2000 essay "Cowardly the Land; Feckless the Literature" (G). It’s a sparkling cavalcade of well-focussed hatred directed at deserving victims.
One of his stories, "The Mahogany Elephant," has just been translated into English and published in the New Yorker. Turns out some of his stories have been published in the New Yorker in English. Here’s an excerpt from an online-only interview with him:
Are there American writers you have drawn inspiration from? Jewish-American ones?
When I was twenty, I discovered the books of Malamud, Heller, Bellow, Roth. They taught me to be free to write about my own—the Jewish—people, just as Chekhov, Camus, and Fitzgerald wrote about their people. My biggest hero was always Mordecai Richler. I loved him, because he was comic, tragic, and never pseudo-intellectual. He understood that literature is about telling a story, not showing off your vocabulary. I met him once. We went on tour through Germany—he was reading in English, I was explaining in German who he was, and at night we had a whiskey and smiled at each other and didn’t talk much. I’m sad that he is no longer alive and can’t write more of his wonderful novels.
Are there themes in your writing that seem to you to be typically German, and that American readers might be unfamiliar with?
I hope not. I think that literature—if you succeed at it—is universal. It is always this thing with love and war and parents who lied to you, and, of course, there must be some suspense and a lot of invisible poetry, and then it doesn’t matter whether the characters sigh in German or in Hindi.