Kathrin Schmidt: Not my own life

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-5-27 16:56:17

By Liu Chang

In 2009, Du stirbst nicht (German for You are not going to die) beat other five short-listed books including Atemschaukel by the Nobel prize-winner Herta Müller to win the Deutscher Buchpreis, or the German Book Prize.

Since the moment the book won the prize, the life of its author, Kathrin Schmidt, has become the focus of much public attention.

The heroine of Du stirbst nicht, Helene Wesendahl, bears many similarities with Schmidt herself: they are both mothers and wives who lost their memory and ability to speak due to a serious stroke.

And both Wesendahl and Schmidt tried hard to regain their memory, language, and control over their bodies, and both recovered due to the care of their husbands.

Schmidt was not very surprised to find these similarities are in the spotlight, even in China, where she recently gave a reading session of Du stirbst nicht at the One-way Street Bookstore in Beijing.

She said that writing the book made her look back and analyze herself, and the parts in the book relating to her stroke and the physical suffering are definitely from her own experience.

“It was certainly terrible to lose your language, especially for me who works with language. Even when I am now recovered, I sometimes mix words up. I sometimes call a book a newspaper, and a table a chair,” said Schmidt. “I hope this book will encourage people who have suffered from loss of language and let them know that language ability can definitely be recovered.”

But Schmidt also stressed that sickness is only part of the book’s subject matter.

Helene Wesendahl loses her memory because of the stroke; but after she recovers due to her husband’s devoted care, she remembers that she had actually wanted to divorce him because of his infidelities.

“The relationships in the book are very complicated,” said Schmidt in an effort to shift the focus of the book more on its human interactions. 

“I am very interested in the development of human interactions, and interactions between people and society. I care about how the big family developed into the small family, how family with many children developed with family with one or two children,” said Schmidt. “I also noticed that many mothers nowadays are not socially educated. It is something I worry about but can’t change.”

Schmidt has always enjoyed what could be called a traditional family life. She has five children, and a husband who has always supported her career unconditionally - and who is also a good cook.

The couple moved from Germany to Norway so that they could afford to send their children to a better kindergarten.

“I felt lucky to have my husband supporting me at all times. He took care of the family and me when I was writing and when I was sick. I have never had to worry about a thing in my family,” said Schmidt, making it clear that the husband in the book bears no similarities to her own husband.

Wesendahl is caregiver to her mother and her own twins, but she is neither a good mother nor a good daughter in the traditional sense.

When asked why she created such a character, Schmidt replied, “The goal of literature is not to set role models. It might be the goal of newspapers or other media, but not literature.”

“I want to say that, at some point, a woman has to have her own life and space. I wish that all  women could have their own space even if they have children and a husband,” she added.

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