Jenny Erpenbeck: ‘The greatest discoveries can be made just around the corner’

Brought to Book Q&A: Author of The End of Days on the books and authors that have inspired her

 

Jenny Erpenbeck was born in East Berlin in 1967. She is the author of several works of fiction, including The Book of Words (2007) and Visitation (2010), both published in English translation at Granta/Portobello. Her new book The End if Days won the Hans Fallada Prize, and has been shortlisted for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the winner of which will be announced tomorrow. She lives with her family in Berlin.

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince.

What was your favourite book as a child?

The fairy tale collection of the Grimm brothers.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

Friedrich Hölderlin’s Poems; Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

What is your favourite quotation?

“If nobody comes then nobody comes.” - Kafka.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Odysseus.

Which do you prefer - ebooks or the traditional print version?

Since I was a bookbinder in my first life, very clearly: the print version.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

An illustrated history of the Russian revolution of 1927.

Where and how do you write?

In my study at home, often also at the kitchen table.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.

What is the most research you have done for a book?

For the Story of The Old Child I went to school a second time: at the age of 27 - pretending to be 17.

What book influenced you the most?

Adalbert Stifter’s Indian Summer.

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?

Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?

The 6th and 7th volume of Proust’s In Search Of Lost Time.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

There’s always something that can be cut.

What weight do you give reviews?

Even if they’re good they don’t make it any easier to work on your next book.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

I don’t think about writing trends.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

That there are many ways to look at the world.

What has being a writer taught you?

The greatest discoveries can be made just around the corner, or even closer.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Anais Nin.

What is the funniest book you’ve read?

The Weather Fifteen Years Ago by Wolf Haas.

What sentence or passage or book are you proudest of?

As I think of writing in terms of process and not of result, I cannot answer this question.

What is the most moving book or passage you have read?

Heiner Müller’s The Father.

If you have a child, what book did you most enjoy reading to them?

‘Aladin and the Enchanted Lamp’ out of the Arabian Nights.

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