Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Q&A with author Ursula Fricker

Ursula Fricker, photo by Ekko von Schwichow
Ursula Fricker's most recent novel is Ausser sich (Desperate), which was shortlisted for the Swiss Book Prize 2012. Her other books include Das letzte Bild and Fliehende Wasser. She was born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and is based in Berlin.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your novel Desperate?

A: For many years, to support my writing, I have been working as a night watch in a home for mentally disabled adults. There, I've met people like Sebastian, who is the main character in Desperate.

Human beings who suffer after a heavy stroke or an accident on the loss of their awareness - the cognitive abilities tends to zero, their talents are lost. I've always asked myself, what in their lives is probably still worth living for - or not?

Do they feel happiness, sadness, whatever, or are they stuck in endless fear or nothing at all? It is a question of dignity in medicine - whether to save lives which convict human beings to prisoners in this unknown space between life and death.

Q: The novel raises important questions about life-and-death issues. Did you want your readers to come away with any particular message from the book?

A: No. Or let`s say this way: I was, and I still am interested in that life-and-death issue. When I am thinking about, researching, and later when I am writing a story, I always learn a lot about life. I learn a lot about myself.

So I think, hopefully, my readers may just follow me on that process, reading the book, which finally is the essence of all this questioning and thinking and also maybe one and the other perception. 

Q: Of the characters you've created, do you have any particular favorites?

A: Oh, I quite like Katja, Sebastian's  wife, she is so brave, and so lonely somehow. And I very much like Erwin, Katja's boss, who has a small, but important part to play - he gives Katja courage to face life back. In a very subtle way.

And of course Thomas, a friend of Katja and Sebastian from early days at university. He restored a small boat, called Avenir, in the South of France, and he is an adventurer. He disappeared, sailed away one day without farewell … and Katja always remembers him as someone who would have made his dreams come true. You see, there are many characters in the book I love very much. 

Q: Do you usually know when you begin a novel how it will end, or do your characters sometimes surprise you?

A: For this particular book I knew exactly how it would end. But still, the characters surprised me. They took paths I never imagined.

That`s the thing I like most about writing - you take one tiny memory perhaps, or something you`ve read in the newspaper, and the character grows, changes, gets alive. I am just something like the conductor, at the end they play together this song - each in his own way.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: It`s a novel again. But I can`t whistleblow now, sorry...

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Desperate is, of course, hard stuff. But, I promise, it`s not downbeat to read - "it shines so light from in between the lines and sentences, that`s because Desperate is in essence a love story," wrote a critic in a review. Just try it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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