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Novel based on Jew ‘catcher’ Stella Kübler stirs controversy

It tells the fictionalized true story of a woman who gave up her fellow Jews to the Nazis. Critics have condemned the novel Stella by Takis Würger, published this week in Germany, as "Holocaust kitsch." "We have a new literature debate," wrote Hannah Lühmann of the Die Welt newspaper when reflecting on the bombshell publication of Stella, a novel by journalist, author and war correspondent Takis Würger. Published by the prestigious Hanser Verlag on January 11, Stella fictionalizes the true story of Jewess Stella Kübler (née Goldschlag), who as a so-called "catcher" betrayed other Jews gone underground to the Gestapo. 'Nazi story for dummies?' Würger's second novel was inspired by the award-winning journalist's fascination for the subject. But while it's too early to judge the success of this study of a character who is already a book subject — for example, Peter Wyden's Stella: One Woman's True Tale of Evil, Betrayal, and Survival in Hitler's Germany — the vehement response to the novel by German critics has been striking. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reviewer wrote on January 11 that Stella is "an outrage, an insult and a real offense." Moreover, the work was described as "the symbol of an industry that seems to have lost any ethical or aesthetic scale if it wants to sell such a book as a valuable contribution to the memory of the Shoah." The critic further accused the author of having written the novel "without any awareness of the problem of literature, literacy and history." A reviewer for Die Zeit was equally scathing. "An abomination in children's book style: Takis Würger writes in Stella about a Jewish woman who becomes an accomplice in the Nazi era. It's a novel full of narrative clichés." Public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk described it as "Holocaust kitsch" and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asked: "Why this Nazi story for dummies?" Publishers weigh in Florian Kessler, cultural journalist and editor at Hanser Verlag, deflected the criticism on social media. In a detailed Facebook post, he responded, among other things, to the allegation by the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the novel would instrumentalize the Holocaust. "One can only answer: this discussion … rightly pervades the literature since '45," he wrote of a debate that has raged around so-called Holocaust literature in the postwar period. Kessler noted that Bernhard Schlink's novel The Reader, which became a hit Hollywood film, was also accused in the 1990s of mixing clichés and Holocaust instrumentalization. Shortly thereafter, he read the book at school in class.\ "We also talked about such allegations against it, and through the book's ambivalences and problems, we had very important and formative discussions about the Nazi period in my entire school years," he wrote. Read more: Holocaust satirist Elgar Hilsenrath dies at 92 Let the public decide Hannah Lühman of Die Welt was also surprised by the ferocity of the critical slating. But while she defended the novel as a whole, she added that many questions of course remain regarding, for example, "the choice of historical material; this extreme story of a Jewish woman who has betrayed hundreds of Jews to the Gestapo; what fantasies it may satisfy among non-Jewish Germans reading it." But she refused, according to Lühmann in his Facebook post, "to join in this scandal." It remains to be seen how the reading public will respond to Stella. Interest has been high in Germany, with the book launch and author reading in Hamburg on Monday sold out weeks in advance. And the novel has already garnered international attention: So far, nine foreign licenses have been sold, with the book set to be published in English, French, Spanish and Chinese, among others.

It tells the fictionalized true story of a woman who gave up her fellow Jews to the Nazis. Critics have condemned the novel Stella by Takis Würger, published this week in Germany, as “Holocaust kitsch.” “We have a new literature debate,” wrote Hannah Lühmann of the Die Welt newspaper when reflecting on the bombshell publication of Stella, a novel by ... Read More »

Why star children’s author Cornelia Funke distrusts words

She launched to fame with "Dagon Rider" 19 years ago and just released the sequel. Star kids' author Cornelia Funke tells DW why words can be challenging and why she's buying up a huge plot of land. Cornelia Funke cheerfully answers the phone at 9:30 a.m. California time. She had already been to the ocean, written a bit, made a few calls, and drunk her coffee. Every workday begins with a good cup of coffee, she says. Funke laughs sincerely and frequently, then speaks thoughtfully about her life, her work with words and pictures, and her relationship to fantasy and reality. Her children's fantasy novels, which she illustrated herself, have sold 20 million copies and been translated into 37 languages. DW: Ms. Funke, you have said that the world is full of stories. Which do you find particularly worthy of telling? Cornelia Funke: I am always interested in stories about people. Although I increasingly think that our species is a problematic one on this planet, I am still fascinated by it. I'm also fascinated by stories that stem from a particular place. That started with "The Thief Lord," which wouldn't have come into being if it weren't for Venice. In the stories I choose to tell, places always play the role of a hero. I have also always been interested in the non-human and our relationship to that - whether plants or animals or imaginary creatures. I'm interested in everything that scratches at and questions the so-called reality that we perceive. What scratches at your reality? When I'm standing on the street in Hamburg and there is one of those stepping stones under my feet, which is there to remind me of the Jews that were deported from the house I'm standing in front of, then that hugely scratches at the reality I find myself in at that moment. I might just have come back from a peaceful walk across the "Isemarkt" market square, for example. It scratches at my reality when a bird flies by me and I imagine how it views reality. It scratches at my reality when someone passes me by who has a different color of skin. How does that change the experience with world? We all know it does. It constantly scratches at my reality that we can perceive this world so differently. I find it absurd I'm asked so often why I write fantasy, because I think that reality is fantastic. And the only way to get closer to it is to write fantasy. Is that how you create your fantasy worlds? The world is fantastic. I don't have to create anything. Everyone who tries to get closer to the reality of this world will realize that it is, in its essence, fantastic. You just need to stand in a big city and look around. You'll notice that all of it has been created by humans. And humans really like to believe in the illusion that they have control over everything. That we decide how our lives work and how this world works. That we are the ones who can destroy this planet. But it's the other way around: This planet will destroy us. In this regard, humans are surprisingly immature and think their own reality to be so important. But this way of seeing the world is in the end always challenged, by illness, loss, love, death…our own mortality. You are also a skilled illustrator. Does thinking in images help you to write? What came first - the chicken or the egg? Am I an illustrator because I think visually? Or has my visual thinking grown stronger because I've always liked to draw? I would say that the visual thinking comes first. If you can draw well - which I thankfully have always been able to - it's sometimes easier to first capture an idea in images. So yes, my writing is deeply impacted by the fact that I am a visual person and distrust words. You distrust words? Can you give us an example? We constantly use words to try to get closer to what has no words. Music is in that superior to words, because it can easily express the wordless things - words always have something abstract about them that is controlled by our minds. Poetry gets often closer to what music can do. But when you write prose like I do, then the aim is to weave that which has no words in between the words. You can do that for example through the sound of language. The sound still contains more than the word itself. Are you being self-critical? hmmmm, I wouldn't call it self-criticism. Instead I would call it criticism of the material I work with. I see myself as a craftsperson, as a sculptor of words. The word - my raw material - has its limitations, which I constantly struggle with. And sometimes I am more successful and sometimes I'm less successful. It's as if I were painting a picture - sometimes it looks better and sometimes it looks worse, depending on how I use the brush and the paint. In the sequel to "Dragon Rider," The Griffon's Feather," the main protagonist Ben embarks on a dangerous mission. He wants to rescue the Pegasus from extinction. Do you want to convey a message to your young readers with this story? I'm always very careful with messages, but with this book I have actually gone the furthest in this direction. I believe that the alienation of our children from the natural world is far more dangerous than getting upset about children not reading anymore. Children spend too much time at school. Time to experience the world directly is taken away from them. The world is conveyed to them through adults' filters and what we consider to be important knowledge. Children no longer have time to play outside. They're not left unsupervised anymore. I'm currently in the process of buying 10 hectares (nearly 35 acres) of land in the Santa Monica Mountains to create a wilderness sanctuary – I’ll call it the Rim of Heaven - and I intend to offer workshops up there and bring city children into nature. I'm very concerned that children will be afraid of the natural world one day and will loose their feeling for this world. Then "The Griffin's Feather" is an encouraging book? Yes! I would be very happy if children do something after reading it - if they rescue frogs or want to see an orangutan in its natural habitat. You've said that children should take their dreams very, very seriously and shouldn't believe anyone who tells them that they can't reach them. What is it that you dream of, Ms. Funke? At the moment, I'm dreaming of this piece of land. And of the tree houses and teepees that will be on it, and that I'll have city children there that lose their fear of picking up a lizard. That's my big dream at the moment.

She launched to fame with “Dagon Rider” 19 years ago and just released the sequel. Star kids’ author Cornelia Funke tells DW why words can be challenging and why she’s buying up a huge plot of land. Cornelia Funke cheerfully answers the phone at 9:30 a.m. California time. She had already been to the ocean, written a bit, made a ... Read More »

Amos Oz wins major German literature award

Renowned Israeli author Amos Oz is the winner of Germany's International Literature Prize. His novel "Judas," a socially relevant tale of treachery and mystery, has struck a nerve in Germany. "How secure can Jewish people feel on this planet?" asked Amos Oz, one of Israel's most significant writers, in an August 2014 interview with DW. "I think not about the last 20 or 50 years, but about the last 2,000 years," he continued. His statement almost sounds like a comment on his novel, "Judas," published at the time in Hebrew. Like all of his novels and stories - certainly since "A Tale of Love and Darkness" in 2002 - his latest work also focuses on the fundamental questions of Israel's existence: the founding of the state in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the wars it's been through, and conflicts with the Palestinians. The 76-year-old author masters the art of tackling huge topics with a minimum of means. He has created "Judas" as an intimate play between five characters, three living and two dead. In the late 1950s, three generations live together in a house on the outskirts of the historic center of Jerusalem. Shmuel Ash sees himself forced to find work. His father's company is ruined; his livelihood has vanished together with his girlfriend. The failed theology student takes on a job talking with and reading to a highly educated disabled man named Gershom Wald. Ash is compensated with accommodations, plus a bit of pocket money. From then on, he shares a quiet house with Wald and his widowed daughter-in-law, Athaliah. He's forbidden from talking about his work and living situation, but not told why. "Jesus in the eyes of the Jews" was the topic of Ash's originally planned master thesis, which gave him plenty to talk about with his elderly employer. The complicated relationship between the residents of the house comes out only very gradually. The mysterious, childless daughter-in-law, who could well be his mother, was the wife of Gershom Wald's son, Micha. He is one of the two dead whose presence can be felt. The other one is Athaliah's famous father, Shealtiel Abrabanel, a fictional opponent of Israel's first Prime Minsiter Ben Gurion. Amos Oz describes Abrabanel with all his psychological contradictions. While fighting for a peaceful coexistence with the Palestinians, which made him an outsider in the eyes of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, he did not have any love left for his daughter. He was branded a traitor - a Judas, the figure which has become a target of the deepest anti-Semitic feelings. A novel that spans millennia "Judas" is a philosophical novel based on theological literature that focuses on the question of treason. Why should Judas have betrayed Jesus for a mere 30 silver coins'? Wasn't it Judas who worshiped his master more than all the other disciples and only wanted to see proof of Jesus' power and his ability to save himself from the cross? The answer to that question, which is repeated over and over again in the novel, is not only theological, but of global political significance. The depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus from the perspective of Judas is one of the most impressive parts of the book. Equally impressive is how Amos Oz manages to evoke the atmosphere of Jerusalem in the winter of 1959/60. In the dense, gray air it is clear that the love story ensuing between the daughter-in-law and the curly-haired student Ash has been doomed right from the outset. Although time itself seems to have come to a halt, the historical turbulences not only of recent decades but of the past 2,000 years are reflected in the conversations, losses and hopes of the three roommates. Author Amos Oz and Mirjam Pressler, who translated "Judas" into German, will be presented with their award on July 8 in Berlin. The International Literature Prize, in its seventh year, is presented by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures) and the Elementarteilchen Foundation in Hamburg.

Renowned Israeli author Amos Oz is the winner of Germany’s International Literature Prize. His novel “Judas,” a socially relevant tale of treachery and mystery, has struck a nerve in Germany. “How secure can Jewish people feel on this planet?” asked Amos Oz, one of Israel’s most significant writers, in an August 2014 interview with DW. “I think not about the ... Read More »

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