Literature & Non-fiction
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Portrait of Ulla Lenze
© Julien Menand
Between two worlds
In her profound novel “Der Empfänger” (The Receiver), which takes us back to the time of the Second World War, Ulla Lenze tells the life story of her great uncle. The author, who likes to move between cultures, is currently writer-in-residence in Bonn, Germany.
Ulla Lenze is on the road a lot. Travelling and writing go hand in hand for the writer, who was born in Mönchengladbach, Germany, in 1973. Already as a 16-year-old student, she lived abroad for half a year with an Indian family, she was a writer in Damascus and a writer-in-residence in Mumbai for nine months. She knows Istanbul and Basra. Her novels profit from these experiences. Her debut "Schwester und Bruder" (Sister and Brother), published in 2003, already tells of the upsetting effect that an encounter with a completely different reality can have.
For the first time, her latest novel “Der Empfänger” now also takes readers into another time. Ulla Lenze follows a German emigrant to New York, where he is hired by the Nazi secret service during World War II. This time, she did not find her unfathomable, conflict-laden material on lengthy journeys. It literally fell into her hands in her Rhineland parents' house: an extensive correspondence between her grandfather Carl, a soap dealer from Neuss, and his brother Josef, who had emigrated to the USA.
"While reading the letters, I noticed a discrepancy between the image that emerged, namely of a cosmopolitan, even ideology-free person, and the knowledge that he was a convicted Nazi agent. Thinking about how all of this fits together, I developed the literary figure of Josef Klein," says the author. Klein spends eight years, from 1941 to 1949, in prison and an internment camp. Then he is deported to Germany by the Americans. But he feels strange in his old homeland.
Ulla Lenze: Der Empfänger
(English: The Receiver)
Klett-Cotta, 302 pages, 22.00 €
It is a sensation familiar to the author: "I keep moving between cultures and worlds, so I can easily imagine what it’s like for someone who doesn't know where he belongs," she says. Ulla Lenze is currently writer-in-residence in Bonn, Germany. This comes with the requirement to live in an apartment in the suburb of Bad Godesberg. After that, she will probably soon be travelling again – to far-off parts of the world.
Text: Holger Heimann
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