An Interview with Katharina Hagena
In The Taste of Apple Seeds, Iris returns to spend one last summer in the house her grandmother has bequeathed her in their will; a house full of momories and treasures, and slowly revealed horrors. The book has a marvellous sense of place, and does indeed exist, Hagena writes:
It was my grandparent's house. My brother and I used to spend our summers there. I wanted to mould my memory of that house into something more lasting. But in order to do that I had to turn it into fiction. I had to add a glass house and take away rooms, to submit the topography of the place to my story. The smells and the textures, however, are how I believe I remember them though I might be wrong. Memory is unreliable, unstable and amorphous. In many ways fiction is more real. And certainly more true.
How important is memory in your writing?
It is what I write about and at the same time it is my means of writing. I do believe that memories seem to become more and more arbitrary with time, they seem to lead their own strange lives, more and more independent of reality.
I also think that the actual making of fiction is very similar to the process of remembering. While I write, while I invent a story, it literally and physically feels as if I remembered that story - with the only, negligible, difference that it has, of course, never happened.
So with actual memories becoming more and more like fiction and fiction becoming more and more like a real memory my writing is a process that is placed right between these two dynamics. Or at least this is where I would want my writing to be. In reality, however, it's never where it should be, just like my purse.
Where did you write The Taste of Apple Seeds?
I wrote it in my study which is a small, rather messy room (though not to me!) and the light comes in from all directions. Other people are only permitted to enter it if the circumstances are very urgent, for example if they urgently need to hoover it.
You spent some time in Ireland – are you influenced by Irish writers?I think I might be influenced by Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Irish, Anglo-Indian or other authors who write in English. Since becoming a full time writer I haven't read many contemporary German novels. Their languages seems to get into the way of my own language, to interfere with the images I have in my head. This is not the case when I read English, or, at least not to the same extent. (When I am in the middle of a writing phase, however, I wouldn't even read English.) I do still read the occasional dead German though.
What I admire about English novels (and by "English" I am referring to the language) is that they can combine literary quality with a good plot, a juicy story, wit, something that grips you beyond your poetic pleasure but is still connected to that pleasure. Here, it mostly seems to be either the one or the other. Either it is too leaden or to light.
Of course, having just outed myself as no longer reading German contemporary fiction I don't make a very credible judge, do I?
Are you working on a new novel?
My new novel, "On Sleeping and Disappearing" has come out this autumn. And, well, it is about just that: sleeping and disappearing. But it is also about love and death and losses and quests and about singing (in fact, it is about singing English renaissance music as all the characters are members of a small Dowland ensemble), and about the reading of traces and signs in the things and people surrounding us.
The Taste of Apple Seeds was a phenomenal success in Germany and in France. Was the reception similar in both countries?
Though interpretation lies with the individual reader, the reception to the book did vary. In Germany, I was asked mostly about my autobiography, memories, and magic realism. In France I was asked about the Nazi grandfather, the construction of the book, textual layers and Heidegger.
Everywhere, however, I have been asked about that house and that garden. It seems that the most individual experiences become the most universal ones - when turned into literary fiction.
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Katharina Hagena, born 1967, studied English and German Literature in Marburg, London and Freiburg, before lecturing at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Hamburg. Her first book What are the wild waves saying? Waterways Through Joyce's Ulysses, was published in 2006. The Taste of Apple Seeds is her first novel. She currently lives in Hamburg.
'It is heartening that such a subtle, slowburning saga has become a bestseller across Europe since first publication in 2008, and not surprising that it has been made into a film so sensual and visual is the novel' says Bookoxgen here about The Taste of Apple Seeds.