Jew, born in Leipzig in 1926, Edgar Hilsenrath has survived several years in a ghetto Romanian during the Second world War. Its the most famous novels, Fuck America and The Nazi and the Barber , which are best-sellers all over the world, caused a scandal in Germany, where there has been little appreciated, its so grotesque and burlesque to approach the Holocaust.
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The next 14th of February, the editions of the Tripod will publish his final novel, Terminus Berlin , written in 2006. The story of his double, Lesche, writer traumatized by his experience in the ghetto, who decides, after years spent in New York, returning to Germany. Where waiting for the ghosts of the past and the monsters of the present. We had met Edgar Hilsenrath in Berlin in February 2012. Already weakened, he had agreed to answer our questions.
LE FIGARO. – Where does the humor in your books?
Edgar HILSENRATH.- I am much rubbed in jewish humour as it is practiced in the shtetls of romania and which is nothing other than a way of mocking ironic way of his kind. I feel close to someone like Sholem Aleikhem.
In this case, why yiddish is missing from your stories?
I have a sense of humor yiddish, but I can’t convert it into words.
“Write things grotesque, it is my way of laughing at death”
In Fuck America , your double, Jakob Bronsky, said that the writers germans lack a sense of humor. You share and advice?
Yes, we can say that. Also, I consider myself rather as a jewish writer of German language.
With The Nazi and the Barber , you have been the first – long before Jonathan Littell – to choose from for hero a nazi. You knew you were going to offend, no?
I was the first to take the risk, well before Benevolent , which are in my eyes as a journalistic report, but I didn’t know that. At the time, I thought I would absolutely not on the reactions of readers. I didn’t think he write stories on an offbeat, slapstick, could be a problem. The novel is released first in the United States, in 1971, he became a best-seller, and then six years later in Germany, where it caused a scandal. I’ve still been defended by Heinrich Böll, who has admitted that this reading had left him “on the threshold of disgust” (laugh).
because of the subject matter?
because of the language and the sexuality expressed in an explicit way.
In the ghetto Romanian where you have lived for four years, was it possible to know something other than horror?
I also had a few laughs. But this time we didn’t laugh really, or you regretted it!
Your dialogues are often hilarious. That mask?
Write things grotesque, it is my way of laughing at death. I want it to remain you in the throat!
“Night” by Edgar Hilsenrath, translated from the German by Jörg Stickan and Sacha Zilberfarb, Attila, 560 p., 25 €.
A story of love and darkness