Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ida Hattemer-Higgins

From a Q & A with Ida Hattemer-Higgins about her debut novel, The History of History:

In many ways, The History of History defies description. How would you characterize its genre? What do you tell people looking for a quick recap?

I’ve always have a hard time figuring out what to tell people when they ask about The History of History on airplanes and at parties. When I was searching for an agent, I didn’t know how to present it, and I fell on my face a few times. Nowadays I’d like to call it an expressionist saga. Reality is physically distorted, but the arc of the plot is structured to be suspenseful, dramatic, and taut. It tells the story of a young American woman in contemporary Berlin who wakes up in a forest without her memory. She returns to the city only to become increasingly bewitched by the Nazi past. The buildings of the city turn to flesh; she’s visited by the ghost of Nazi Magda Goebbels, who killed her six children as military defeat neared. Ultimately this young woman becomes convinced that she herself is guilty of a crime, though she’s unsure what crime it could be. She knows she’s been in love, though she’s unsure with whom--and these suspicions balloon into a true hell. Above all, The History of History is about insoluble guilt, memory, and the wonderful, terrible return of things that are buried.

Part of the book's richness is the language, which draws from both German and English. How does being multilingual affect your writing?

There are shreds of German in The History of History, but not on the assumption that the reader knows German. The German language is essential to the fierce, Teutonic, high-spirited mood of Berlin. This mood travels in the language even if it can’t be literally deciphered, and it looms over any visitor to the city. That said, in the novel it’s only used at points when the protagonist feels foreign and estranged, when the reader should be dragged through these feelings with her.

I left the U.S. for good in 2001, and...[read on]
Visit Ida Hattemer-Higgins' website.

--Marshal Zeringue