In 1994, Irene Dische began one of her essays with a provocative statement: “Writers who are both literary and journalistic are often asked the question: are you actually a journalist or a writer?
But very few who ask this are willing to define the difference.
I think a real journalist has a duty to stick to the facts, to understand and assimilate them, and that is why journalism is for the smart and literature for the lazy.” So wrote the writer Dische, die, with gentle irony was far better known in Germany for her literary work at the time.
But she started out as a journalist for magazines in her native America, namely the New Yorker.
Although she had lived in Berlin since 1977.
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The “New Yorker” was also responsible for this, as it employed a European correspondent who, however, spoke no German.
The then unknown twenty-five-year-old daughter of a chemist who was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and who had consistently spoken German with his family in New York, where he had been able to escape from the National Socialists as a Jew, was hired as a translator for the famous Jane Kramer.
Dische learned from Kramer, which is why she was soon writing herself.
And she stayed in Berlin, where she not only started a family, but also made the acquaintance of Hans Magnus Enzensberger,
who had her English-language articles translated for his magazine "Transatlantik" and in 1989 published a small collection of stories by Dische in his book series "Die Andere Bibliothek" that became a bestseller: "Fromme Lügen".
Since then, the American author has mainly found her audience in her adopted country of Germany, and she made many friends in Berlin;
in artist circles she is often and gladly seen.
However, even after 45 years in Germany, she still does not write in German.
How history and the present connect
In Reinhard Kaiser, however, she found a congenial early translator for her poignant prose.
Just one example of their sardonic wit: "Gretel lives in a villa across the Danube with her father, an ancient, grim invalid.
The mansion is inhabited by another character, a housekeeper, whom they brought with them, complete with all their furniture, the crucifixes, and the first of a dynasty of dachshunds.
This servant is their most prized possession, scurrying about all day serving them and cooking them the Wagnerian dishes to which they are accustomed.
She has the fiercest face in the family, but mostly they call her angels because she dedicated her life to them instead of a husband.”
This passage is in Dische's short story The Doctor Needs a Home, a dark story about an Austrian Jewish refugee's impossibility to come to terms with the memory of all the women in his life.
Irene Dische's greatest strength is the combination of historical experiences, even the most horrific ones - most of her paternal family was murdered in the Shoah - with precise observations of the present.
She can be considered the female equivalent of WG Sebald, also with regard to the discovery and promotion of her literary skills by Enzensberger.
The series of her publications is long and has become dense again with three novels, especially in the last few years.
However, their quality varied;
the true strength of this author, which was also shown by "It's never too late to lie", the complete edition of her stories published in 2018, lies on the shorter route.
And in the constantly flashing sarcasm of her characters, which their creator shares.
In the essay from which the sentences quoted at the beginning are taken, "Looking for Saul" about a conversation with Saul Bellow, she describes how she quickly reads Bellow's books before the meeting.
And adds: "I felt sorry for the journalists who had been forced to read Dische in this way." So they are probably the slower spirits after all.
But Disches pity is unfounded, her own books are one thing: entertaining,
even the longer ones.
Next Sunday Irene Dische will be seventy years old.Keywords: