“The General Explained to Us How World War III Works”

Writers will talk about literature and war at the Brecht House on Thursday. In advance, we asked Ulrike Draesner what this topic means for her writing.

Ulrike Draesner, award-winning poet and prose writer

Ulrike Draesner, award-winning poet and prose writerImage/Type

In the Right Literature Wrong series, several authors talk about literature and war. Ulrike Draesner, poet, novelist and professor of literature, will take part in it. Book of the week question for you: Ulrike Draesner, born in Munich, live in Berlin, how can war have anything to do with your work?

Ulrike Draesner: War situations determined my whole life. My parents were children of war. My father’s family came from Silesia, the deportees said then. There was no conversation with this generation about what we now call PTSD. My grandmother could never talk about how her oldest son died trying to escape, how he broke his hip.

I grew up in this field of tension. My sister and I packed or repacked our getaway suitcase at least once a year. It was part of our childhood. Not far from us, around Munich, people had nuclear bunkers in their gardens. The Cold War and the possibility of World War III were with me in the 1980s, along with Ronald Reagan and the arms race. I remember a seminar at Oxford during my undergraduate studies that looked at military escalation spirals and nuclear balance, chilling issues. At the time, a British general used a map of Central Europe to explain the “game plan” for World War III. If the Warsaw Pact had sent East German troops across the Fulda border into West Germany, the Bundeswehr would have been deployed. However, the scenario also provided that NATO would drop an atomic bomb on this theater of war if necessary.

War occupied the space in many forms: as a transmitted memory, as living with the emotional damage of the elderly, as a hidden, constant threat. I’m just finishing work on the third volume of my trilogy about flight, expulsion and generational tension. After “Seven Jumps from the Edge of the World” and “Shviteriai” the novel “Die Verwandten” will be published in February. It tells the stories of a mother and a daughter. It is about violence against women for war purposes. When the attack on Ukraine began, I could hardly continue writing. I could very well imagine the violence that was now set in motion again.

A conversation with Ulrike Draesner, Marco Dinic, Olga Grjasnowa and Raulis Zelik on Thursday, December 1 at 7 p.m. Literary forum at Brecht House

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