Literature ǀ Everything is in flux – Friday

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Just like Nina in the book, the Soviet sci-fi classic turned to me The amphibian man branded in 1962. The handsome man named Ichthyander, for whom his scientist father also implanted gills because he had lung damage, could live on land and in water, but only for a certain period of time. A brutal businessman has him captured to work for him as a pearl diver. I can still see him under a grille in a narrow water barrel. Only now do I think of the woman who slips into a deer skin at night, which her husband then secretly burns. It is an old fairy tale motif that people live with two identities, which often turns out badly.

About gender and origin

Why is Sasha Marianna Salzmann mentioned in the blurb as a playwright, essayist and dramaturge, while the gender asterisk is usually only used for the plural, as far as I know? You can find a video on the Internet in which she describes herself as a “gender fluid”, ie not tied to just one gender. She feels more socialized as a woman, she says. Life between different affiliations in terms of gender and origin – this is the background to read her book Everything in man must be glorious, in which the author traces the lives of four people, from perestroika to present-day Germany.

It’s about upheavals, about starting a new life, and the language is immediately enchanting. Perception, sensitive as seldom – strangeness, alienation, distance and suddenly the risk of closeness. Precision of naming, intellectual work and then again an intuitive flapping of the wings, soaring upwards, from which you get heart pounding while reading. Everything in man must be glorious – the title of the novel is Chekhov’s play Uncle Wanja taken from where people are trapped in a seemingly hopeless present and wish themselves away into a better past or a happier future. But even in their weakness, longing lives as a spark of utopia.

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Sasha Marianna Salzmann was born in Volgograd in 1985 and grew up in Moscow. In 1995 she came to Germany with her family, like other Jewish quota refugees who took their past with them from the Soviet Union. In their Jewishness, which some were not even aware of earlier, they now find something that connects them. Because in German reality everyone is somehow next to himself. Individualization – we feel the advantages and accept the disadvantages. It is no longer a matter of course that families stick together. Edi and Nina in the book are annoyed by their mothers Lena and Tatjana, they want to get away from the “constant pains of those who never really arrived”. But the older ones worry. Sasha Marianna Salzmann empathizes with their characters without even moralizing in any way. They keep a lot secret from each other.

Edi never told her mother that she was a lesbian, and she never revealed to anyone how she felt the strange attraction of the quiet Aljona as a child at summer camp and kept thinking of her. Lena later had a wild affair with a Chechen man before she met Daniel and came to Germany with him, where, as a specialist in neurology, she is only allowed to work as a nurse. Only now does she find out about her friend Tatya’s illness. Tatjana has probably never spoken to her as openly as she did with Edi. Before the emergency in Mariupol, she fled to Krivoy Rog, ran a liquor store, was seduced by a German, took her with her and left her behind. With the origin of the two women and eastern Ukraine, another area of ​​conflict comes into view.

Your brain is “wired differently”

From the 1970s to the present in countless small ramifications: Seldom has it been described so comprehensively and personally how the end of the USSR is still deep in people’s bones. The author has gathered many voices and connected them with her own. She doesn’t want to reduce anything to a common denominator. Nina wonders whether the Soviet era can be explained with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. “You never see a complete picture”, even if you have the wish “that something can be named and understood as a whole”. Doctors have diagnosed her that she was “wired differently” in her brain, and the mother hoped that the certificate would help her to find a job. But Nina let the appointments at the employment office expire. There she has the film on the net The amphibian man seen, wanted to send her mother the link, “with the subject: This is how it feels”. But then she let it go – and didn’t get the idea that Tatjana, Lena and Edi sometimes feel like “amphibious people”.

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Everyone in the novel lives in an intermediate realm. Although Nina would not agree with this generalization, because it is a trivialization of her situation, which really belongs to her alone. She may be closest to the author, who even as a teenager had the courage to call herself Sasha and to experiment with names in general. Because people react to names, she said in a newspaper interview on the occasion of her debut novel in 2017 Frantic, with which she immediately made it onto the shortlist of the German Book Prize and which has been translated into 16 languages. With her new novel, Salzmann was back on the long list. Unfortunately, she did not make it into the top six this time.

Everything in man must be glorious Sasha Marianna Salzmann Suhrkamp 2021, 384 S., € 24


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