11/22/10

A good book brought me back to

Original image source http://sxc.hu • photographer
Ryan Aréstegui
A good book brought me back to the English language. When I started my university studies, what with the Political Science and French and Spanish lessons, I let go of twelve years of learning, reading but the odd book in English (about political philosophy and similar, rather dull topics), watching only occasionally a British underground movie in its original version. But my good friend Franck brought me back to my first love, so to say. After we had met, he lent me a novel that would change my reading habits.

At that time, I was rather attracted by South American literature. Those were the years when Gabriel Garcia Marquez became world-famous; when Isabel Allende published her 'Casa de los espíritus'; when I discovered Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Luis Borges, and many others. Then, I had my coming-out, I met Franck, and he insisted I read 'The Lost Language of Cranes' by David Leavitt.
A literary revelation, for me, and in more than one sense. First, I discovered there was that thing people now call 'gay literature'. All I had stumbled upon so far were cautious, discreet hints and suggestions in German literary highlights dating back to the early 20th century like 'The Confusions of Young Törless' or 'Death In Venise'. Leavitt's novel opened a whole new area to me. I discovered there were books and stories that not only spoke directly to me but more or less about me, about a very important part of who and what I was.
I became a fan of the 'Men On Men' series, almost yearly compilations of gay short stories. I read all the rest of Leavitt's literary production. I read Armistead Maupin's six 'Tales of the City'. More than once, I have to admit; books had already become like my best friends. I've read 'The Lord of the Rings' at least ten times; the same is true for the 'Narnia' books, B.E. Ellis' 'Glamorama', Felice Picano's 'Like People in History', the three hilarious Joe Keenan-novels and Edmund White's 'Farewell Symphony'.
Anyway. Back to Leavitt. Besides being the first openly gay novel I read, this book was very well written, the language young and direct yet with real literary merits. I discovered that the contemporary literary production in English was rich and interesting and worth being looked into. I discovered at the same time how much I loved the English language, so simple and straightforward on the surface, but containing so many layers and hues and meanings.
It's a real love that hasn't left me ever since. I've read so many English and American books that it seems to me as natural as reading something in German, which is after all my mother tongue. This is a sensation I've never succeeded in feeling with works written in French, although I speak it fluently and without a trace of an accent, people say. Why, I even dream in French most of the time. My colleagues ask me when they have a doubt about French grammar or spelling. I love the French language. I've written my other novel first in German, then in French.
So, yes, it would be natural, logical for me to write in French or German. Yet, I write in English. And, to be honest, I don't know why. I really don't. When I suddenly had the idea to write and publish something new, something speaking of me and my present and past, the first sentences formed in my mind, as if by magic, in English. You remember? Episode 1, 'this morning while riding the Paris métro…' These were the first words that my brain spat out, and they were in English.
And I'm very glad about that. I have noticed that I can share my writing with much more people. I have realized that I can maintain the necessary, essential distance to the main object of my novel – me – precisely because I have to really look twice at how I want to say things. I have to structure my thoughts. I have to chisel my sentences. I have to search for the right words. And I love it.
So, Heddi and all you others who read me, I hope I have answered some of your questions. If no, please accept my apologies. I can't do better, I'm afraid.

5 comments:

  1. I love that you write in English, otherwise I wouldn't be able to read it! I like your stories, very cool stuff. I took Spanish and Italian in school myself, barely remember anything of either one though.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Ruth. Isn't it strange we do keep in mind details as stupid as 80s song-texts (wake me up in the middle of the night and whisper 'like a virgin' in my ear, and I'll answer without any hesitation 'touched for the very first time'; and I suppose this is rather an intellectual highlight concerning the song texts of those years ;)) but we forget more important stuff like foreign language vocabulary? Lots of luv to you from Paris, where the first snow is expected any day now (yeehah!! me do luv snowie flakies lol)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you Dieter for your heartfelt and insightful answer. I too love English, how malleable it is. Your mastery of English inspires me to work harder at my own second language, Italian, which I learned at age 16 and therefore speak like a native: my written academic Italian is great but why not learn to write prose in it? How lovely would that be, and how many doors would that open - in the mind and in the heart? What's stopping me? If you can do it, then I can too...and I like the challenge. The other day, I already started a Cesare Pavesi book with this goal in mind. His words linger with me all day, his rhythm too. So THANK YOU for your gift.
    Happy writing!
    heddi.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ahh, would love to see Europe but can't afford it right now and the new airport screening procedures are just too creepy to endure. Maybe a cruise across the Atlantic, someday. For now the travel shows on TV will have to do. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  5. @Heddi: at your service, Ma'am, and do write in Italian. I think it's an excellent exercice to write in a foreign language for it helps to focus on the essential. I wish you good luck and much happiness with your new (and your current and old) projects!
    @Ruth: a cruise across the Atlantic, nothing less! My, the lady has a healthy appetite for luxury, lol ;)) As for travelling and money, same here btw; TV-travels are all I have for the moment. But where would we be if we couldn't sigh from time to time while gazing at some paradise or other, wishing we were there?

    ReplyDelete