Dinçer Güçyeter has won not only the 2023 Leipzig Book Fair Prize for fiction for his debut novel, Unser Deutschlandmärchen (microtext, 2022), but also the 2023 Kurt Wolff Development Prize for his publishing house, ELIF Verlag. The debut is one of our jury selected books, meaning there is guaranteed financial support for an English language translation. Sheridan Marshall interviewed him for New Books in German.
Huge congratulations Dinçer! Can you tell me about your experience of writing the book?
Dinçer Güçyeter: Writing this book was a kind of education for me. It was research, an excavation. It was a way of bringing together and working with all the different voices that have been part of my life over the years. Some of these you forget, some are still very present, and the real work was bringing all the voices from the past into the present, as well as to really hear how these voices sound. Every character has their own voice in this novel and I had to consider what the idiom would be like for these voices, as well as what makes them tick, how they behave, and what these people wear. I even researched the kinds of material their clothes were made from.
What was it like for your mother and your whole family to read the book?
My mother is very happy. There are always gaps where you’re not so certain, and I kept on asking my mother and my aunt so many questions. There were many things that were a little embarrassing for them both to talk about. My mother always starts by saying, ‘Dinçer, you know this is just between us.’ I say, ‘Yes, mother, this is just between us!’ And now she grins whenever she sees the book! But I think she’s happy too – she knows what she has experienced, she knows what her generation experienced, and now this story is finding a public. And of course, she is very happy that she is being mentioned in this context.
What does winning two such prestigious prizes at the 2023 Leipzig Book Fair mean to you?
It has happened as a result of the journey that has been going on in my life for the past twenty-five years. Everyone always starts out as a loser. This is how it is in society. As a writer you are a kind of dreamy person who doesn’t get involved in anything else. If you want to publish poems, everyone asks whether you have inherited something, because everyone thinks it is impossible to make money like that. But neither of these things are true. I have always believed in the texts by the authors who have written for my publishing house. And in the translators too. That is the important thing. And I have always believed in my own texts. These were always the texts that I wanted to write: independently of any trends or fashions.
I wanted to preserve a record of something that could be important for me and for my children.Dinçer Güçyeter
Right at the beginning it was like a diary entry. When my publisher, Nikola Richter, came up with the idea, five years ago – saying, ‘Dinçer, why don’t we make a book together’ – she wanted to do it in a slightly easier way. She wanted to make a book out of my Facebook posts, but I said no. I said, ‘That’s Facebook – I sometimes put these little family stories on Facebook – but I’ll write something more compact.’ That was a good decision!
What would it mean for you if the book were to come out in English? Would it have a particular significance if that were to happen?
Regardless of the language – not just English – whatever the language, every reader counts as a win for the author. It creates a new conversation, a new communication. I always define the act of reading as a conversation between a text and its readers. The more conversations a text becomes part of, the better. In my text I have tried to dismantle all boundaries, be they religious, national or cultural boundaries. They don’t exist. The emotions in this text are global. Regardless of whether they’re in London, Bangladesh, Istanbul or Damascus, people have the same weaknesses, the same fears, but also the same joys.
No life is simple: everyone has to fight for their life. Many people have a difficult time in this world – the majority. There is still a huge refugee movement taking place all over the world. This novel begins with a refugee flight.
When people from other countries read this text, they might have a better understanding of the fact that this is not a happy journey – of all the things that are left behind, of what has to be endured, of what it means to be uprooted, of what it means to build a new home in a different language and a different country, of putting down new roots. My readers can gain insight into all this, and that makes me happy.
No one thought that I would win the Leipzig Book Prize, but it happened!Dinçer Güçyeter
I always think that each book has its own fate. Sometimes it takes longer, other times it happens more quickly. The main thing for me is that the book is translated by an honest translator who takes their work seriously and understands my dialect. It is not just about translating what happens in the novel, but getting across the author’s voice. I would be very happy if this can be conveyed. And perhaps we will see each other in London sometime!
I hope so, Dinçer! Thank you so much for the interview.
The interview was conducted in German at the Leipzig Book Fair and translated into English by Sheridan Marshall.