Read | 06. Apr 2020

How to choose The Right Book - AKA Why Heinrich Von Kleist Fits So Perfectly Into My New Life

Like everybody else I find more time to read, these days. And as we just moved into our new place, I held literally every book I own in my hands during the last two weeks - yearning to read (again) what falls into my hands spontaneously.

Due to our situation I was stuck with Albert Camus´"The Plague" first, followed directly by Thomas Mann and his "Death in Venice", both I have read before, in English; though a native German speaker, I always loved Mann´s books and novels in English translation, because his language seems less pretentious that way. And as I cannot read French to read Camus in its original version was never an option, anyway.

Both books deal with societies in dissolution, though, as we all know, both writers use the different plagues as metaphors for the individual inner agony of their heroes and do not deal with solutions to get out of a crisis of that kind we experience right now, nearly everywhere on our planet.

Then I discovered a very different writer.

As I had just finished Jens Bisky´s grand work "Berlin" that came out last winter, I was looking for more of this brilliant writer and found out about a memoir he wrote some ten years ago about Heinrich von Kleist. As my favourite Book Store "Uslar&Rai" in Berlin's Prenzlauerberg still sends books not only to their neighbourhood clients but also to my little village in Switzerland, I also ordered two novels of Kleist, I never read before.

In my mind Kleist was always the author of "Penthesilea", "The Broken Pitcher" or "Prince Friedrich Of Homburg", plays I had seen on stage now and again, when I loved his kind of modern approach; especially his version of the Greek heroine "Penthesilea" - for me she seemed to represent an early statement regarding female empowerment.

Now I read the novel "Michael Kohlhaas" for the first time - not expecting to be touched, as I already knew that this story about a decent horse dealer who started a very personal war against the leaders of his country was every following generations of politically wild-at-heart-youngsters hero, as they used his name like a brand for the justice seeking individual.

I read that one in German, and that is no piece of cake, as the language is hard to follow, the sentences sometimes as long as half a page. The story takes place in the middle of the 16. Century, when Germany was divided into dozens of different states, with their own souvereigns reigning with absolute power. Quite similar to every other country in Europe and also Switzerland at that time.

As our little house here at the borders of the river Rhine was built just then, parts of it even some decades earlier, I felt kind of touched by the historical setting, the description of buildings, landscapes, the way of life. And all of a sudden Kohlhaas became the book of the hour for me, like, when I choose books before I travel to places.

As for the terrifying situation we all find ourselves in these days, Heinrich von Kleist´s lifelong struggle to do the right thing - up to his suicide - also reminds me of how we should never forget about the importance of our individual freedom, right now, when we are treated like minors by our authorities.

And as much as I accept that there might exist no other way to survive - I cannot wait to feel free again.