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Messer Zungen Cover

Messer, Zungen (Knives, Tongues)

In the novel Messer, Zungen (Knives, Tongues, not yet translated into English) Simoné Goldschmidt-Lechner approaches the story of a South African family that later moves to Germany in an experimental, fragmentary manner, through the perspective of a narrator who is simply called Mädchen, or Girl in English. Excerpts from Girl’s memories are told in short chapters, alongside snapshots from the lives of relatives – parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, all without names. In between, a choir speaks, an obscure We, and relections on Steve Biko, Frantz Fanon and other important figures of anticolonial movements emerge. It is about family, individual and collective trauma, apartheid, racism, sexual violence and much more. It becomes clear how strongly discriminatory structures impact one’s own world of experiences, as well as how often they remain unspoken and diffuse feelings for which a language still needs to be learned. In fact, it is precisely the language and the narrative style which distinguish the novel. The narrative voice thrives on the creative coining of new German words (such as Vatergeländer or Ermutterung) and a multilingual approach, which is a given for people from former colonies and those who have experiences of migration.

After having read the novel, I was left with a sense of unclarity. A novel is not a textbook and does not need to be told in a linear fashion, nevertheless I had a strong desire for clarity. For me, the novel was a hodgepodge collection of finds and interesting snippets of thought, whose relation to each-other I would like to better understand. As with archival research, I would have preferred to establish a chronology, listed characters and events, sought out more background knowledge for myself on the historical-political context  and to have comprehended the cultural and literary references. This probably says more about my European – Eurocentric – education and my reading habits than about the book. Knives, Tongues thrives on allusions which stimulate one’s own imagination. The novel is like a multi-dimensional art piece, whose elusive form is difficult to grasp and in which, with a lot of time and peace and quiet, new facets will continue to be revealed. In this sense, it is a book which lends itself to multiple readings.

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