Harald Jähner longlist author interview
Harald Jähner and Shaun Whiteside, longlisted author and translator of ‘Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-1955’ talk to us about the complex relationship between emotion and politics and how the book was received in Germany.
How does it feel to be longlisted?
It feels great, I’m really proud. As a German, it’s a special honour to be longlisted with a book that explores a crucial point of our shared history, as the victors and the vanquished, occupiers and occupieds, guilty ones and prosecutors found themselves having to live alongside one another and rebuild Germany after 1945.
How did you conduct your research?
I wanted to know how the Germans felt after the war, how they lived with their tremendous guilt, their anxiety, their misery, but also with their lust for life, and their new desires. I wanted to understand how their complex emotions influenced their political behaviour, so I had to delve deep into accounts of everyday life, deep down into the fine human details of a completely ruined nation.
Is the reception for the book different in the UK from Germany?
I think the reaction in the UK was similar to the reaction of younger Germans, who have no direct memories of the post-war German experience. Many were surprised and shocked by what they read. Some found themselves asking: how much do we have in common today with the emotions, experiences, disputes and politics of those who lived in post-war Germany?
Shaun Whiteside, translator:
How different is it translation fiction from translating non-fiction? Do you prefer one over the other?
Translating fiction and non-fiction both have their pleasures – with fiction you’re principally finding the voice and the music of the text. With non-fiction you have a duty to remain true to the facts, while at the same time catching the tune of the prose and taking care not to make it too dry. The beauty of Harald Jähner’s writing is that it combines sound academic research with a wry and accessible style, and I very much hope I’ve captured that in the English translation.