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La Repubblica: "An Interview with Alina Bronsky"

The Old Testament reads: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Sascha, a seventeen-year-old Russian immigrant in Germany has two dreams: to kill her stepfather Vadim, and to write a book about her murdered mother. She navigates the Russian ghetto where she lives and contemporary Berlin with both the cynical savvy of a streetwise adult and the fragility of a child, moving midst cultures caught between impending modernity, obsolete traditions, and social inequities. She faces life headfirst, protecting her loved ones, looking for a ray of light, all the while mired in hardships. She longs for something to “touch her closely,” to caress her soul. In a style that is powerful and clear, the Russian-born Alina Bronsky gives us Sascha’s story, a deeply touching story that cuts like a diamond; the story of a young woman facing a bitter present and an uncertain future.

You interrupted your studies in medicine in order to write, and become a copyeditor. How did that happen?

Truth is, I'm still asking myself why I started studying medicine in the first place. I’ve always wanted to write books. I wrote my first short story when I was five, and I haven’t stopped writing since. Nonetheless, I tried, wholeheartedly, to enter what I thought was a serious profession: medicine. I’ve always been drawn to the natural sciences. But I quit after a short stint, and began doing something that was a bit closer to creative writing: I began working as a journalist and a copywriter.

I’ve heard that you submitted your manuscript by post and received positive responses after only a week. What was your reaction to these responses?

I was so happy. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like Cinderella when she is invited to the ball. At first, I didn’t tell anyone about it because I thought I was only dreaming.

Are there similarities between you and Sascha?

Some people think so. They say I talk like Sascha sometimes. But I can't see it. Sascha has much more courage and more ambitions than I.  I would like to have her strength and also some other characteristics of hers, but under better circumstances of course.

I love Sascha’s personality: she’s so proud and skeptical, yet innocent and fragile. So determined to assure herself a better future, so courageous. She’s a real heroine, isn't she? Which is a rarity nowadays.

Thank you. I like her very much, too. And you are completely right; she is also a very ambivalent person. But I don't think she is a rarity. I've met real girls who are no less courageous than her.  

She hates men, but at the same time she is mesmerized by Volker and Felix, which demonstrates her ability to adapt to their circumstances and the world around her, an adult work that is also a fragile, childlike one at the same time. You can't really consider her a bad girl, not at all! She is self-destructive and hurtful at times, eager for protection at others, and this is not a contradiction in her very broad personality.

Well, sometimes she really is a bad girl—at least, she certainly likes to behave like one. Sometimes she is arrogant and she knows very well how to hurt other people's feelings. I was expecting some German readers not to like her because of her dark sides. But most of them seem to forgive her everything. I not sure I completely understand it.

Concerning the theme of immigration/emigration, is that really so difficult for a Russian to find a human dimension in Germany?

I'm afraid it is, at least for some immigrants. Emigration is very hard and stressful sometimes, especially for older people or for a teenager who is growing up under such catastrophic conditions.

Were you aware of any particular literary influences, or did you draw inspiration from any particular sources while you were working? Do you have any ideas for your next book?

I read a lot, there are plenty of books and authors I admire but I am not aware of any explicit influence on my novel.

I just finished my second novel; it’s about a very special woman, a grandmother who spends her life moving between three different cultures.

By Carlotta Vissani

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