Tomorrow, Austrian Writer Doron Rabinovici is going to present his novel Elsewhere at the Austrian Cultural Forum London |Tuesday 24 February 2015, 7.00pm.
In the run-up to the event, we talked to Doron about the globalisation of identity and the “undreamt and unheard-of language” of literary texts.
In Elsewhere you write, “Years later, your family moved to Paris, London and New York. But no matter where you were, you were the Israeli; only in Israel were you Viennese, the Yekke, French or American. Even as a seven-year old, you were as comfortable speaking in Hebrew as you were in German. You didn’t have the slightest accent, and that’s exactly why you never felt like a native anywhere, and you still don’t. No matter where you are, you’re always a little detached”.
How much of ones sense of identity is attached to feeling native to a specific country?
My being derives from what has been. I happen to be what has happened to me. My complete identity will be my epitaph, the inscription on a gravestone, but till that day I have a say and I still can change my identity. In Elsewhere I thought about an interesting phenomenon: You are not the same person here and there. You are perceived differently in different places and times. I cannot give a general answer to the question how much of one’s sense of identity is attached to feeling native to a specific country. This is a very personal issue. Some people‘s sense of identity is attached to feeling native to a specific country. But sometimes their country of birth does not exist any more. Sometimes the state still exists, but it has changed so much that some people feel like strangers in their own home. Other people have to leave their land. They become refugees. The main person in Elsewhere feels nowhere at home. His identity is globalized. His habitat is the global, electronic, postmodern Diaspora.
Later on in the novel it says, “Michael maintained that every word sounds different in Hebrew and in Israel than it does in German and in Austria. Ethan hadn’t recognized his own lines because they weren’t his anymore”.
How much of your own voice do you recognise in a translation?
It depends very much on the translation – and on the translator. Tess Lewis, the translator of Elsewhere is wonderful. She listens to my voice and she understands my undertones.
Why did you leave the Yiddish and Hebrew lines in Elsewhere untranslated?
This is a novel, not a dictionary and not an academic study. You do not need the one word to understand the passage, the chapter and the content. On the contrary: The Hebrew or Yiddish word helps us to understand the context.
When did you decide to not only write factual, but also fictional texts? What are the advantages and disadvantages of fiction, in your opinion?
I did not decide anything. I cannot help but write fictional and factual texts. I write a polemic, if I have to say something that should go without saying. When clear answers must be given I write a short op-ed. I write a historical study if I search for the answers to a certain question. I write an essay when I question the answer to a problem and the way a certain topic is perceived.
But when I search for the right questions, a story comes up in me. The factual text tells us what has happened once upon a time. It confronts us with the facts. But it cannot tell us what it meant to the people in this situation. The fictional story tells us what it would have meant to you. It tells us how it will have been for you. The literary text gives us a new way to voice what has happened. It searches for the right and the true language. It finds a new, an undreamt and unheard-of language. My literary text reveals more than I myself know about the story, about my feelings and about myself.