Please welcome author Katharina Hagena to the Book Club Girl blog! Her novel, The Taste of Apple Seeds, is an international bestseller. When Iris unexpectedly inherits her grandmother's house in the country, she also inherits the painful memories that linger there. Should she keep it or sell it? The decision proves harder to make than she imagines when she realizes that the house has been touched by magic...Read an excerpt here!
When I am asked to write something about my book or the story behind it I usually am a bit at a loss. What if there is no story behind the book?
I think that all the stories that once might have been behind the book have melted into the book. A story behind a book sounds as if there were some "true“ story which then, through the process of writing, became fiction and thus no longer true. And maybe that is so. But I deeply distrust so called "true stories“ and firmly believe in the truthfulness of fiction.
Iris, the protagonist of my book, wonders about truth at the beginning of chapter 10: "But did it make sense to look for truth where there is no forgetting? Didn't truth prefer to hide in the cracks and holes of memory?“
So this is a book about forgtting.
Each single character in it has his or her own story of forgetting. It is the forgetting of Iris' refusal to remember certain things about cousin Rosmarie's death. It is the collective forgetting of what has happened in the darkest chapter of German history, which makes Hinnerk, Iris' grandfather, invent a childhood he never had - in order not to have to think of his more recent past. It is to be found in Christa's homesickness as well as Tante Harriet's sleepiness. And it is, of course, in the final and all-encompassing forgetfulness of Bertha whose memories gradually vanish while Iris's memories are slowly resurfacing.
I suppose it's true that love and laughter are what the gods have given us to cope with most things. So my characters, especially Iris in her over-reflective clumsiness and Max in his quietly ironic way, get their share of both. And though I dislike nostalgia I don't think there is anything wrong with solace.
Perhaps there is one thing I should mention that is behind the book (though it is now in it more than anything) and that is Bertha's house. Maybe the book's main character is this old house in the harsh, flat North German countryside, where the wind is salty and strong, the skies huge and always full of clouds, and where people don't talk much but feel the more. This house I know very well. It belonged to my grandmother and I used to spend all my summers there. I think I needed to turn my fickle, fleeting and ever-changing memories into solid fiction. They might have turned into something they had never been before but at least this way they can last for a bit longer.
So perhaps memories are like the berries in Berth's garden. You pick them and they are beautiful, round and bright but if you want to make them last you must boil and stir and mash and reduce them and you also add some things until you get this semi-transparent jelly that looks very different from the beautiful fruits you picked while the sun shone onto your back and little green beetles were crawling over your bare feet and you could smell the earth and the berry juice was running down your hands, making your fingertips become wrinkled with fruit acid and sticky with sugar.
And, like a book, you can put the jar with that unconspicuous substance on a shelf and when you open and taste it you might have the chance to re-live something of that summer or of some other summer or of the summer you have always wanted to live or of the summer you are going to live one day.