The work of Antje Rávic Strubel is tricksy and disorienting. It frequently plays games with authorship and point of view. For example, the writer of Vom Dorf [From the Village] (2007) is supposedly a man who has passed himself off to the publisher as ‘Antje Rávic Strubel’. Strubel, allegedly acting here as editor, provides a preface in which she describes this deception. In other works, such as the 2001 Unter Schnee [Snowed Under], a multiperspectival approach means that events are not interpretable in a simple, clear-cut way. Strubel’s work constantly foregrounds the instability of perception and identity. Her protagonists are often mobile and/or rebellious, straying from the norms imposed by the ideologies of nationalism and heterosexuality.
Antje Strubel was born in Potsdam in 1974, and grew up in Ludwigsfelde in the GDR. After leaving school in 1992, she trained as a bookseller. From 1994, Strubel studied American Studies, Psychology, and Literature at Potsdam University and at New York University. She worked as a lighting technician at Wings Theater in New York. She gained her Master’s degree in 2001, and is now based in Potsdam, spending much time in Sweden, where she owned a house for a while. Offene Blende [Aperture], her first novel, appeared in 2001 and attracted praise. It was followed by eight further novels and a guidebook to Sweden. Strubel has also translated into German Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking and other of his writing.
Strubel’s work is interesting for its treatment of East German identity and history – among other things. Her first novel tells the story of Christiane, who leaves the GDR for the United States in the 1980s. Calling herself ‘Jo’ and pretending to be American, she establishes a theatre company in New York. In the mid-1990s, she encounters Leah, a young photographer originally from Marburg. Leah has moved to New York from Berlin and is seeking employment. The two women form a relationship. East and West German identities – and gender/sexual identities – are complex constructs in this novel. Strubel eschews essentialist, reductive accounts of identity, probing the multiplicity of the self.
Fremd Gehen [Going Astray] (2002), for example, is a slippery and elusive text that underscores the changeability of the gendered subject. This is a Hoffmannesque Nachtstück [nocturne] that resists easy summary. It concerns the writing of a novel about a possible murder observed by a student of Mathematics, Daniel Stillmann, and the uneasy relationship between the two writers of this novel, Marlies and an unnamed, ungendered ‘I’. It deals with the partial and problematic nature of perception and with the questions of reality and probability. It is highly self-conscious, foregrounding narration itself.
Narrative is also a concern of the 2004 Tupolew 134, a fictionalized account of the real-life hijacking of an aeroplane by two East Germans intending to commit Republikflucht [flight from the GDR] in 1978. This text again problematizes perception, investigating the ways in which official histories are compiled. The novel is especially interesting in light of contemporary attempts to frame the history of the GDR.
Kältere Schichten der Luft [Colder Layers of Air] (2007) concerns Anja, a 30-year old woman from the former GDR who is working at a canoe camp for young people in Sweden one summer, and who encounters a mysterious woman called Siri. Early on we learn that Anja and her fellow camp workers ‘waren in eine unbekannte Gegend gekommen, in ein anderes Land, in eine fremde Region, in der sie nur das waren, was sie den Sommer über hier jeden Tag machten’ [had come to an unfamiliar area, another country, a strange region, in which they were simply what they did every day throughout the summer]. Unmoored by habit, in this state of unfamiliarity, otherness, strangeness, they thus construct themselves performatively, daily. We are ‘in a queer time and place’, as Judith Halberstam puts it (In a Queer Time and Place, 2005), apart from straight norms and conventions.
Strubel’s work often seeks out and flags up such ‘queer’ moments and places. Her work challenges nationalism and heterosexism, but it acknowledges the continuing power and influence of nation and gender as constructs. Her ‘deviant’ subjects are under threat, both vulnerable and defiant. Their and Strubel’s failure to toe the line is productive and significant.
Compiled by Emily Jeremiah (London)
Offene Blende [novel] (Munich: dtv, 2001)
Unter Schnee [novel] (Munich: dtv, 2001)
Fremd Gehen [novel] (Hamburg: Marebuch, 2002)
Tupolew 134 [novel] (Munich: CH Beck, 2004)
Kältere Schichten der Luft [novel] (Frankfurt/M.: S. Fischer, 2007)
Vom Dorf [novel] (Munich: dtv, 2007)
Gebrauchsanweisung für Schweden [travel literature] (Munich: Piper, 2008)
Gebrauchsanweisung für Potsdam und Brandenburg [travel literature] (Munich: Piper, 2012)
Sturz der Tage in die Nacht [novel] (Frankfurt a.M.: S. Fischer, 2012)
In den Wäldern des menschlichen Herzens (Frankfurt/M.: S. Fischer, 2016)
Blaue Frau (Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 2021)
Translations into Foreign Languages
Snowed Under [Translation of Unter Schnee by Zaia Alexander) (Los Angeles: Red Hen Press, 2008)
Finch, Helen: ‘Gender, Identity and Memory in the Novels of Antje Rávic Strubel’ (Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture 28.1, 2012, pp. 81-97)
Jeremiah, Emily: Nomadic Ethics in Contemporary Women's Writing in German: Strange Subjects (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012)
Necia, Chronister: ‘Language-Bodies: Interpellation and Gender Transition in Antje Rávic Strubel’s Kältere Schichten der Luft and Judith Hermann’s “Sonja”’ in German Women’s Writing in the Twenty-First Century ed. by Hester Baer and Alexandra Merley Hill (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2015, pp. 18-36)
Norman, Beret: ‘Antje Rávic Strubel’s Ambiguities of Identity as Social Disruption’ (Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture 28.1, 2012, pp. 65-80)
Stewart, Faye: ‘Queer Elements: the Poetics and Politics of Antje Rávic Strubel’s Literary Style’ (Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture 30.1, 2014, pp. 44-73)
Interviews/in the Media
Sutton, Katie and Strubel, Antje Rávic: ‘“Memory Is Always a Story”: An Interview with Antje Rávic Strubel’ (Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature & Culture 28.1, 2012, pp. 98-112)