Ulla Lenze's Reading Tour in Egypt
From March 26-30, Berlin-based author Ulla Lenze was invited by Litrix.de to present her novel, “Die Endlose Stadt” [The Endless City] in Cairo and Alexandria.
The readings took place within three very different contexts and, accordingly, each audience responded uniquely to the novel and author. The first event, organized in collaboration with the Gudran Association for Art and Development, was hosted in Alexandria at the cultural center El Cabina. Ulla Lenze met many young people who were interested in culture at the center, yet most of them were unable to speak German. Nevertheless, they were eager to attend the event and learn more about the novel. The reading at the Goethe-Institut in Cairo brought a number of critics and publishers who knew of the novel because it will be translated into Arabic in conjunction with Litrix.de’s Special Focus on the Arab World (2015-2017). The third event was hosted by the Department of German at Cairo University and was attended by students and faculty members.
THEMES AND WEALTH OF PERSPECTIVES
“Probably there are many paths:” This is the opening gambit to Ulla Lenze’s novel, and it suggests the wealth of themes and perspectives contained in these stories. The same sense of diversity and openness was evidenced by all three of the readings along with the lively conversations between the author and her audiences. “The Endless City” tells the story of two young German women who temporarily move to a new city, and thus to a different world: the artist Holle moves to Istanbul, while the journalist Theresa moves to Mumbai. The two young “western” women experience what it feels like to be a foreigner in cities of the Middle and Far East. Lenze shows us the complex social structures of each of the locations without falling into the trap of stereotyping. Precisely observed, yet fast-paced and exciting, Ulla Lenze describes two parallel and sometimes intersecting stories, peppering them throughout with reflections and essayistic meditations about our globalized world.
Even though “The Endless City” was written for German readers, there were many aspects of the story that an Arabic audience could relate to. On the one hand, “The Endless City” focuses on an external conflict, the so-called Culture Clash, which is one aspect of globalization. On the other hand, Ulla Lenze's novel describes an inner-conflict of people from the west who feel a sense of responsibility towards the foreign society, but at the same time are afraid of it, or exploit it. The author does not reduce these conflicts to the contrast between East and West, good and bad; instead she tries to describe the phenomenon as accurately as possible, as puzzle pieces of a complex reality.
OPENNESS AS A PRINCIPLE
Do the two women meet at the end of the story? Does Holle genuinely love her Turkish boyfriend Celal? or will she ultimately succumb to having a relationship with the wealthy German businessman Christoph Wanka? Must art deliver a message and therefore fulfill a responsibility to society, or should it hold a mirror to reality? Must the press bend to world politics and the demands of the masses to remain credible? These are all questions the novel raises and leaves unanswered- they remain wide and open as the cities in Ulla Lenze’s atmospherically rich novel, and it is up to the reader to find the answers.
Translation: Zaia Alexander