Sherko Fatah was born in East Berlin in 1964 as son of an Iraqi Kurd and a German mother. As his father was of Iraqi nationality he was allowed to leave the GDR with his family and they often visited Iraq for longer periods of time. In 1975, with a stop in Vienna, his parents moved to West Germany where Fatah studied philosophy and art history. During this time, he visited Iraq several more times.
In 2001, Sherko Fatah’s much praised debut novel, ´Im Grenzland´, came out which was awarded the aspekte-Literaturpreis. The novel is set in his father’s home country: in the ´Grenzland´ (border area) of the three countries of Iraq, Iran and Turkey. This area, through the considerable tensions between the individual countries, the Kurdish conflict and illegal trade, is almost completely isolated from the outside world and is heavily guarded by the military. In the period after the Gulf war, the story of a smuggler is told who moves through the mined land, ruined by war and which seems to be populated only by guerrillas and border soldiers. It is the story of war, torture, despotism, of the desert and of another concept of time. The mechanism of the dictatorship is made clear against the background of poverty in the profitable interaction of smugglers, traders and government officials and military. Nevertheless, this is a novel written from a German perspective, which captures the childhood memories and travel impressions of the author as well as factual reports of the war: "I live in Germany and wrote this book in the German language. The scenery represented by me is therefore not my home country," explained Sherko Fatah. Sentence by sentence, the narrator creates a view of foreign parts which remains distant and archaic and yet is not romanticized or idealized. The difference between homeland and foreign parts cannot be eliminated: "It won’t be easy, even for the most inclined reader, to find a way into this strange and strangely deserted world," says the author. Through the eyes of an uninvolved observer, the narrator portrays the everyday life of the people in this inhospitable area. He remains distant to his characters, most have no names or character traits. Their inner feelings, which could make them into identification figures, remain hidden. They are anonymous creations: ´the mother,´ ´the uncle,´ ´the soldiers´ which are just as distant to the reader as ´the smuggler´ who accompanies the narrator through the deadly mined region.
Fatah’s prose is characterized through its pictorial power, its relentless severity and a consciously simple, almost bare narrative style, through which at the same time, subtle tension is created. The barrenness and strangeness of the country and its inhabitants also influence the language of the narrator. Each individual sentence of the book is influenced by this.
"As I see it, there are many good stories which, through pure lifestyle, are lost from view, one should try and tell a few of them," says Sherko Fatah. The author lives in Berlin.
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)