John Wray  [ USA ]


John Wray Portrait
© Ali Ghandtschi

Guest 2009, 2016.


Die rechte Hand des Schlafes

Berlin Verlag

Berlin, 2002

[Ü: Peter Knecht]

Canaan’s Tongue


New York, 2005

In the Tunnel


[In: Granta 97. Best of Young American Novelists 2]

London, 2007

Retter der Welt


Reinbek, 2009

[Ü: Peter Knecht]

Das Geheimnis der verlorenen Zeit


Reinbek, 2016

[Ü: Bernhard Robben]

John Wray was born in Washington, D.C., in 1971 and grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. He received a bachelor's degree in biology from Oberlin College in Ohio. He took on various jobs including driving a taxi in Alaska and teaching German and Spanish in New York.

However, he was increasingly drawn to literary work. For his debut novel »The Right Hand of Sleep« (2001), which is set in the Nazi era in a mountain village in Austria, Wray received the Rome Prize from the American Academy and the Whiting Writers’ Award. The strength of this »antiheimatroman« (a novel that defies the genre of regional literature) lies in the representation of its characters, who are ever in doubt as to whether their actions are good or evil. Wray’s virtuosity is on particular display in the way he jumps between passages told by a third-person narrator and those written from the perspective of his protagonists. The author’s use of literary montage is further refined in his second novel, »Canaan’s Tongue« (2005); in a mixture of first-person narrative, diary entries, letters, citations and investigative reports, Wray moves further into the past, this time to the American Civil War. The author uses the criminal preacher John Murrell, from Mark Twain's »Life on the Mississippi« (1883), as a model for Thaddeus Morelle, who pulls the strings in a slave-trading network that eventually entangles a number of formerly respectable citizens. The novel’s gloomy, violence-laden atmosphere – recalling both Poe and Faulkner – revisits the theme of moral uncertainty, with elements of the irrational, which manifest themselves here in the form of belief, lending weight to the tale. In »Lowboy« (2009), irrationality in its pathological form becomes a theme in itself: 16-year-old Will Heller, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, escapes from an asylum into the subway tunnels of New York, intent on preventing the imminent destruction of the world as a result of global warming. Will’s mother and an NYPD profiler search for the boy. Wray alternates skillfully between psychological realities and mines the narrative potential of schizophrenia. In addition to short stories and essays, he recently published »The Lost Time Accidents« (2016), in which an amateur physicist living in Austro-Hungarian Moravia discovers the secret of time. However, his notes are immediately lost, with the result that the next three generations of his descendants spend a whole century and travel across two continents in a bid to find them. The »New York Times« characterized his novel as »an inevitable extension and further exploration of the ideas Wray seems most interested in: secret histories, mental illness, mothers and sons and lost family members«.

The author lives in Brooklyn.


Filed under: