Sherko Fatah

Portrait Sherko Fatah
© Hartwig Klappert

Sherko Fatah was born in East Berlin in 1964 to an Iraqi Kurd father and a German mother. In 1975, his parents moved to West Germany, where Fatah studied philosophy and art history. He visited Iraq several times.

In 2001, he published his début »Im Grenzland« (tr: At the Borderline), which won the Aspekte Literature Prize. The novel is set in his father’s homeland – in the region where Iraq, Iran, and Turkey meet, a territory full of tensions – and tells the story of a smuggler who moves through a war-ravaged and land-mined landscape that seems to be populated solely by guerrillas and border soldiers. It is a story of dictatorship, war, torture, arbitrariness, the desert, and a different understanding of time. Sentence by sentence, the narrator sketches a picture of foreignness, which remains distant and archaic without being romanticized or idealized. The margin between the familiar and the foreign cannot be neutralized: »Even the inclined reader will probably find it difficult to find his way into this strange and foreign world«, says the author. His prose is distinguished by its vivid imagery, unsparing harshness and a consciously sparse, almost brittle style of storytelling, which at the same time creates a subtle tension. The themes of rootlessness, exile, and violence are also present in the short story »Donnie« (2002) and the novel »Onkelchen« (2004; tr: Little Uncle). »Das dunkle Schiff« (2008; tr: The Dark Ship) tells the story of Kerim, an Iraqi Kurd who gets caught by Islamist jihadists after his father is murdered by followers of Saddam Hussein. In order to escape the brutality in the Iraqi border region, he undertakes a dangerous flight to Germany, where he tries in vain to shed his past and start a new life. »Das dunkle Schiff«, an adventure novel with traditional elements of the coming-of-age novel, was nominated for the 2008 Leipzig Book Fair Prize. In the novel »Ein weißes Land« (2011; tr: A White Land), the relationship between Nazi Germany and the Arab world is depicted by way of a young Iraqi’s life story. In »Der letzte Ort« (2014; tr: The Last Place), a German and his translator are kidnapped in Iraq by a terrorist militia. With this story, Fatah not only preempts current and real events, but also investigates the question of how kidnapping changes people. His most recent documentary novel, »Schwarzer September« (2019; tr: Black September), takes a look into the history of the emergence of conflicts in the Middle East and demonstrates their impact, including on today’s Western Europe.

Sherko Fatah has received the Grand Prize from the Academy of Arts in Berlin as well as the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, among others. He lives in Berlin.