Matthias Zschokke

Portrait Matthias Zschokke
© Ali Ghandtschi

Matthias Zschokke was born in 1954 in Bern and grew up in the Swiss Mittelland region. He completed acting school in Zurich and was then employed at the Schauspielhaus Bochum, whose theatrical director at that time was Peter Zadek.His prose debut with the novel »Max« came in 1982. In addition to several novels Zschokke has also authored numerous pieces for the stage, which have been performed in Germany and internationally. His volume »Lieber Niels« (2011; tr. Dear Nils) is a collection of around 1,500 emails from his extensive body of correspondence (2002 to 2009) sent to Cologne publisher Niels Höpfner. Never intended for publication, the dated mails provide an unfiltered insight into the author’s private affairs – from his everyday to trenchant travel reports, good turns, reflections on the discrepancy between his status as an award-winning author and his precarious position as an outsider, right up to the unreserved and at the same time highly ironic tirades about the literature and art business. In the absence of the reactions of the addressee, the result is an imaginary, necessarily narrative quality which renders the bundles writings a contemporary, if also »one-sided« epistolary novel. Zschokke’s most recent novel »Der Mann mit den zwei Augen« (2012; tr. The man with two eyes) consciously aspires to achieve a literary-existential arbitrariness which was already apparent in his debut and in the multi-prizewinning novel »Maurice mit Huhn« (2002; tr. Maurice with chicken). The complete lack of profile in the eponymous protagonist – who is a nobody and everybody at the same time – is also reflected in the plot, style and narrative mode, all of which aim to undermine every trace of individuality and originality. In his most recent book »Die strengen Frauen von Rosa Salva«(2014; tr. The austere women of Rosa Salva), the self-observation written down there is continued in the form of the author’s own email correspondence. In this way, the reports sent to Zschokke’s friends and colleagues, who remain anonymous, provide a daily chronicle of a six-month stay in Venice. The city of canals also countervails his complaint about his lack of ideas, when he writes: »It is unbelievable how close together everything is here, how rich and colourful, extravagant. If I had anywhere near the imagination that Venice does, my books would be full-to-bursting lucky bags and world bestsellers.«Besides his literary work, Zschokke works mainly in producing his own feature films »Edvige Scimitt« (1985), »Der Wilde Mann« (1988; tr. The wild man) and »Erhöhte Waldbrandgefahr« (1996; tr. An increased risk of forest fires). The numerous awards he has received include the Robert Walser Prize (1981), the Preis der deutschen Filmkritik (1986), the Gerhart Hauptmann Prize (1992), the Solothurn Literature Prize (2006), the Prix Femina Étranger (2009) as well as the Eidgenössische Literaturpreis (2012). Since 1979, Zschokke lives in Berlin.