Navid Kermani

Portrait Navid Kermani
© Hartwig Klappert

Navid Kermani was born in Siegen, Germany in 1967, the fourth son of Iranian parents. He studied Drama, Philosophy, and Oriental Studies in Cologne, Cairo, and Bonn. In an interview, Kermani described his task as an author as »criticism, more precisely self-criticism«, in reference to both European and Islamic culture. Since his days as a student, he has practiced this criticism in many travel reportages, in particular in books like »Dynamit des Geistes. Martyrium, Islam und Nihilismus« (2002; tr: Dynamite of the Spirit. Martyrdom, Islam, and Nihilism) and his novel »Kurzmitteilung« (2007, tr: Short Message) on the state of the affluent society. Between 2006 and 2011, Kermani daily wrote down his thoughts and memories about private and historical events for the 1,200-page novel »Dein Name« (tr: Your name). Of this completely consequential documentation of how the writer wrote himself out of a life crisis with this mixture of diary and story, Kermani says he would have liked to leave in even the typing errors. In his Frankfurt Poetry Lectures, which accompanied his work on »Dein Name« and were published in 2012 under the title »Über den Zufall« (tr. On chance), Kermani reflects on the multiplicity of his identities that he negotiated with himself as an author in public displays of his self-doubt, since he is always more: »son, father, husband, lover, friend, report writer, Orientalist«. As a writer of reports from a »disturbed world«, he recorded the impressions he gathered on journeys through ten crisis regions, including India, Afghanistan, Syria, and Palestine in the book »Ausnahmezustand« (2013; tr. State of emergency). Fitting his formulation of his task as author, reviews praised not only Kermani’s precise but empathetic descriptions of local situations, but also his often self-critical perspective. His nonfiction book, »Zwischen Koran und Kafka« (2014; tr. Between the Koran and Kafka), traces cultural connections between the literature of the Orient and of the Occident. In the same year, the author held a much-respected official speech in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the Grundgesetz, German’s constitutional document; it was declared the »speech of the year«. The thematic diversity he unfolds as a mediator between cultures is displayed not only in publications like his first literary text »Das Buch der von Neil Young Getöteten« (2002; tr. The book of those killed by Neil Young) and a children’s book titled »Ayda, Bär und Hase« (2006; tr. Ayda, Bear, and Hare), but also in his most recently published novel »Große Liebe« (2014; tr. Great love), in which the author tries to grasp the exuberant feeling of first love with lines from the Islamic mystics Ibn Arabi and Baha-e Walad.

Navid Kermani has received many prizes, most recently among them the Hannah Arendt Award (2011), the Kleist Prize (2012), and, for »Dein Name«, the Joseph Breitbach Prize (2014). He lives in Cologne.