Reinhard Jirgl was born in East Berlin in 1953. He was raised by his grandparents in the Altmark. In 1964, at age 11, he returned to his parents in Berlin. After being trained as an electrician, he started studying electronics in 1971 at Berlin’s Humboldt University. In 1975 he concluded his engineering studies and worked at the Adlershofer Academy for three years. At the same time he started to write, which he found more time for in 1978 when he accepted a position as lighting technician at the Volksbühne in East Berlin.
By the time that the Wall fell in 1989, Jirgl had completed six manuscripts, which, despite support from Heiner Müller, were not published in the GDR, since he was accused of putting forth a “non-Marxist conception of history”. In 1990 Jirgl started to publish many works which were previously banned from publication, as well as new works, including his debut novel ‘Mutter Vater Roman’ (1990), the novel ‘Abschied von den Feinden’ (1995), and the trilogy ‘Genealogie des Tötens’ (2002), which is a collection of works from the 80s.
Jirgl’s novel “Die Unvollendeten” (2003) is a family saga about four women, who in 1945 are driven out of the Sudetenland and have to find a new home in the Altmark. How the trauma of their expulsion influences their lives in the dramatic postwar years and the hard work that life in the GDR entails is told from the perspective of their descendent Reiner, who was born in 1953. Without pity, but not without feeling, in drastic scenes and monologues, the loss, the violent life, and the naïve and patient mentality of the women is described. As in previous works, Jirgl uses his own particular typography and orthography; for instance, “und” (Engl: ‘and’) is replaced with “u” or “&”; exclamation points come before words and “einzeln” might be spelled “1zeln”. These substitutions open up another semantic level, one in which the respective context is also physically visible in the text itself. In this way Jirgl, who is frequently compared to Arno Schmidt, can describe extremities in extreme ways and articulate his characters’ dialogues in unpolished ways, while at the same time keeping his reader’s attention. For critic Iris Radisch the “dark and embittered sound” and “the historical distance, which enables the grandchild to accomplish what the son was unable to do” are the main reasons why “postwar Germany has never before been described as convincingly” as in this novel.
Jirgl has received numerous awards for his works, including the Alfred-Döblin-Preis (1993), the Literaturpreis der Stadt Marburg (1994) and the Joseph-Breitbach-Preis (1999). He was awarded the Literature Prize of the city of Bremen for his latest novel, “Abtrünnig” (2005; t: Apostate). Since 1996 he has lived in Berlin, where he works as a freelance writer.
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