Susanne Riedel was born in Unna, Germany, in 1959. She first worked at the ‘Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung’ in Essen, before moving to Berlin in 1986. There she worked as an editor and presenter for various children’s radio programmes, and then as freelance journalist for the ‘Sender Freies Berlin’ and other radio stations. Her first novel, ‘Kains Tochter’ (Engl: Kain’s Daughter), was published in 2000. With nightmarish intensity Riedel portrays death, suicide, incest and violence within the family history of sisters Joa and Timpie Leghorn. The older Joa tells in retrospect of the heavy physical and psychological abuse to which the girls had been exposed since early childhood at the hands of their mother, and its consequences in their lives and later actions. As adults they also fail to escape from family entanglements and the vicious circle of violence, guilt and renewed violence. At the time of the account, both Timpie and Joa’s daughter Ruth are dead, while Joa finds herself in psychiatric care, deeply afflicted by feelings of guilt and self-loathing. The novel’s dark-archaic atmosphere unfolds through Susanne Riedel’s extraordinary style, and her forceful deployment of lyrical images, biblical names and bizarre analogies. The novel’s unusual imagery offered at the time occasion for great controversy amongst Germany’s best-known literary critics. Her second book, ‘Die Endlichkeit des Lichts’ (2001; Engl: The Finitude of Light), a whimsical love story between the quiz show presenter Verna Albrecht and the mushroom expert Alakar Macody, further testified to the author’s fascination with the poetic content of language. Her protagonists quote poems by T. S. Eliot and Anne Sexton and do not doubt that poetry is superior to physics in perceiving “the hidden symmetry of the universe”, and thus able to discover the true essence of the world. The novel itself is formally and symmetrically designed through its mirroring, doubling, and twin motifs. At the centre of the third novel, ‘Eine Frau aus Amerika’ (2003; Engl: A Woman from America), stands an ageing German-American couple who, during a university cultural exchange programme, must come to terms with the lifelong lies of their decades-long relationship. In 2000, Susanne Riedel was awarded the Jury Prize of the Ingeborg Bachmann competition for a passage from ‘Die Endlichkeit des Lichts’. In 2002, she received the Wolfgang Koeppen Prize of the city of Greifswald. Susanne Riedel lives in Berlin.
© international literature festival berlin