Felicitas Hoppe has written many books, all of them rather strange. The first was a collection of twenty miniature stories entitled Picknick der Friseure, and the most recent was what might be called a fictional autobiography, Hoppe. In 2012 she won the Georg Büchner Prize, which is probably Germany’s most prestigious literary award.
The bar in the Deutsches Theater
White wine. They have two kinds: Riesling and Veltliner. Hoppe opts for Veltliner and I choose Riesling.
What did we talk about?
This is the first time I’ve met Felicitas Hoppe in person, although we’ve been corresponding for a while. So I’ve brought along a prop to help oil the conversation: a set of mini books including my brand new translation of five of the Picknick stories. We’re both very excited about the whole thing, not least because this is the first time Hoppe’s been published in book form in English. Which is a bit of an embarrassment for the English-speaking world, frankly. Some German writers get offended that British and American publishers don’t snap up their books, but Hoppe seems to have got used to the situation. Still, the teeny Picnic of the Virtues makes us very proud, and one or other of us keeps stroking it or righting the pile of books on the bar in front of us throughout the evening.
Hoppe tells me translation stories to begin with. She lived in Rome in the early nineties or late eighties, and her friend and landlady knew she wrote – although she wasn’t published back then. It’s thanks to her that Hoppe’s work has been published in Italy, and via a friend of hers in Turkey too, because she kept raving about her to everyone she knew. And now a man called Michel in France has translated the whole big fat Hoppe book simply because he loved it so much, and seems to have found a small publishing house to take it, and they’ll be reading together in Paris soon. I love the way translators make literature travel out of pure passion. Hoppe talks about a workshop she took part in with Chinese translators, where the end product was significantly longer than the original. Perhaps Chinese is just a very wordy language, she thought, but no – they had “added the missing information” in her stories to help Chinese readers understand. My skin crawls with embarrassment at the idea.
Hoppe is wearing a dress with very deep pockets, an apron-like affair as far as I can tell in the rather sparingly lit bar. She keeps pulling banknotes out of her pocket to pay for our wine. I think she enjoys the gesture. She tells me she does like a little luxury, even though she’s far from rich. She loves taking taxis, even for short trips, but in fact that’s much cheaper than having your own car. Travel – is she such an inveterate traveller as she seems? It was certainly hard to find a date for this evening because she seems to be jetting between Switzerland and the USA and who knows where else much of the time, although she lives around the corner. Well, travel is part of her job, it’s how she makes a living. She has to promote her books and earn money through readings and she can write wherever she is; she’s not one of those people who says, “The desk surface is all wrong – I can’t work like this!” Her accountant told her she did so much travelling last year it was almost implausible for the tax office. But it’s just work, not a luxury, and she’s not a “restless soul”. I tell her I am one of those “This desk surface is all wrong” people, and I found out the hard way when I did a four-week residency and missed my home comforts, and my daughter. Hoppe looks sympathetic.