One of the doyennes of crime writing is visiting the island of Usedom to read in a literary program with the title “Thinking of Germany.” DW took the opportunity to ask the American author about her own thoughts.
DW: You are here on a visit to one of Germany’s sunniest spots, the island of Usedom on the Baltic Sea, to read to an audience at the Usedom Literature Days. Sunshine, the sound of the waves, birds chirping — would this be the ideal kind of place for you to write?
Donna Leon: It’s an ideal place to be because of the presence of the sea and the beach. I don’t have to be in a particular place in order to write, so long as I can be there for at least 10 days with no need to travel. I need a room, a desk and my computer, and the rest can be anywhere it wants to be.
This year’s theme of the Usedom Literature Days is “Thinking of Germany.” It’s one of Heinrich Heine’s most famous lines, and many Germans might carry on the sentence in their heads with the line: “Thinking of Germany in the night robs me of my sleep.” What are your thoughts on Germany these days?
Because I am a citizen of a country that seems, at least to me, to be in a state of ever-renewed chaos and spent many years living in Italy, which seems to be in a similar state, I can but admire countries that have remained sane, Germany among them. It is concerned with the environment and has tried for years to expand its alternative energy supply. Because I am an environmental fanatic, I can only praise it. It also has a leader who is serious, as opposed to the leaders of the forenamed countries.
You will read from your latest novel Unto Us a Son Is Given, of which the German translation will appear in a couple of weeks. Can you tell us a bit about what Commissario Brunetti gets himself into this time?
I will read chiefly from the previous book, The Temptation of Forgiveness, and will read only briefly from the not-yet-published book, in which Brunetti is asked to stop an old family friend from making a decision his friends consider to be foolish.
Your crime novels are beloved all over the world, but foremost in Germany. What is your guess as to why people in Germany have, for many years, anxiously awaited the next one?
Germans have always admired Italy and the many positive virtues of the Italians. They especially like Venice, and so books which give a vision of Venetian life that is calm and realistic might be interesting to them. The books are not tourist guides, but accounts of what daily life, real life is about.
Have you ever seen one of the very popular German TV-movies based on your novels?
I’ve seen two of them.
Do you read many crime novels yourself?
What books are waiting for you next to your favorite armchair?
The Letters of Pliny the Younger, Balzac’s Lost Illusions and the poems of John Donne.
Nowadays you spend much of your time in Switzerland. How often do you get back to Venice?
I go once a month, for about a week.
Do you need the charm of the city on the lagoon to write?
No. I have a very clear memory of the city as I first encountered it in the late ’60s.
Music is very important to you, especially baroque music. You used to support an orchestra. Are you still doing it?
Yes, I work with Il Pomo d’Oro and will spend most of May with them, when they rehearse, record and then go on tour with Handel’s Agrippina.
What about baroque music is so fascinating for you?
I find that it is very cheerful music, and God knows we need a bit of cheerfulness, always. My academic work was in the literature of the 18th century, so I am already fond of the orderliness of the times.
Do you play an instrument yourself?
No, nor can I read musical notation.
Returning to this year’s theme “Thinking of…” What do you think of if I substitute “Germany” with “my homeland”?
I seldom think about it; it’s a bit too embarrassing to read what people say, even worse to listen to them when they speak. But it will pass, and things will perhaps improve.