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Along the graves

Along the trenches. A journey through eastern Europe to Isfahan
Forfatter: Navid Kermani
Forlag: C.H. Beck (Tyskland)
Renowned author Navid Kermani invites you for a journey from Cologne to Isfahan, which travels through a vast array of borders, ruined landscapes and fortified history. To hope.


It is easy to understand that businesses that make a living from selling goods must think for profit, and that publishers of cultural products shy away from unsafe cards. Therefore, it is sensational that a news magazine like Der Spiegel chooses to invest money, time and crew in a book project that allows the journey from Cologne to Isfahan in Iran, and which deals with one unloving theme after another: Chernobyl, refugees, genocide, xenophobia, the backwater of the Soviet era… Explanation is that the Spiegel boss found the only believer to carry out this venture, and with it ended up on Spiegel's bestseller list: the German-Iranian Navid Kermani.

How integrated can immigrants be? A yardstick could be the golden day of 2014 when the German parliament (Bundestag) asked Kermani to hold the party speech on the 65 anniversary of the German Constitution, in front of a hard-fought congregation stirring tears. Or when Bundes president Gauck was to step down, and Kermani was among the people he could pull off as possible heir – to the highest office in Germany.

Navid Kermani is strictly no immigrant, his parents came from Iran to Germany before Navid was born, but he makes regular trips to Isfahan, and here lies the seed of the book Along the trenches ("Along the Graves"). And Spiegel's venture also seems somewhat less risky by focusing on a reputable author, who has won German booksellers' Peace Prize and the Princess Margriet Award for Culture 2017.


The writer's closeness, through language and humanity, carries us almost to a golden chair through places that few have in the list of desired destinations. The title points out the direction: "Gräben" refers to mass graves, trenches and mental abyss. We are part of a time travel, where the past seems ever more jarring the less it is talked about. "In the Soviet states, for example, many themes were taboo – from Stalin's crimes to the Chernobyl disaster. Not even the genocide of the Jews was really thematized: the victims were referred to as Soviet citizens, not Jews. When the public cannot deal freely with trauma, the trauma can be canned and private. We can see the consequences of this in the Soviet postwar states: multi-ethnic and religious tensions. "

Navid Kermani's proximity, through language and humanity, carries us almost to a golden chair.

For Kermani, Grozny was "the great unknown." Towards the end of the Second Chechen War (1999–2002), Vladimir Putin's "counter-terrorism operation" had ensured that Grozny had become "the world's most devastated city," according to the UN. But it began earlier, during the tsarist regime's brutal repression of the Caucasus. The atrocities of the Chechen war, Kermani points out, were first and foremost the consequences of all the fifteen previous wars. "In Grozny, I saw Putin posters hanging everywhere along the roads. In other words, to the utmost, the inhabitants must endure the worship of the tyrant. "

There is no shortage of absurdities, typical of societies which, in the wake of totalitarian regimes, doubt "progress." Stepanakert is a small town in Armenia where, after the fall of the Soviet Union, money for reconstruction has flooded in. A separate airport, for example. No plane has yet taken off or landed here, but check-in works smoothly. The clerk asks the traveler what he is doing here, a question the traveler is tempted to return. Officers wave from the control tower. What are they doing there? They're waiting. The general manager says goodbye with the words "so I hope you can come by plane next time".


On the way along the many borders, the borders themselves become both a physical and thematic stumbling block. Borders are not good, they lead to territorial conflicts – let's open them up. But where they do not exist, or where you meet border guards first by that one has entered a new country (which is not uncommon in Armenia and Azerbaijan), it quickly becomes a kind of art commedydemonstration. Passport? Is not enough. But you can go back to the place you just came from to apply for a visa… Borders play several roles. They perpetuate ethnic peculiarities and cultural identities. They can teach us to hate the others, or they can teach us to see ourselves through the eyes of others. Place us in a socially larger context. Teach us the value of seeking dialogue with the Others. And here Kermani is engaged: “The graves, the boundaries – today they are getting deeper and wider. They follow no geographical or national considerations, but run across peoples, societies, even through the individual's spiritual landscape. (…) Like lovers remember people what was done to them, and forget all the more quickly their own guilt. (…) How many of my ancestors who in the Caucasus have murdered and abducted people as slaves, how many churches they have desecrated, first dawn on me on this journey, centuries later, when cognition no longer hurts. "

After arriving in Isfahan, where Kermani's family comes from, the author's voice softens, becoming even more hurt. The landscape is ruined. The river – which created green meadows, fruit and vegetables – has dried up. Navid Kermani, with his intellectual spectacles and his non-German appearance, er German. But the roots in Iran are entrenched. As he sits in the front row of the Staatstheater Darmstadt, ready to be incorporated into the German Academy of Languages ​​and Poetry, thoughts wander: “It felt like it was not jeg who were honored, but my ancestors and their curiosity, their longing for the world, their courage when they discovered it, their ambition (…) which they passed on from generation to generation, so that one of their sons could be taken into the European academy . »

Ranveig Eckhoff
Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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