the life of Walter Kempowski

Lipkin_gatheringfates_ba_imgMichael Lipkin at The Nation:

Walter Kempowski’s writing career began on a winter evening in 1950, nineteen years before he published his first novel. Then 21, he was serving time for espionage in an East German prison at Bautzen. For two years, he had passed the time by going from bunk to bunk and plying his fellow prisoners with questions about their lives. He met a glassblower from the Vogtland, a businessman who had worked in Persia, a bank president. He discovered Auschwitz survivors sleeping above former camp commandants, Americans alongside Finns and Brits, and a Frenchman who had been stationed at Dien Bien Phu. One evening, as Kempowski trudged through the yard for his nightly exercise, he found himself thinking how painful it was that the conversations going on throughout the prison at that moment should be lost, like the choir of voices swirling around the Tower of Babel. The guard on duty told Kempowski to pay attention. “Those are your comrades in the cells,” he said. “They’re telling you something.”

By the time of his death in 2007, Kempowski had earned an international reputation as Germany’s premier chronicler—a quirky old uncle spending time in his attic, surrounded by faded photographs and dusty junk.

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