Attending a “meet the author” event is always interesting. It is not only a chance to hear a writer tell about the creation process, problems, difficulties, successes. It is also a chance to check what you understood about story, themes, issues, characters, symbolism.
So after reading “Cabo da Gata”, I jumped at the chance to attend an interview with its author Eugen Ruge a few weeks later. He was interviewed about both his novels. His large work which deals with his family’s history, “In Zeiten des abnemendes Licht” or “In Times of Fading Light”, as well as “Cabo da Gata”.
As I haven’t read his debut novel yet, I have to take the interviewer’s word on it, that “Cabo da Gata” is a next chapter in a history which started with his debut novel. “Cabo da Gata” certainly takes place after the Berlin Wall has fallen. This is clear from the Berlin described in its first few chapters.
The interviewer, Anna Seid, mentioned that Eugen Ruge had studied mathematics and that scientific theories are mentioned throughout “Cabo da Gata”. This was one of the things which had escaped me. No idea why, for when the author read aloud the first few pages, math and mathematical theories stuck out.
The writer’s block from which the main character suffers, was of course discussed. This led to interesting questions. Do authors need to leave a place to describe it? Do authors have to visit places they want to write about? Eugen Ruge mentioned he can’t write about a place he has not visited. A lady in the audience remarked not all authors need to visit places to write about them.
Contrary to what several German reviewers and I had read in the story, Anna Seid said this was not a story about someone shattered by events. She remarked that nothing much happens in this novel.
Eugen Ruge said that one of the things he’d wanted to write about was, what life had been like before the internet, mobile phones, twitter, and other stuff people are now unable to live without, had taken over life.
It is true, that many are now totally unable to survive without Facebook or Twitter. Many also need to be weaned off the internet, or gaming. This is not the case with the main character, who has no mobile phone and survives without internet. An outdated travel guide serves him well enough to end up in “Cabo da Gata”.
Is life more adventurous without Google Earth, Google Streetview, Google Translate, Apps and similar whatnots? Humanity used to be perfectly able to survive without these.
Ms Seid mentioned the inability of the main character to break free from routines. The most obvious example is how he makes coffee in Berlin and ends up making coffee in Cabo da Gata. In the village, routine is perhaps even more present than in Berlin – for each week of the day has its set meal and the sequence never changes.
Of course, Ms Seid talked about the cat. She stated the main character’s father is present in the book, but his mother has died and his partner has left him. The main character seems to have a problem with females. One does not have to be a literary critic or professor to notice this.
For a while, the cat sleeps at the end of the bed during the night. Ms Seid claimed the cat therefore symbolised the main character’s mother. As the cat shares the main character’s bed, she continued, the main character had an incestuous relationship with his mother – for the cat becomes pregnant.
The audience blinked. I thought only a university lecturer in German literature who’s still firmly stuck in Freudian literary analyses could come up with such an interpretation. Everybody stared dumbfounded.
Personally, after studying English lit and a few different forms of literary criticism, I remain wary of Freud and not that impressed by literary criticism. To detect an Oedipus complex and incestuous relationship, including the main character impregnating a cat – remains a bit far-fetched for me. But perhaps you’ll agree with this lecturer.
The audience took time to digest Ms Seid’s interpretation. What about the author? After a short silence, he did not deny the importance of the cat and that it symbolized something. But he did not support the interviewer’s interpretation.
Regardless, I remain impressed by the many themes and ideas which Eugen Ruge put into his novel. This slim book can be read and reread, as new themes and ideas will strike its reader. As for the cat: you’d better start reading “Cabo da Gata” yourself and draw your own conclusion. An English translation is forth-coming.
“Cabo da Gata”, Eugen Ruge, 208 pp, Rowolt 2013
YouTube English interview of Eugen Ruge by Peter Craven on Eastern Germany and the novel “In Times of fading Light”.
German review of Gabo da Gata in Der Zeit
German review of Gabo da Gata in Frankfurter Allgemeine