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Goethe Book Club: Maybe Esther by Katja Petrowskaja

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Goethe-Institut Washington

1990 K Street Northwest

#03 (Entrance on 20th St. lower level)

Washington, DC 20006

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Read and discuss works by contemporary German authors in this series hosted by the Goethe-Institut Washington in partnership with the D.C. Public Library. All books can be read in recent English translation, as the German original is much more difficult to find; our discussion will be in English. Led by local German professor Amanda Sheffer (The Catholic University of America), this book club focuses on contemporary fiction and will explore experiences and thoughts about the text.

Maybe Esther (2018) / Vielleicht Esther (2014) by Katja Petrowskaja

I think her name was Esther, my father said. Yes, maybe Esther. I had two grandmothers, and one of them was named Esther – exactly.

What do you mean, “maybe”? I asked indignantly. You don’t even know what your grandmother’s name was?

I never called her by name, my father replied. I said Babushka, and my parents said Mother. (p. 186)

Katja Petrowskaja’s award-winning first book is a blending of her family’s history through memory, reconstruction and authentic documents and images. She traces different parts of her family tree, which she sees linked to the Christmas tree as a child, through family mythology, stories, and records. Thematizing language, the ability to tell stories, imaging history from the perspective of a family member who experienced it, the book blends an artistry with the non-fictional/biographical approach exploring her family’s Jewish roots and her learning of the German language.

Katja Petrowskaja (b. 1970-)

Katja Petrowskaja was born in 1970 in Kiev. She studied at the University of Tartu, Estonia, and was also awarded research fellowships to study at Columbia University in New York, and Stanford in California. Katja Petrowskaja received her PhD in Moscow. Since 1999, she has lived and worked in Berlin. Maybe Esther is her first book, and is translated into 20 languages.

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Goethe-Institut Washington

1990 K Street Northwest

#03 (Entrance on 20th St. lower level)

Washington, DC 20006

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