Translated from German by Uta Haas
Prologue – The Last Chapter
No dreams. Blank mind. Only darkness.
And suddenly a piercing noise, somewhere out there. But in here he was safely hidden. His eyelids heavy, so heavy. The rest of his body leaden. His heart beating the steady rhythm of a slave galley.
The noise grew louder. LOUDER.
Stop – my ears!
His eyelids seemed stitched together, and he had to separate them forcefully. Opening his eyes, he squinted into glaring white. Anything was better than this erratic noise blaring on and off. He must find the source and switch it off, return to blissful sleep here in –
Where the hell was he?
Slowly things took shape around him. Iron everywhere. Weights, on the floor and on bars. This definitely wasn’t his study. It wasn’t a room he had ever seen before.
The slave galley in his chest skipped a few beats. Adrenaline leaked through a hole somwhere. Not enough for coordinated action but enough to start him thinking. He closed his eyes again. First things first.
– My name is Tarek Waldmann.
Good start. Now slowly put together what had happened last, one step at a time. This routine had been drilled into him when he was a child, for the times when he had carelessly lost his leather E.T.
Last recollection before everything went dark?
– I am a murder suspect.
The leak in the galley got bigger. Panic flooded in.
– Right, how about some more concrete memories?
Let’s start again. Last memory before it all went dark?
– I was in Helga’s flat. Helga, who is supposed to be my mother all of a sudden. She had wanted to tell me the last chapter of my story and explain everything to me.
He snorted a laugh. Now that it was too late, they wanted to explain everything to him.
He had pushed open the door to Helga’s kitchen, his insides bubbling like lava. Calmly, Helga had shut the door of the little stove in the corner and turned to face him, glancing up as she wiped her sooty fingers on her navy-blue trousers. A smile that could read him.
And suddenly he was lying here, a bottomless chasm between the kitchen, and him and Helga. How to bridge that gap now? Too much work. Much better to go back to sleep. He shifted into a more comfortable position, but his back bumped into something soft.
Someone else, right beside him. A heavy arm draped possessively across his upper body, a hand curled around his chest. He took it, chuckling. Lina and her desperate need for physical contact. Her embraces had turned into something like a Heimlich maneuver. He pulled the hand and arm tighter across his chest, like the edge of a blanket, wanting to huddle up against the body behind him. No resistance.
Does that really feel like Lina? something inside him whispered. Or even someone alive?
He blinked, drew himself up, and looked at the hand in his. Strong, straight fingers. Age spots. Definitely not Lina. Without letting go of the hand, he looked over his shoulder.
It was Helga alright. There was his mother, sleeping, her arm strangely twisted in his grasp. She didn’t seem to mind. He pulled at it and shook her, but he suspected what would come next. He knew a few things about dead people by this point. They didn’t wake up in a hurry.
Two in two days, Tarek. What will the two friendly Viennese police inspectors say to that?
Once more, double-edged blades pierced his eardrums. A doorbell, jarring and demanding. Somebody banging on the sturdy door with hands and fists, making it shake. Tarek’s name – Open the damn door!
Adrenaline coursed through his heart, roaring at him to finally feel fear. It was time to accept that no one in Helga’s story was going to live happily ever after, especially someone who was up to his neck in everything. He had to do something, dammit, and at once!
He couldn’t. It was as if someone had shackled his energy and brain, and dumped them into a glassy tank of water. And now here he was, watching the two of them make a last ditch attempt to explain to him who had gotten him into this mess, urging him to get out before it was too late. It certainly didn’t look like a lesson in escapology. With a resigned smile, he patted Helga’s hand.
Oh, Mom, he thought hazily. What have we done?
Für immer mein was published in 2013 by Eire Verlag, Salzkotten.
The Lost Son is forthcoming fromWeyward Sisters
The Creative Process is collaborating with the
Global Literature in Libraries Initiative
and Weyward Sisters on global literary initiatives.
Ellen Dunne is the pen name of an Austrian writer, born in Salzburg. Ellen worked as a copy writer in advertising agencies before moving to Dublin, where she worked in various roles at the Google Europe HQ. In 2011, her first novel "Wie du mir" was published with small German press Eire Verlag. "Für immer mein" (German original of The Lost Son) was published in 2013. "Harte Landung", first part of a crime novel series, was published by Insel in 2017. She lived and worked in Berlin, Munich and Mexico City, since 2004 in Dublin.
MY CREATIVE PROCESS
Can you tell us a little about the origins of The Lost Son and why you wrote it?*: This story originally spun off from me exploring how to turn a piece of family history of my husband's grandparents into a novel. I got fascinated by the idea of one person finding out about their family's past in the form of a self-written biography. Then the idea of a lost child came into the mix, and when I read about forced adoptions in former Eastern Germany and the initiative of a Berlin woman, Katrin Behr, to help people unearthing their stories, the idea for The Lost Son was born.
It is quite a dark story of an adopted (and quite lost) young man who is approached by his real mother under cover, but their reunification gets so marred by the lies and tragedies of the past as well as the inability of all involved to get over their personal hurt, it all goes horribly wrong.
To me, the story is best described as "family noir", and the German title "Für immer mein" (directly translated Forever Mine) reflects the possessive love that both sets of parents feel towards a child that they both deem "theirs". The English title The Lost Son aims more at the melancholic aspect of the story. Despite the dark and inherently sad story, my goal was to make it easy to read, accessible and also entertaining.
Why do you write?
I always loved to read, and also liked to spend my time inside (not too sporty for sure!). The lives of the characters just fascinated me, and also the emotions that well written books could evoke in me. In reality I often was an anxious child - reading made it possible to go places and live through adventures without the frightening reality of living through them myself.
I started my career in advertising, as a copy writer, so I am used to call myself a writer. In a sense of an author of a work of fiction, it definitely took its dear while, as I felt shy about my ambitions for a long time. Only when I started having readers because I got published I got the confidence of calling myself an author.
The Art of Translation
This translation was my first, and it was commissioned by myself, so I guess this made a big difference to the usual process. Uta Haas, my translator, just like myself, is a native German speaker, and it was also her first work of literary translation. I think she did amazingly well. One advantage, especially for the parts when Eastern German Helga was involved, was that she could very well relate and therefore translate the more tough and direct "German English" that makes Helga's language so distinct and compelling. For Tarek's more fluid communication, which is influenced by having grown up in both Austria and Ireland, we also took on board Trish Flanagan, a very capable native Irish editor. So the translation was a real collaborative work. I was fascinated to find out that, being in the English speaking world for so long and reading a lot of books of UK, Irish and US-American writers, the style I would write in English would differ quite a bit from my German writing style, while both influenced each other.
Were you born into a family of writers or artists?
I was born into a family mainly gifted and active in music. Both my great-grandfather and grandfather were conductors of the local marching bands, my brother is a musician and mixer/producer, while my stepdad was always a connoisseur of classical music. Living in Salzburg, which is steeped in classical music, my parents exposed me very early on to opera, too.
What were some of your formative influences? Which teachers supported you on your path to becoming a writer?
Still, I always read a lot and started my teenage writing "career" after a very engaged project of a former German teacher of mine, who created an anthology of our school essays, taking head shots from us "auteurs" and hand-produced the anthology. I have my copy until today, and from then on I started to write. From the start, I went for the long haul and wrote my first novel with 15. IT by Stephen King, a gift from my brother for my 14th birthday, had kicked off a reading frenzy, mainly horror novels, but also a lot of contemporary pieces. It is hard to single out names, but books that definitely influenced me as a writer and propelled me in certain directions such as Arundhati Roy, Andre Dubus, Northern Irish Bernard MacLaverty, Eoin McNamee, but also German writers such as Robert Schneider. In general, I just enjoy the often more light-hearted approach of UK/Irish writers. I do appreciate humor, especially in the face of darkness.
What other art forms and disciplines interest you?
My second passion definitely is music, and I would find it hard to write without. Lyrics of songs can inspire me but also turn me off a song completely.
What are you working on now?
Currently, I am working on the 2nd novel of my crime novel series around a half German, half Irish policewoman. The first part will be out in August 2017. It is my first major publishing contract after a good couple of years trying to break in, so I am very excited, trying to balance all my hopes with the reality of many books being published at the same time, and still being an unknown author.
What are your hopes for the future of literature?
To me, the future of literature is bright. It might shift its shape and how it is consumed, but there will always be the love for stories - so plenty of room for people who tell them.