Volckmer’s debut novel, The Appointment (Avid Reader, Sept.), satirizes the German struggle to overcome the atrocities of the country’s past.
The book is a confessional monologue made by a London-based German woman to her Jewish doctor, beginning with her sexual fantasies about Hitler. What brought about this premise?
It would be a peculiar situation for a German to find themselves in, because usually when a German hears the word Jew, they seize up, they can’t function anymore. We haven’t dealt with our history very well, and I don’t think this awkwardness toward our history has been healthy for us. In a way, it’s a facet of the historical reckoning going on now throughout the West.
As the physician, Dr. Seligman, listens to the narrator’s mediation on her national and gendered shame, his silence seems to make him complicit. Could you talk about their dynamic?
She does something that Germans usually don’t do, which is to speak very openly. I was writing some short stories when her voice emerged, and it went on to dictate the book’s structure. But Dr. Seligman was always part of that dynamic. Even though he’s silent throughout the book, he’s also very present too: it’s by directing her confession at him that she can explore her identity.
What’s Dr. Seligman thinking during all this?
I’m sure he would laugh at some of the things she says. Some of my Jewish readers have told me that they found it interesting for a German to be talking this openly and brazenly. Some people have even asked me to write his view. Maybe it would also make people laugh and in doing so further the dialogue. That’s why humor is so powerful for me. It makes everything possible.
Why do you think no German publisher has picked up the book yet?
German publishers have been quite scandalized by it and have refused so far to publish it. They think it’s too radical. That to me just proves the whole book, the problem the book presents, that you just can’t have these conversations.
Like your narrator, you are also a German Londoner. How did that inform your shaping of her identity?
I sympathize with being a German woman living abroad. You just learn about what identity means in terms of nation, gender, and individual, and how the idea of what constitutes someone’s identity is often limiting for them. Of course, in regard to national identity, you can live abroad, but where you come from will never change. Yet I find there’s something powerful in owning your status as an immigrant and being a woman from somewhere else and dealing with whatever comes with that.