Gedachtnis und Genozid im zeitgenossischen deutschsprachigen historischen Afrika-Roman Conference Paper uri icon


  • In view of the role that literature plays in the remembrance of the Holocaust and in consideration of postcolonial approaches to interpreting the present in relation to the past, this study investigates the questions of remembrance and genocide in the contemporary German historical novel set in Africa. For this purpose, five historical novels will be analyzed. Three of them portray the colonial extermination of the Herero and Nama in German South-West Africa (1904-1907). These are: Gerhard Seyfried’s Herero (2003), Jürgen Leskien’s Einsam in Südwest (1991) and Uwe Timm’s Morenga (1978). The other two novels, Lukas Bärfuss’ Hundert Tage (2008) and Hans Christoph Buch’s Kain und Abel in Afrika (2001) deal with the Rwanda genocide of 1994 and its aftermath. Except for Jürgen Leskien’s Einsam in Südwest, the other novels have been analyzed before, but not from the perspective of ‘literary witnessing to genocide’, as this study will show. Using theoretical approaches of cultural and social memory studies as conceptualized by Jan and Aleida Assmann and adapted by other theorists, the study aims to assess the capacity of the novels as sites of memory. The textual analysis separately explores the question of genocide and that of remembrance and then links the two in a threefold manner. Firstly, it will be shown that genocide results in a myriad of memory constellations which correspond to the different participants’ need to come to terms with their actions and situations e.g. trauma on the part of the victims, guilt on the part of the aggressors and bystanders etc. Secondly, in this study the two genocides in Rwanda and Namibia open up the question of their relation to the Holocaust. It will be shown how the three genocides could be connected by investigating structural aspects, continuities and participants’ constellations. Generally, the fictionalized history this study explores is written from the perspective of guilt and trauma memory. The third aspect of this study will take into consideration recent debates about the German memory culture, including discussions about colonial history, focussed on the institutionalized atrocities committed against inhabitants of colonized territories in Southwest Africa and their claim for compensation. These discussions bring into focus the need to come to terms with an unresolved past, and the possible role of literature in this regard. By analyzing the selected novels, this study Stellenbosch University 4 will explore the above considerations against the interpretations of historical occurrences as (re)constructed in the narrations. This study’s point of departure is that the historical Africa-Novel functions as an archive of memories of historical events that inspired their writing. The texts will be analysed as performing memory, incorporating memory, interpreting memory and revitalising historical consciousness.

publication date

  • 2012

number of pages

  • 347

start page

  • 1

end page

  • 347