The writer Daniela Krien (Neu Kaliss, Germany, 1975) saw how her latest novel, in which she narrates the crossed lives of five women united by imperishable themes such as motherhood, family and couple relationships, sisterhood or grief, was it became a publishing success in Germany. Grijalbo has just published the Spanish edition of Love in an emergency (the publishing house Més Llibres has done the same in Catalan: Love in case of emergency) and Daniela Krien, immersed in the middle of a promotional campaign, attends El País via Zoom. Love in an emergency, in which Krien has dumped many personal experiences, has confirmed her as a reference in a profession, that of a writer, to which she admits that she arrived by chance, thanks (or because of) the situation of great disability in which she remained her young daughter due to an adverse reaction to a vaccine. “It is still an immense pain. Over time you learn to accept and manage the situation, but the pain never goes away. Despite this, I have learned that with a daughter with a great disability one can also be very happy. It is something that I did not consider possible at the time, “he says.
QUESTION. It has been impossible for me not to find some parallels between you and your characters. Is there really something of Daniela Krien in all of them?
ANSWER. There is something of me in each character, that is inevitable when one writes. And normally they are not identical life experiences, but a certain mentality or attitude towards things. There is something very concrete, such as the passion for horse riding, which I do share with Judith; or the fact that Brida is a writer and has the same job as me.
P. I think there is something very autobiographical in Paula’s story, the one that opens the novel: in the death of her daughter, in the role that a vaccine plays in the fatal outcome, even if the autopsy indicates otherwise …
R. It’s true. In fact, the book started out as a novel just about Paula. She was the first character. For some time I wrote the story anticipating that the girl did not die and that there was a direct parallel with my life: that this girl survived with a great disability and what that means. But then I went back to the time of the vaccination and looked for another way, because it seemed to me that the story was very close to my own life and that it did not work in literature. I think I still need many years away from my own life until I can write it. It is still an immense pain. I have a girl who was born healthy and after a vaccination she was left with a great disability, so I will have to take care of her throughout my life. It is something that over time one learns to accept and manage, but the pain never goes away.
P. What does a mother learn after a diagnosis like this and its consequences in daily life? If something is learned, of course.
R. I think that you do learn a lot. In my case the family broke up. The father left quite early and I was alone with the girls. But that in a way was good, because a person who does not collaborate and who does not help is another burden and I needed my strength for my daughter. In fact, the moment I was alone, I discovered forces in myself that I didn’t know existed. I was very surprised to see what one is capable of. With this experience I have also learned that in life you cannot plan anything, that one can dream of many things and have many wishes and hopes, but in the end things happen as they do. I have learned to live more day by day and not look so much towards the future. And something very important: I have learned that with a daughter with a great disability one can also be very happy. It is something that I did not consider possible at the time.
P. In addition to learning, this stroke curiously brought him closer to writing.
R. I am a writer mainly thanks to my daughter. I used to write before, but writing would never have become my trade, I would never have had the courage to do it. Writing is something financially very unstable for a person like me, with a tendency to seek security. However, what happened to my daughter left me with no other possibilities. For many years I dedicated myself exclusively to taking care of her and with that many doors and job opportunities were closed, so that I only had one path left: writing.
P. I only get to praise her because many times it gives me the feeling that writing is incompatible with raising children; because of how demanding and absorbing parenting is and because of the freshness and concentration that it takes to write. This is also manifested by another of his characters, Brida. After her, after your complaint about how difficult it is to write with children, I also thought I saw you.
R. Indeed writing with girls at home is impossible. When they are there, I close the computer and only take care of my house and them. I can’t even write when they are in their rooms, I need the house to be empty, so I can only write when they are in school. I would not say that writing is incompatible with raising children, but it is true that it is only possible if the children are elsewhere for a few hours.
P. “To write a book you need time above all,” she writes at the end of the book, when she thanks her mother and other women for their help in getting that time. In many chapters of the book this solidarity between women is also very present.
R. Without that solidarity I would be quite lost. There is a group of people who support me, especially with my young daughter, and I owe it to them to be able to work. I think that among men this support is quite evident, but among women not so much and it is something that I try to convey in my novel, especially in the last two chapters, with the sisters Malika and Jorinde, who in the end decide to live together and raise the children of the second as sisters, without men.
P. The five women who star in these stories of crossed lives approach motherhood in one way or another, as if it were a subject that cannot be escaped.
R. At least for the protagonists of the novel it is so. In real life I understand that it is different. I consciously chose characters who had this desire to have children, as is the case with Malika. And then there is one that is different, Judith. She decides not to have children. And it is curious, because the perception that readers have of it is always very critical. She is very unpleasant because she focuses on her life, because she chooses her partners on online platforms, because she prioritizes her career. This shows that it is still difficult for a woman to want to live almost like a man.
P. I like that you stay on the sidelines and do not make any value judgments about the decisions of your characters.
R. For me that was very important, since personally I am very irritated by that paternalistic judgment to which all women’s decisions are subjected. And the worst thing is that many times this judgment comes from many young feminists, who become more cruel than many men. As soon as a woman openly decides that her career or a large salary does not seem so important to her, but that it is more important for her to dedicate the maximum time to the family, they begin to criticize her, to tell her that she is reactionary. And the same thing happens the other way around from another point of view. When a woman decides to pursue a career, there is no shortage of criticism that marks her as a cold woman, without empathy, etc. No matter what we decide, we always do it wrong. It would be good to go to the opposite extreme: no matter what a woman decides, it will always be fine.
P. In that sense of freedom to decide about themselves and their destinies, if they are not judged by those decisions, could we say that Love in an emergency is it a feminist novel?
R. It would be good if it were interpreted that way, but I would not like it to be related to that new feminism that I was talking about earlier. I try to distance myself from that. But yes, I think it is a feminist book because it empowers women in their decision-making capacity, regardless of what they decide. And I hope it is also a book that does not judge men. I know that some consider that they are poorly presented in the book, but I think that their portraits are very realistic, just like those of the women. Women are not heroines in my book, they make mistakes, they have flaws. The same goes for men. They are all human.
P. The five women lived like you the fall of the Berlin Wall from the side of the GDR when they were very young. What impact did this event have on the women of your generation?
R. It was a good thing to start with. I was 14 when it happened, so much of my childhood was spent in the GDR. From that age, the limitations would have begun to act, so for us that opening was something very positive, but at the same time something that surpassed us and overwhelmed us. Our parents, for example, faced the reality of unemployment for the first time and we had to see how they, who until then were our strong references, were left in a very weakened situation with the new system. That is why I believe that we tried to make the most of all these new possibilities that they offered us, which also resulted in a high demand. We wanted it all, but suddenly we realized that the bottom does not matter what system you live in. Sooner or later you will have to learn that you cannot have everything, that there is a time for everything. We had to learn that modesty.
P. The political divisions and those differences between East and West are also very present in the novel. In a way, albeit invisibly, does that wall still exist in Germany?
R. It exists and is becoming more and more marked. There was a time when it seemed that the country was more cohesive, but in recent years and especially as a result of the refugee crisis there has been an important division between East and West and more emphasis is placed on the origin of each one, on the differences. It turns out, paradoxically, that the East in general is more conservative than the western part of Germany and the discussions and debates that have taken place have been conducted in such an irrational way that I have the feeling that right now the two sides are irreconcilable, that we are more divided than ever. I am hopeful that the next generation will overcome these divisions.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.