I find I’m giving In Case of Loss to a lot of friends. The stories he tells so are evocative and thought-provoking—stories of everything from rural change (both sides of his family were in farming) to the terrible disaster of Soviet uranium mining in his area of East Germany (his miner grandfather’s radioactive hand sweeping across the radio, causing it to crackle) to writers’ lives and creative processes, not least the slow bubbling up to the surface of his own poems. These are all very particular, but I have the strong feeling that Seiler’s stories and thoughts here will appeal to any reader.
In these non-fiction pieces, he tells more openly and directly than in his poetry or fiction about his really fascinating personal background, and from a probing, meandering exploration of this biographical experience, he lands incredibly surprising and spot-on insights into everything from landscapes and how we read them to the slow-fuse, underground workings of life events and creative processes.
So, yes, I loved these essays and knew they would complement, as something of a Gesamtkunstwerk publishing project (if you will allow me), his novel Star 111 (original title: Stern 111) and poetry Pitch & Glint (pech & blende). I talked with Seiler about a selection that went beyond the pieces in his Suhrkamp essay book of 2004, Sonntags dachte ich an gott. We added major pieces that had appeared in magazines and anthologies since then and used newer versions where he had reworked them.
As publisher, because Seiler does write so differently in each form, I had no trouble with And Other Stories having three different translators for these books. Tess Lewis had already translated Seiler’s first novel, Kruso superbly, so it was a no-brainer that she should continue as Seiler’s fiction translator. And I’m a glutton for punishment, so I selfishly decided to do (as well as I could) all the poetry collection.
Meanwhile, some of the best essays in In Case of Loss are at least in part about the poet Peter Huchel, so it was great that Martyn Crucefix, a poet and the prize-winning translator of Peter Huchel, was up for translating the essay collection, his first prose translation. Huchel was forced out of East Germany during the Cold War and it is his former house near Potsdam that Lutz Seiler more or less squatted and turned into a museum and literary event venue. Huchel’s poetry is quoted in the essays ‘Under the Pine Vault’ and ‘In Case of Loss’, in which the sense of place is beautifully evoked. The title essay also explores, with some photos, Huchel’s fascinating poetic journal of images and phrases, all indexed with a kind of hieroglyphic code. And I was thankful to editors who were similarly excited and published in their journals. Michael Schmidt at PN Review was particularly taken with three short essays, including one on reading the poet Ernst Meister and one, ‘In the Achor Jar’, in which Seiler cuts up poems in frustration and stores them in preserving jars until he’s ready to look at them years later! More recently, Granta’s new editor Thomas Meaney took Seiler’s ‘In the Movie Bunker’, which remembers his first days of military service in the GDR and – so Seiler! – ends with an interrogation of the messages a photo, a look can send across the decades.
I edited both In Case of Loss and Star 111 and we also used the same copyeditor and proofreader as much as possible across the Seiler books. Seiler might write very differently in each form, but he does return to certain themes, wording, and even quotes across the books, so the continuity in the editorial process helps the books work well together and speak to each other, even while in different translators’ voices and versions of English (US English for Tess Lewis, UK English for Martyn Crucefix and myself).
You can read an excerpt on our Books page. I hope you’ll enjoy Seiler the essayist as much as we (publisher, translator, copyeditor, and proofreader) did. They hope they take you far!