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Karl Ove Knausgaard: 'I understand my own traumas'

Few have written so radically - and publicly - about their life as Karl Ove Knausgaard. His series "My Struggle" has made him a global best-seller. DW talks to the Norwegian about self-doubt, courage and all the hype.

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Best-selling author Karl Ove Knausgård

At around 3,500 pages, divided across six novels, Karl Ove Knausgaard's memoirs "My Struggle" have made him an international best-selling author. In the series he radically dissects his own life - from a difficult childhood, to the anxieties of being a young writer, to his brutal relationship with his father.

To date "My Struggle" volumes 1-4 have been translated into English, with book 5 to be released in English in April 2016.

The Norwegian author has now added yet another literature prize to his trophy cabinet - the "Welt" Literature Prize, awarded by German newspaper "Die Welt." Knausgaard follows Haruki Murakami (2014) and Jonathan Franzen (2013) in being awarded the 10,000 euro prize ($11,000). DW's Aygül Cizmecioglu spoke with Knausgaard while he was in Germany to collect the award.

DW: Mr. Knausgaard, what do you think about all the hype that you're attracting?

Karl Ove Knausgaard: I never thought that I would be part of something like that. It's completely unrelated to my books and my writing. It's very strange.

Do you enjoy it? Or do you find it a bit intimidating?

I appreciate it, but it's bothering me as well. It is something difficult to handle and that's because I have a very low self-esteem. The image of myself is completely in opposition with the image of the others.

What you mean by that?

I was humiliated in my childhood, time after time. I became ashamed for everything. And this is so basic. No matter what I'm doing, how many books I'm selling, it doesn't help. There is this feeling of being a jerk. But the energy in my books comes very much from that gap, I think.

In your books, you turn yourself inside out - your insecurities, your emotional scars. Weren't you afraid of exposing yourself that way to complete strangers?

In the beginning, it was hard. But you know, it's like a threshold. If you cross it many times, it becomes easier and easier.

But you were also writing about your alcoholic father and your wife's depression. How did your family react?

My wife was very concerned about the language in which this took place. My mother was angry, because she felt she was reduced very much. And I had a complete break with my father's family.

So, is it crazy or is it brave to write like that - radical, and totally authentic?

It was not brave, because I didn't know the consequences of it. I was just naive.

Many people believe that true literature turns our lives into fiction. But you work the opposite way. You describe everyday occurrences - cooking, changing diapers, tidying up - for pages on end. Why is that?

I didn't choose to work the opposite way. I wanted to write fiction, a great novel like Moby Dick, but I couldn't. My books are full of things that don't belong in a novel, but do belong in our lives.

And they are full of minute details - from the color of the wallpaper to the description of a bathing cap. How did you manage to remember all these things?

I'm a very visual writer, that's very important to me. And I have a very good visual memory. So I used to remember the rooms I've been in. But not the conversation that took place in those rooms. And my ambition is to create a presence for the reader.

The original title of your series is "Min Kamp" ("My Struggle"). Why did you choose such a provocative title?

That's what the books are about. It's my small, everyday life struggle. It's a struggle of raising children or having a relationship. And of course, you have the echo of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," which is completely different.

What you mean?

In Hitler's "Mein Kampf" you won't see any failures, the blushing, the stumbling, mistakes. And I liked this kind of ironic gap.

Your "Min Kamp" series is now finished. Will you continue to struggle with yourself?

Yes! That's my life, you know! I have a great level of knowledge when it comes to my own traumas and inner conflicts, because I've been writing about them.

Is writing a kind of anchor, a strategy to survive for you?

If I imagine myself not being a writer, I think I could live - but I don't think I could have a meaningful existence.

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