When a satirical novel on anti-Semitism reflects the horrors of reality | Books | DW | 28.10.2019
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When a satirical novel on anti-Semitism reflects the horrors of reality

Thomas Meyer, the author behind the Swiss entry for the Oscars, just published a sequel to his novel: a satire on anti-Semitism and conspiring far-right terrorist groups. Then the attack on a synagogue in Halle happened.

Two weeks after the deadly anti-Semitic attack in Halle, author Thomas Meyer is still noticeably shocked: "It's not just disturbing, it's simply spooky," he told DW. Some of the things he described in his latest novel are turning out to be true.

On October 9, the day the attacker attempted to storm a synagogue in Halle, the novelist was presenting his book in a former synagogue in the Bavarian town of Fellheim. It was put under police protection. "I was reading about a story that had actually occurred in real life that same day; that was really spooky," he recalls, still haunted by the events.

Read more: Anti-Nazi 'Graffiti Grandma' fined after painting over Nazi tag

Swiss author Thomas Meyer (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Beutler)

Swiss author Thomas Meyer

Meyer's debut novel adapted into a hit film

Thomas Meyer, born in 1974 in Zurich, is the son of a Jewish mother and a Christian father. He became renowned in Switzerland seven years ago with his first novel, Wolkenbruch's Wondrous Journey into the Arms of a Shiksa. The bestselling book was adapted into a comedy that has been selected as this year's Swiss entry for the best foreign film Oscar.

In the book, Meyer tells the story of a young orthodox Jew called Motti. His dominant mother expects him to marry a Jewish woman, but Motti falls in love with a shiksa — a non-Jewish woman. A nightmare for his mom.

As of October 25, Netflix will be showcasing the comedy — making it the first Swiss production to be made available internationally on the streaming platform.

Filmstill Wolkenbruchs wunderliche Reise in die Arme einer Schickse (DCM/Aliocha Merker)

A still from 'Wolkenbruch's Wondrous Journey into the Arms of a Shiksa'

A sequel to Wolkenbruch's journey

Thomas Meyer is still touring with his new book, which is a sequel to his debut novel, Wolkenbruchs waghalsiges Stelldichein mit der Spionin (which roughly translates as Wolkenbruch's daredevil rendezvous with the spy).

The new novel takes off where the last one ended. While it's another satire, it no longer focuses on Motti's private life, but rather offers an alternative world history.

Book cover: Wolkenbruchs waghalsiges Stelldichein mit der Spionin von Thomas Meyer (Diogenes)

The cover of the new novel

The book intertwines two main storylines. After Motti's failed love stories, he leaves Switzerland for Israel, where he joins a bizarre club of Jews who aspire to world domination. "I had this idea that it would be funny to pretend this Jewish conspiracy actually exists, but that it's led by a bunch of duds," explained the author.

The novel also introduces another group of conspirators, Nazis who holed up somewhere in the Bavarian mountains after 1945 and are planning to reinstate National Socialism in Germany through obscure miracle weapons. That's the part of the book that eerily reflected the Halle attack.

As the book brings both storylines together through a crazy plot construction, it offers a satirical commentary on social prejudice and German-Jewish feelings.

Through his alternative history, Meyer also explores anti-Semitism, which remains pervasive because "there are simply many people who need to be 'against' something: against foreigners; against women; against climate protection; or against Jews — that's an evergreen," he says.

Read more: Opinion: The anti-Semitism targeting us Jews isn’t 'back' — it never left

Berlin Unteilbar-Demonstration (imago images/C. Ditsch)

'Right-wing terror threatens our society': A demonstration in Berlin after the Halle attack

A clear stand against anti-Semitism

Has anything recently changed on the issue of anti-Semitism in Germany? "What has changed is that people have found new ways to express it. That gives the impression that it's increasing," he points out. "I'm observing how racist statements are no longer seen as a problem." That's noticeable on the internet, he says, through "fake news and trolling on the internet, allowing anti-Semitism to become 'socially acceptable' again."

And even in private contexts, Meyer feels that reactions against anti-Semitism aren't strong enough: "People look around sheepishly, but no one says: 'What you've just said is racist. Shame on you! And: I never want to hear that again!'" He praises those who do take a clear stand, with social media movements including #haltdiefresse (shut up).

Thomas Meyer admits that his new novel does not directly address racists in that way, though: "I wanted to write an entertaining book and I believe that it's possible to approach these things through satire."

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