Friday, 30 September 2011
Anna Funder Event
Although Anna grew up in Melbourne, she was compelled to choose Sydney as one of her settings in order to create a visceral and stark contrast to Germany. “Sydney is so incredibly fertile and productive,” she said, adding that the novel is a kind of ‘love song’ to the city.
Setting is just one of the many contrasts in a novel that shifts between past and present, two narrative voices and history and fiction. To illustrate the wide scope of her novel, Anna selected two passages from All That I Am: one from a scene at a Nazi rally in the 30s and the other describing an incident that happens on a summer’s day along Sydney’s New South Head Road. Both worlds vividly came to life – a testament to the strength of Anna’s storytelling ability – captivating Shearer’s staff and customers alike. This was the first time Anna had read from her novel and she said it was nice for it to happen in ‘her local bookstore.’
When it was time for questions, many customers wanted to know more about the real life events and people that provide the basis for the novel. In addition to considerable use of historical archive, All That I Am is largely based on the life of Ruth – a woman that came into Anna’s life as the woman who taught German to her German teacher. As Anna spoke about the inspiration of her novel, the audience too became fascinated by the life of this remarkable woman asking many questions about the ‘true story’ behind the novel.
The line between history and fiction was a continual conversation point for the evening. Although All That I Am is fiction, Anna and many reviewers draw attention to the historical accuracy of the work, for example she pointed out that certain details in her writing were true - Nazi supporters did wear wonky swastika armbands and people were dressed and sent to rallies so it seemed like there were more Brown Shirts. Anna is in the process of writing about the relationship between history and fiction for The Times in London exploring questions like: How much do you take form real people or real events? What do you use? How do you use it?
Funder rejects the old saying of, ‘write what you know’ preferring to ‘write what you are curious about’. With such a passion, respect and talent for historical research and the truth, why then did Anna move from the non-fiction of Stasiland to the fiction of All That I Am?
Providing some answers, Anna says All That I Am is inventing how people were connected. History sometimes stops at a point where no one can know what happened or how people felt or who their great loves were. Imagination in the form of fiction can go beyond this point. In a meeting with a journalist, Anna remembers that he had the memoir of Ernst Toller on one knee and a copy of All That I Am on the other. He flicked from one to the other saying that the date of a particular event did not match up. For Anna, he had missed the priority of the novel - she cares more about the internal narrative than the detailed accuracy of years. After all this is fiction.
Written by Natalie