INTERVIEW ON GERMAN TV:
Ivo Lederer was a refugee in the only group of
European Jews given
special passage by ship to the United States by President Franklin D.
Roosevelt during World War II, and he later went on to became a
and Eastern European scholar in America. He also gave the world a rather special
literary gift -- his son the Berlin-based writer Michael Lederer.
I recently saw Lederer fils on a German TV interview show, speaking in
English with the show's British host Robin Merrill. Fascinated by the American
author's colorful life and new novel, titled "Cadaque,"I reached out
via the Internet and
asked if we could chat a bit about life and literature.
Lederer wrote back to me here in Taiwan and told me some of the background
to his late father's rather unique voyage to and arrival in America.
He told me his father was born in 1929 in Zagreb, Croatia and was 11 when the
Nazis invaded, with his grandfather arrested for defying a ban against Jews
However, as luck would have it, or by the grace of God, the Lederer family
was able to flee to Italy using false papers to get across the border.
There, with the help of friends and people in the Catholic Church, they lived in
hiding for three years.
Later, the Lederers boarded the ''Henry Gibbons'', a Liberty ship
dispatched by Roosevelt to transport wounded soldiers and 982 refugees,
mainly Jews. They set forth on a new adventure and sailed from Naples
to New York.
Fast forward to 2014. Michael Lederder, 58, lives in Berlin and is
preparing to publish a new novel -- just completed and being edited
and prepared for publication as you read this -- titled "Don Quixote
More on the new novel later, but first I wanted to find out how the
ever-wandering Michael ended up
doing an interview in English on a German satellite TV network
"The TV program that you watched in Taiwan
was taped in August 2014 in Berlin and first aired in early October," he
told the San Diego Jewish World. "It is still available online, at
both the Deutsche Welle website and on
YouTube. The producers of the show knew about me through the U.S. Embassy
Literature Series here in Berlin, and I got an email from them requesting
the interview. I'm glad you saw the show and wrote to me across the seas."
I wanted to know what had brought him from his earlier life in America to
life now as an expat in Berlin, where has lived for over ten years.
"I lived in London as a student of theater in the early 1980s, after
college in New York," he said. "Later, I lived in fishing village in the
south of Spain in the mid-1980s. I also have lived in Vienna, London,
Berlin, Warsaw and Dubrovnik. I am still
an American, I just sleep and eat in other places."
In Berlin, Lederer lives with his second wife, a Polish-born woman, and
works on his writing every day.
"Here in Berlin,
I am a member of the Kunstlerhof group," he told me. "We are painters,
writers, sculptors and musicians sharing an old factory space in Berlin.
They say that misery loves company, so does joy. At this point in my life I
am very happy man and writing novels one after the other."
I asked Michael what his new novel is all about.
"Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say that the question of
solar energy plays a big role in the story," he told me, knowing of my own
interest in ''cli fi'' and global warming issues. "Because if we hope
to leave this place intact for our great grandchildren, and someday their
great grandchildren, we need to act beyond mere thoughts of the next
electoral cycle or accounting quarter. Our better instincts can maneuver
ahead while our lesser instincts are inclined toward crash and burn. It's
our choice which path to take, and that choice has to be made very soon."
"Don Quixote Saving America" is about an older man who lives on a broken-down
houseboat in California and who reads Cervantes' famous novel "Don Quixote"
and then decides that just like the knight in that book he will venture
forth to "banish evil from the land, Michael told me.
"In his case, that involves driving across America in an old car he
rechristens Rocinante," he added. "He picks up a young hitchhiker he
insists on calling Sancho, and together those two set out to 'get America
back on her feet.' Miguel de Cervantes was 58 when he wrote
the first part of his 'Don Quixote'. I am that same age now."
BLOGGER NOTES: Dear readers, -- Although I am not a book critic, and have not read Mr Lederer's novels
yet, I feel that his books deserves a much wider
readership than he has been able to find so far, since living overseas and
being published by Berlin-based publishers makes it hard for Americans to
get to know the writings of one of their native sons.
My hope after this
brief interview we had over the invisible cables of the Internet is
that Americans -- and American publishers -- will discover a true
treasure with an international ear for things that matter
FULL NEWS ARTICLE HERE:
more QUOTES FROM OUR EMAIL INTERVIEW:
The Insight Germany program about me was taped in August 2014 and first aired 8 October 2014. It is currently available online, at both the Deutsche Welle site and on YouTube. I believe they knew about me through the U.S. Embassy Literature Series, which this year included my novel CADAQUES. I got an email from DW requesting that interview, in the same way that you have now written to me.
As an alcoholic I drank from the age of 12 until I was 47. Too close to death too many times, and after too much damage caused to others (broken relationships, job failures, DUI arrests, wasted money…the usual suspects) something went click and by some miracle I have now been sober for 10 1/2 years. One place I used to go to drink and get stoned with friends was the fishing village of Cadaqués in Catalonia, Spain. We were a colorful group...lots of sex, fighting, climbing rooftops, swims, etc. Always taking things to the edge, and in a few cases over the edge. I kept going to Cadaqués after I stopped drinking and it all looked, sounded, felt so different then. One can be too careful in life (perfect student, perfect job, car, house, 2.3 kids, hair always combed…). One can be too crazy. Or there's that sweet spot in the middle. I wanted to explore the line between nice-crazy and too-crazy. Cadaqués was the perfect place for me to do that.
I've always been from someplace else. My mother Johanna was born in the U.S. in 1930, but her parents both were from Stettin, Germany (now called Szczecin in Poland). My father Ivo was born 1929 in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia) and moved to the U.S. in 1944 when he was just 14 years old. He became a professor of contemporary European diplomatic history (Princeton, Yale, Stanford), and so the family point-of-view was always a mix of American and pan-European. I do have relatives in Croatia. I do not have any relatives I know of in Germany. We spent 1961-62 living in Vienna, Austria, where my father was writing a book about Yugoslavia at the Paris Peace Conference. I went to an Austrian kindergarten in Vienna and loved living there. The bread was better, the coffee was better, people dressed better and knew languages, and above all there was a feeling of MYSTERY even in the little things everyday things. We spent many summers in Europe, and when I got older I began to go there under my own steam as often as I could. I lived in London as a student of theatre 1980-81. I lived in another fishing village in the south of Spain 1984-85. I have lived in Vienna, the south of Spain, the north of Spain (Catalonia), London, Berlin, Warsaw, and Dubrovnik. I am still an American, I just sleep and eat in other places.
In 1984-85 my first wife Judy and I spent almost a year living in a tiny fishing village called La Herradura in Andalucia in the south of Spain. A young goatherd drove his goats through the unpaved streets, fishermen sat on the beach below our balcony mending nets, and at night those same fishermen would return with their catches and stick torches into the ground and people would come from the village to buy the fish. I had read Hemingway in school, and there was a rough-edged authentic air that I loved in that simple place. Beautiful, unadorned, direct, and powerful. BUT…there were building cranes everywhere along the coast, and ours was one of the last real fishing villages in that area. That made me sad. They even tried to make some of the condos springing up look "Spanish." Ersatz Disneyland-Spain was replacing the real thing. Everyday I would run along the thousand-year-old goat path along the cliff tops, and I would pass by the ruins of a building that I imagined had once been a family farm with a fine view of the sea and the village below. In the hills, we got to know many farmers and we would watch them making sausage and making cheese and using firewood and candles at night, and I wanted to capture that world before it disappeared like a flame disappears from a candle. There was still a burning ember there and I wrote about it in NOTHING LASTS FOREVER ANYMORE. I had a very small publisher in Barcelona in 1999 (the book was first published 14 years after I wrote it), and I now have a very small publisher in Berlin who has reissued the book. Neither publisher has had much luck generating reviews, so the book is still a secret. But if one knows it's there, one can buy it as hardcopy via Amazon.de or elsewhere in Europe, also as an e-book available via the US Amazon
Yes, I am a member of the Kunstlerhof group. We are painters, writers, sculptors and musicians sharing an old factory space in Berlin. They say that misery loves company…so does joy.
I am not interested in loss. I am interested in recovery. Someone said, "Turn your wounds into wisdom." On the macro level, when I was a boy we had nuclear war exercises in the classroom. "Kids, in case of bombs falling get under your desk and kiss your you-know-whats good-bye." Hard not to be aware of what you call the "cracks" appearing along the highways and byways of our lives. Today the stakes are higher yet: global warming, nuclear proliferation, loss of privacy… People always had a destructive strain, but we have never before had such power to destroy so much so fast and so effectively. Yet, I am an optimist. I believe our urge to build is greater than our urge to destroy. On a micro level, at the age of nine I saw what I thought was my happy family torn asunder by alcoholism and divorce. Nothing felt safe after that, and I dealt with that insecurity in ways that led to further losses. But from all that I have discovered the art of recovery. Loss marks the end of one thing and potential beginning of another. Some people stay down while others get back up. That's what interests me.
There is a Facebook page called CADAQUES NOVEL. We have 16,000 followers now. I know that I also need to start using Twitter.
After an early false start as a writer in my twenties, I then spent 25 years doing a lot of other things: theatre actor, rare book dealer, art gallery director, managing editor at Citigroup in New York, committed traveler, all of that in the cloud of alcohol and drugs. As I mentioned, the cloud lifted a little more than ten years ago, and it is only in the last five years that finally I have seriously turned to writing. And so the irony is that at 58 I am in some ways a "young" writer just starting out. So no, the honest answer is I have not built my audience yet. People do not know about me. CADAQUES was my first novel. I have just finished my second novel. I am giving this everything I have now.
This was a big world once. We didn't know what was over the next hill or beyond the water or even around the next corner. You'd throw something away and it seemed to do just that, go away. Nothing came back yet. It's starting to come back now…floating in the water, or in the air. In ten or twenty thousand years it may be that the human chapter of earth's history has come to its end. And there will be no one to play or listen to the music of Mozart, speak or hear the words of Shakespeare, or marvel at any of the rest of what we've done. If that happens it will take time for the oceans and forests to repair themselves, but they'll do it. Creatures will make their homes in the ruins of the Great Wall of China and the Empire State Building and the…fill in the blank. Or…or…we can get smart. In the span of just one human lifetime we went from Wright Brothers to the space shuttle, from telegraph to radio to internet to the Smartphone. We are a clever lot and can do as much good as bad when we set our minds to it. Without giving away too much of the plot of my new book, DON QUIXOTE SAVING AMERICA, I will say that the question of solar energy plays a big role in the story. Because if we hope to leave this place intact for our great grandchildren, and someday their great grandchildren, we need to act beyond mere thoughts of the next electoral cycle or accounting quarter. Our better instincts can maneuver ahead while our lesser instincts are inclined toward crash and burn. It's our choice which path to take, and that choice has to be made very soon.
I have just finished writing my second novel, which is called DON QUIXOTE SAVING AMERICA. In it, an older fellow who lives on a broken down houseboat in California reads Cervantes' novel, then decides that just like the knight in that book he will venture forth to "banish evil from the land." In his case, that involves driving across America in an old car he rechristens Rocinante. He picks up a young hitchhiker he insists on calling Sancho, and together those two set out to "get America back on her feet." The older man has a romantic view of America taken from old black and white TV shows of the 50s and 60s…Andy Griffith, Leave it to Beaver, etc. Of course it was never as simple as that, but try telling that to the fellow in my book. Miguel de Cervantes was 58 when he wrote the first part of his Don Quixote. I am that same age now. Also, Cervantes' book was finished and the last part published in 1615. To mark the 400 year anniversary of that date, my German publisher PalmArtPress will release a very limited edition of DON QUIXOTE SAVING AMERICA in 2015. I am also looking now for a bigger publisher. And I have written a screenplay based on my book. If anyone knows Bill Murray, please forward him my contact info.
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