Christian Kracht

Christian Kracht

Christian Kracht 2015 at Boston University
Born (1966-12-29) 29 December 1966
Saanen, Switzerland
Occupation Novelist
Literary movement Postmodernism
Spouse Frauke Finsterwalder

Christian Kracht (German pronunciation: [ˈkraxt]; born 29 December 1966) is a Swiss novelist and journalist.

Personal life

Kracht was born in Saanen. His father, Christian Kracht Sr., was chief representative for the Axel Springer publishing company in the 1960s. Kracht attended Schule Schloss Salem in Baden and Lakefield College School in Ontario, Canada. He graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, New York, in 1989. He is married to German film director Frauke Finsterwalder. They live in Los Angeles, California.

Journalism and collaborative work

In the 1990s Kracht worked as a journalist for a number of magazines and newspapers in Germany, including Der Spiegel.[1] In the mid-1990s he lived and worked in New Delhi as Spiegel's Indian correspondent. Kracht then moved to Bangkok, from where he visited various other countries in South East Asia. During this period he authored travel vignettes that were serialised in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper and later collated in the book Der Gelbe Bleistift (The Yellow Pencil) in 2000. In November 2006 Kracht was a regular columnist for the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. His fortnightly column, which originally had the title Letter from..., later changed to Letter from the Past.

During this time, together with American businessman David Woodard, Kracht reported on Aleister Crowley's erstwhile residence in Cefalù.[2]

Kracht has regularly collaborated with other authors and artists. In 1998 he worked with Eckhart Nickel to co-author Ferien für immer (A permanent vacation), collated musings on "the most pleasant places on earth". In 1999 Kracht took part in the performance piece Tristesse Royale with Stuckrad-Barre, Joachim Bessing, Eckhart Nickel and Alexander von Schönburg.[3] The book is an edited transcript of a recording made by the contributors in which they discuss globalised popular culture while staying at Berlin's Hotel Adlon. For some commentators this publication constituted the high-water mark of so-called Popliteratur - a literary marketing phenomenon for which Kracht was the supposed figurehead.[4] The author has repeatedly distanced himself from this epithet and has, for example, refused permission for his work to be republished in an anthology of that genre.[5] This notwithstanding, Kracht was the editor of the anthology Mesopotamia – a collection of short stories, fragments and photo montages by authors associated with the pop literature, including Rainald Goetz, Andreas Neumeister and Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre. First published with the subtitle "Ernste Geschichten am Ende des Jahrtausends" ("Serious stories at the turn of the Millennium"), this subtitle was dropped in its 2001 republication by Deutsche Taschenbuch Verlag in favour of an "Avant-Pop-Reader". The relabeling notably coincided with the deflating currency of the term "pop literature" in the early years of the new century.

Between September 2004 and June 2006 Kracht published the independent literary magazine Der Freund in collaboration with Eckhart Nickel.[6] He initially lived in Kathmandu while working as the magazine's editor before leaving Nepal during a period of political unrest. The chiefly German-language magazine was ultimately completed in San Francisco with a total of eight editions as originally planned. The magazine featured regular contributions from Ira Cohen, Reinhold Messner, Ian Buruma, Stanislav Lem, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Rem Koolhaas, Momus, David Woodard and Eduardo Kac.

February 2007 saw the publication of Metan (Methane), the product of a climbing expedition on Kilimanjaro with Ingo Niermann.[7] The book describes the mysterious power of methane gas.[8] Early reviews varied from the critical to the bewildered,[9] one describing it as "großer Quatsch" ("a load of nonsense").[10] Another reviewer refers to the book as a parody of "alarmism" and suggested it should be taken as a joke: "But if this book is taken as a joke, it probably is not a bad one".[11]

More recently Kracht has published an exchange of letters with Woodard in the 2012 compendium Five Years. Although this text is essentially a performance piece, certain episodes in their correspondence were deemed controversial, especially references to Nueva Germania.[12] Indeed, in February 2012 one critic writing an opinion piece published in Der Spiegel alleged that Five Years exposed racist, right-wing sympathies supposedly present in Kracht's latest novel Imperium. This minority perspective put forward by critic Georg Diez was widely contested and rebuked by established critics and authors alike during a sustained literary debate in German-language newspapers and magazines.[13]


The protagonists of Kracht's fiction embark on journeys that take them in search of an elusive moment of immersive, utopian experience or spiritual enlightenment often located in a different nation or culture. Their journey usually, but not always, results in disappointment, failure or even death. The theme of travel was introduced in Kracht's debut novel Faserland (1995), a text that is often central in the discussion of German pop literature by literary critics and scholars. While the first wave of the novel's criticism identified Faserland as a novel about the affirmation of brand names and consumer culture, a second wave of criticism suggested rather that the novels evinces the protagonist's dissatisfaction with his lifestyle and existential "ennui". Early criticism of the novel suggested the influence of Bret Easton Ellis on his work, with some commentators even accusing him of plagiarism.[14] Since the critical revaluation of Faserland, however, critics have observed the potential influence of the novel on in work by younger German-language writers such as Leif Randt in his 2011 novel Schimmernder Dunst über Coby County (The glistening haze over Coby County).[15]

The setting of Kracht's second novel 1979 is Iran and begins in medias res against the backdrop of the revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini during the titular year. This novel also deals with alienation and a chiefly Western form of consumer existence, but it depicts the fragility of an apparently decadent Western-metropolitan value system and its powerlessness before the Eastern-totalitarian models of Islamism and Maoism.[16] After the supposed frivolousness of Faserland, then, Kracht was now seen as on the way "towards genuine seriousness"[17] in his writing – a view held by critics that was no doubt informed by the context of the September 11 attacks with which the novel's publication coincided. Kracht is sceptical about such a reading of his work and argues that he writes literary "light entertainment" and "comedies".[18] Thus, during a television appearance on the popular Harald Schmidt Show in 2001, Kracht argued that his book was essentially kitsch.[19]

The 2008 novel Ich werde hier sein, im Sonnenschein und im Schatten (I will be here, in sunshine and in shadow) imagines an alternative history of the twentieth century in which Lenin never returned to Russia from Switzerland, but instead founded a Swiss Soviet Republic - a Communist state engaged in the colonisation of Africa and in perpetual war with other totalitarian empires, notably with a federation of British and German fascists. Channeling Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle and Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, the plot of the novel traces a black Swiss political commissar's journey to the heart of the empire to arrest the rogue officer Brazhinsky in an Alpine tunnel complex called the Réduit.

Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten quickly garnered acclaim in the German-speaking literary world. Broadsheet Die Welt called it a "glorious horror story".[20] The Süddeutsche Zeitung praised the writing as not only deeply reminiscent of Ernst Jünger, but also as the "most beautiful German prose currently on offer".[21] But the Frankfurter Rundschau reviewer discounted Ich werde hier sein as "simply moronic" and Die Tageszeitung found the text to be too diffuse and incoherent, amounting to just a "drug-clouded scenery"[22]

The novel Imperium and its reception

Kracht's 2012 novel Imperium follows on from Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten both in its very favourable reception by critics and in the way that it presents a reimagining of history that incorporates actual persons and historical reality while playing fast and loose with dates and details. In this sense the novel bears some similarity to Die Vermessung der Welt (Measuring the World) by Daniel Kehlmann, an author with whom Kracht corresponded while composing the distinctive narrative style of Imperium. The novel follows the travails of the historical figure August Engelhardt in the Bismarck Archipelago (now Papua New Guinea) at the beginning of the twentieth century. Engelhardt is an idealistic German emigrant who establishes a plantation on an island and founds a colony of cocoivores – radical vegetarians nourished exclusively on coconuts. Engelhardt's history is interspersed with cameo appearances by other figures from German cultural history, such as Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka. The first of Kracht's novels not to be narrated in the first-person, the omniscient narrator informs us of the protagonist's thoughts and contextualises Engelhardt's life within the broader scope of twentieth-century history.[23]

Imperium created a stir in Germany even before its publication. Writing in Der Spiegel, critic Georg Diez suggested that the novel "above all shows the author's proximity to extreme right-wing ideas".[24] The accusation of racism levelled at Kracht has been widely repudiated by other figures in the literary industry, including publisher Helge Malchow and fellow authors, such as Daniel Kehlmann, Feridun Zaimoğlu, Necla Kelek and nobel prize winner Elfriede Jelinek.[25]

Reviews of Imperium in the German-language press praised the novel's language, and it has been favourably compared to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness in terms of both theme and style.

In 2012, Kracht was awarded the literature prize for the Swiss canton of Bern and also the Wilhelm Raabe literature prize. In the words of the awarding jury, Imperium "balances on the border between humour and horror ... with great confidence and so forms a significant twist in the tapestry of contemporary German-language literature".[26]

Imperium has been translated into over 25 different languages, including English.

Style and appearance

Kracht's novels are pastiche; a playful blend of influences appropriated from areas of "high" and "low" culture.[27] Thus, Kracht's writings contain alienating references to other works, including Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, the subtly ironic travel journals of Robert Byron, and Hergé's The Adventures of Tintin series. Furthermore, the ligne claire ("clear line") drawing style developed by Hergé is used for the illustrations (by Dominik Monheim) in the first edition of Ferien für immer (1998), as well as for the original cover of Imperium.

Kracht has attested that a writer also "always performs being a writer".[28] His performance is persuasive and has successfully seduced reviewers into sometimes overlooking the distinction between the author and narrator to erroneously identify Kracht as the autobiographical protagonist of his debut novel Faserland. He has sometimes been a controversial figure in modern German-language literature. The meaning of his pronouncements in interviews is not always obvious; his description of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar (and by implication the Taliban itself) as "camp" should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt: in this case moral values take second place after media aesthetics.[29] A similar principle applies to Kracht's foreword to the 2006 illustrated book Die totale Erinnerung (published with Feral House as The Ministry of Truth in the U.S.), in which Kim Jong-Il's North Korea is referred to as a gigantic simulation, whereas his apparent ignorance of actual suffering in North Korea upset some commentators.

Stage adaptations and screenplay

Since 2004 a stage version of the novel 1979, directed by Matthias Hartmann, has been performed in theatres in Zurich, Bochum and Hannover.[30] In 2009 the play was shown at the Burgtheater in Vienna, while a stage version of Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten has been performed at theatres in Basel, Stuttgart and Berlin.[31] In 2015, a dramatized version of Imperium premiered at Thalia Theater (Hamburg) in Hamburg, Germany.

Most recently, Kracht completed work on the screenplay for the film Finsterworld.[32] The film, which is directed by the author's wife Frauke Finsterwalder, was released in cinemas in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in 2013 and 2014.



Audio books

Translations of Kracht



Most references are in German.

  1. Weychardt, A., Christian Kracht(Seattle: Getty Images, 1995+).
  2. Christian Kracht and David Woodard, "Cefalù oder der Geist der Goldenen Dämmerung", FAZ, Mar 24, 2007.
  3. Stefan Loichinger, Wenn Pop-Literaten altern in Frankfurter Rundschau, 15. October 2008
  4. Frank Finlay: "Dann wäre Deutschland wie das Wort Neckarauen": Surface, Superficiality and Globalisation in Christian Kracht's Faserland, in: Stuart Taberner (Hrsg.): German Literature in the Age of Globalisation. Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press, 2004, pp. 189–208
  5. Kerstin Gleba and Eckhard Schumacher (Ed.), Pop seit 1964, Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2007, p. 398.
  6. Der Freund website (in English or German)
  7. See also the illustrated reportage by Kracht and Niermann, "Kilimanjaro", in Qvest, vol. 23 (Dec. 06/Jan. 07), p. 59-71.
  8. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-21. Retrieved 2007-08-02.
  9. According to Harald Peters in the journal Welt am Sonntag, 4 March 2007. "Über kleine und größere Stinker"
  10. Volker Weidermann in Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung, 4 March 2007, p. 30
  11. Christoph Bartmann, "Eine große Weltatemtheorie", Süddeutsche Zeitung, 16 April 2007, p. 16.
  12. "Nietzsche und Wagner im Dschungel. David Woodard und Christian Kracht in Nueva Germania. Zwielicht 2/2007
  13. Autoren kritisieren "Spiegel"-Artikel zu Krachts neuem Roman in Kurier, 15.03.2012
  14. See, for example, Ina Hartwig, "Standpunkt verschleiert" in Frankfurter Rundschau, 23 December 2003
  15. Christian Buß in Der Spiegel, 12 October 2011
  16. Review of 1979 (in English)
  17. See Stefan Zweifel, Trash TotalTrash Total in FACTS, 7 April 2005
  18. Interview with Volker Weidermann and Edo Reents, "Ich möchte ein Bilderverbot haben", Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, 30 September 2001
  19. Christian Kracht appears on Harald Schmidt Show, October 2001
  20. Elmar Krekeler (22 September 2008). "Christian Kracht bringt Krieg in die Schweiz" (in German). Die Welt. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  21. Gustav Seibt (19 September 2008). "Es roch nach Menschentalg" (in German). Süddeutsche Zeitung. Retrieved 2008-09-25
  22. "Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten". Retrieved 2008-09-25.
  23. "Christian Kracht Imperium (A Small Empire)". New books in German, Issue 32 Autum 2012. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
  24. Georg Diez, Die Methode Kracht, Der Spiegel, 13. February 2012
  25. See 'Offener Brief an die Spiegel-Chefredaktion zu Kracht Archived November 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine., 17. February 2012.
  26. Christian Kracht, Preisträger 2012 Statement by the jury of the Wilhelm Raabe Award on (in German)
  27. Alexandra Kedves and Edgar Schüler, 'Ich schätze subversives Potential der Schweiz', Tagesanzeige, 19. September 2008
  28. Interview with Denis Scheck for ARD programme Druckfrisch, 25. March 2012
  29. Interview with Volker Weidermann and Edo Reents, "Ich möchte ein Bilderverbot haben", Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, 30
  32. Axel Springer Akademie: Die bisherigen Preisträger Archived July 8, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  33. Phantastikpreis der Stadt Wetzlar
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