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When a writer loses language

GERMAN writer Kathrin Schmidt lost the ability to speak and write for several years because of a stroke - perhaps the worst torment that could be visited upon a person of words.

But she has written her latest novel "Du Stirbst Nicht" ("You're Not Going to Die"), which won the German Book Prize 2009. The author, who is in her early 50s, recently visited Shanghai to talk about her life and work.

In 2002, Schmidt suffered a stroke and struggled to find words to tell her husband, "I'm going to die."

But he encouraged her, insisting, "No, you're not going to die."

Seven years later, that encouragement became her new novel, winning one of the most important literary awards in Germany.

The novel is about regaining the world. Syllable by syllable and sentence by sentence, as Schmidt awakens from her coma she searches for lost language, lost memories and a lost marriage, which she repairs.

For seven years, the writer completely lost the ability to speak and write, but after excruciating practice and self-training, Schmidt picked up writing at last.

Q: Is "You're Not Going to Die" autobiographical?

A: No, though most people would think like this. As a matter of fact, only the illness part was inspired by my personal experience. Other plots and characters in the novel were all fictional.

Q: How did you train yourself to speak and write during your recovery?

A: When I was struggling with the disease, I couldn't express my thoughts through words or language. In my head were all images. I forced myself to associate the pictures in my brain with each word I heard, which was my way to memorize words and sentences. It was really hard at first, but I practiced, practiced and practiced.

Q: How did you regain your passion for writing? Did you fear you might not write again?

A: Actually, I didn't think that much at all. I had to sleep five or six times every day after I had just recovered from the illness. In 2005, I wrote the novel "Seebachs' Black Cat" ("Seebachs Schwarze Katzen"), which I was not satisfied with, but I found it a good way to help me recover the joy and passion of writing. After that I wrote "Du Stirbst Nicht."

Q: How did you find the courage to live when you completely lost the ability to speak?

A: I felt the power of quietness when I was ill and the great impact this power had on my life. I am not saying that we should resign ourselves to fate and give in. I mean we should try to find other possibilities when our lives change dramatically. When I realized this, I pulled myself together again. I learned to be humble to my fate, instead of struggling blindly with it.

Q: Has your illness changed your writing and your personal life?

A: I always used to like the Baroque-style, a florid writing style with long and fancy sentences, but now I often use short and simple sentences with power and passion, which you may find in "You're Not Going to Die." As for my personal life, the experience brought me a new angle to look at my life. I used to care about other people's opinions very much and be very silent when being confronted with them, but now I like to speak out my opinions bravely. I feel like a set of shackles on me has just been removed. What's more important, never give up the hope because hope exists forever.


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