Two women meet for a conversation. One is world-famous, Christian, has a love for Germany and spends her evenings with Michelle Obama. The other is Angela Merkel. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 43, American-Nigerian writer, has routine when meeting A-list celebrities, but the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, 67, takes time for her two and a half weeks before the general election is something special. The two meet for the first time in the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, already during the intendant’s welcoming speech they put their heads together – Merkel in a blue blazer and flat, black kicks, Adichie in a colorful dress and red high heels.
The conversation is a preview of the time after Merkel’s term in office: It should be about philosophical and personal questions, not about day-to-day political business. Could the soon-to-be pensioner also be a keynote speaker? Adichie is definitely the ideal counterpart for the test run, because in recent years she has mainly worked as a speaker while half the world is waiting for her next novel.
Adichie became famous in 2013 with the novel “Americanah”, which was published by both the BBC and the New York Times Book review one of the most important novels of the decade and which made her one of the most important English-language writers of our time. Her Ted Talks and an honorary doctorate from Yale University manifested her weight as intellectuals. She has been a pop icon at least since Beyoncé sampled her in “Flawless” and a luxury fashion brand printed its slogan “We should all be feminists” on T-shirts. Now Adichie’s new book, “Grief is the happiness of having loved”, has been published in German, not a novel, but a personal examination of the subject of loss.
Merkel is committed to Adichie’s thesis after four years of reflection
So there you sit on the theater stage, the model feminist and the first female chancellor in Germany, who in 2017 explicitly said she was not a feminist because she did not want to “adorn herself with foreign feathers” for fights by Simone de Beauvoir or Alice Schwarzer. For Adichie, who lives in Nigeria and the USA, feminism is not a political movement, but a system of values. There is still no “full equality” in any country. Adichie speaks with the fervor that is typical of keynote speakers. Merkel, on the other hand, is factual as always, relativized with “well”, before – after four years of reflection – she finally acknowledges Adichie’s thesis. If it is a matter of everyone “getting the same participation”, she says, then she is already a feminist, even more: “Yes, we should all be feminists.” Applause, cheers.
There is no real conversation for an hour because the moderators Miriam Meckel and Léa Steinacker prefer to conduct individual interviews. Fortunately, Merkel and Adichie join forces at some point. Merkel lets Steinacker appear when she comes up with a “You as a woman from the East” question: “I don’t feel like being an expert on AfD voters because I come from the GDR.” Adichie: “I also react irritably when I am reduced to my origins.” Adichie asks the most elegant question: “Hillary Clinton said of you: ‘Angela Merkel carries the burden of Europe on her shoulders.’ When did this burden feel the heaviest in the 16 years? ” Merkel says, in the euro crisis, when the Greeks had to be expected to do a lot. Most easily? “When you have found a compromise.” For example with the Lisbon Treaty, “then you are happy”.
Casually characterizing the private as political is one of the author’s strengths
In addition to their earlier or newly proclaimed feminism, Adichie and Merkel have something else in common: They both first had to carry their father and then, recently, their mother to the grave. Merkel says that mourning as a public person is difficult if it is always observed, “How does it look”, but “you have to build a room there” – the woman with the diamond is now drawing a rectangle in the air – “and I didn’t let anyone in who didn’t belong “.
Adichie dealt with her father’s death in “Grief is the happiness of having loved”. It is amazing that you can read the 80-page small volume with dry eyes, Adichie does not write sentimentally. You become much more of an admirer of this father, Nigeria’s first statistics professor, an apparently completely decent person with a sense of humor and a coolness that does not completely fade even when he is kidnapped in 2015 because of his famous daughter. Quote after his release for a ransom: “They didn’t pronounce your name correctly, I told them how to pronounce it.”
Parental loss is a universal issue, but it is deeply personal and special at the same time. For example, when Adichie describes her quarrel with the Nigerian mourning tradition of the Igbo: Should one really shave the heads of women when their husbands die so that, so the thought, the loss of the body becomes visible? Casually characterizing the private as political is one of the author’s strengths, and ideally another one that goes unnoticed: a sophisticated dramaturgy. Literarizing a death always harbors the risk of treading on the spot in describing the pain, but Adichie elegantly interweaves various aspects of grief: Here a mini-essay on physical pain, then cheerful reflections on sub-complex expressions of condolences and practical things like that Designing t-shirts that she helped make. She looks at the pain personally, then intellectually. An intimate book that never gets too private.
“I would like to read the book,” says Merkel, what an insane sentence in glowing publishers’ ears. And then, when it comes to Africa and Merkel almost shyly reveals her relative ignorance about the continent, she says about Adichie: “So if she would see me, then I would visit her.” Adichie, very experienced keynote speaker: “It’s done!”