Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Speak Up!

I was born in Frankfurt, Germany, of a German mother and Saudi-Arabian father.

During the first seven years of my life, my parents moved from Germany to Saudi Arabia and then Brazil, and returned to Germany to settle there permanently.

Since my father did not speak German and my mother did not speak Arabic, their common language was English. It was not perfect English, but good enough to raise me in both languages. (please don’t ask why my father did not speak Arabic with me; I never found out.)

My real obsession with English began when I was about fourteen and found out there was Canada. At that time, there was a TV running on German TV, “Adventures In Rainbow Country”, and my best friend and I were totally besotted with the teenage hero, a blond boy. His mother owned a lakeside hotel on Lake Huron, and he had all kinds of adventures with his Cree friend.

I wanted to live in Canada, and very badly. I wanted a lakeside hotel and a blond, Canadian husband, and I knew I would have to be very fluent in English for that.

The language became my obsession, the gate to the life I wanted.

So from only speaking English with my parents I started reading English books, listened to AFN (the US Forces radio station) and corresponding with a lady in Toronto.

She was the sister of one of my teachers, and he gave me her address.

After finishing high school, she invited me over for a visit with her family.

For six months, I was immersed in Canadian culture and the language I had come to love.

When I got back home, my course was set: I was going to study English, be a journalist, live in Toronto, and be happy.

I did study English, and American Literature, but I never got to move to Toronto because before that I met my husband, fell in love, got married and consequently was stuck in Germany.

My husband, after he finished university, took up a job with a computer company based in Minneapolis, so we got to travel to the US, and the language stayed alive for me.

I started on my novel only three years ago, out of sheer boredom while supervising the detention room at the school where I was also teaching the Theater course, and it was not even a decision I had to make: it had to be done in English.

I’ve always seen myself as writing in English.

I knew my settings would not be in Germany, never.

Germany is a small country, and I wanted space in my book.

You might say the settings are the reason why I chose English over German. I wanted my characters to be international, world-wise people, not restricted to one place, and definitely not Germany.

My story plays in many places: Geneva, a small fishing village on the Norwegian coast, London, Toronto, New York and Los Angeles. I’ve taken care to pick locations I have actually visited, with the exception of L.A., but I have many friends there and had them check my details, and I will soon be going there to verify what I’ve described myself.

Choosing English over German is a gut decision.

It is, for me, the more poetic language. It flows differently, the music in it speaks to me.

More than anything else, the rhythm and tune make me want to hum along.

My characters speak to me in English. There’s not a German word lost among them, even though my female protagonist at one point reveals that she is indeed quite fluent in German. But she is special, and very well educated. And Canadian.

I find declarations of love in German embarrassing and cumbersome. In English, they are a song.

And, from a purely commercial point of view, the chances of my book being picked up for a Hollywood movie are far better if it is written in English from the start, because it will be published in the US and not in obscure Germany.

I know this sounds preposterous, but who knows. After all, I found a publisher in the US. I’ve made it this far, why not go further.

But wherever I go from here, it will be in English.