Writer, journalist, orientalist
DAAD Scholarship 1991–1992
Few prominent public figures mediate between cultures and religions so impressively as the author Navid Kermani – and demonstrate such stylistic brilliance in their literary, journalistic and academic writing. In 2015, the writer, orientalist, travel journalist and essayist was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, after receiving the Joseph Breitbach Prize and the Gerty Spies Literature Prize in 2014. Navid Kermani, who was born in Siegen in 1967 and now lives and works as a freelance writer in Cologne, has produced a body of work that is almost overwhelming in its richness and diversity. Equally memorable are in particular the speech he gave in the German Bundestag to mark the 65th anniversary of the Basic Law in 2014 and his 2014 assignment in Iraq to write a reportage for the German news magazine Der Spiegel.
I’m grateful to the DAAD even now.
That identity is not a fixed entity but rather something that assumes different forms in different relationships is an accepted fact for Navid Kermani. Born the son of Iranian immigrants (his father was a doctor) and growing up in provincial Germany, he was always at home in at least two different worlds: the world of his German friends – an environment which, he always emphasises, he never felt to be hostile – and the world of his Iranian parents, which was shaped by quite different traditions. While living in Cairo, where he pursued oriental studies in the early 1990s with funding from the DAAD – something for which he is “grateful to the DAAD even now”– he realised that there was a challenge awaiting him. He had previously regarded oriental studies as “drudgery”; he would really have preferred to work in the world of theatre. But now, living in an apartment on Opera Square in the heart of Cairo and being woken every morning by the chanting of the muezzin from the nearby mosque, he has found his subject. Kermani first made a name for himself in 1999 with the publication of his PhD thesis entitled God is Beautiful: The Aesthetic Experience of the Quran, in which he talks about the reception history of Islam’s holy book, in particular its aesthetic, poetological reception.
Many years have passed since these watershed events in his career. Political thinking, analytical skills, philological flair and creativity – all of these qualities are most felicitously combined in Kermani: he seems positively predestined to be a mediator between cultures. But he first learned the tools of his trade by reading German literature, especially Jean Paul, Hölderlin and Kafka. His literary preoccupation with the Quran came later – in 2014 he published a collection of essays and speeches entitled Between Quran and Kafka. In his novel Great Love, he writes so ardently and effortlessly about the schoolyard romance of a 15-year-old boy that readers find themselves infected with the author’s love of Arabic-Persian mysticism. The book also paints a portrait – both ironic and soulful – of the 1980s in a small West German town. Kermani‘s 1,200-plus-page novel Your Name, which was published in 2011, can be seen as his key work and opus magnum. It’s a book that shows Kermani’s poetic side, as well as revealing him as a genuine critical intellectual.