María Cecilia Barbetta, who was born in Argentina in 1972, sees the German language as a "lover" whose secrets constantly have to be fathomed. "Writing in German makes me happy," she says. That is why the author wrote her first novel Änderungsschneiderei Los Milagros (Los Milagros Tailor's Shop) in German in 2008. Her debut not only earned the Berliner-by-choice the high praise of literary critics, but also two prizes: the aspired aspekte-Literaturpreis award by German TV station ZDF and the Adelbert von Chamisso Grant, which the Robert Bosch Foundation awards for exceptional works written in German by authors whose mother tongue is not German.
Writing in German makes me happy.
– María Cecilia Barbetta
"My family had no ties with Germany," says the author, yet, she grew up with "the sound of German". "My parents thought the German School in Buenos Aires was better than an Argentinian school." The decision to read German as a foreign language was initially very pragmatic: "Many Argentinians speak English, but German is less common."
Only during her studies in Buenos Aires did she "fall in love" with the German language – indeed, so much so that she came to the FU Berlin in 1996 to read German on a DAAD scholarship. She did her doctorate there in 2000 and decided to stay in Berlin. "I felt free in Germany. The new city and the new language gave me the opportunity to completely redefine myself," recalls Barbetta.
She spent five years teaching Spanish at the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder). When she became unemployed in 2005, she began to write. A scholarship from the Berlin Senate covered her living expenses. Further art grants followed. María Cecilia Barbetta has been a member of the PEN Centre Germany since 2011.
When writing, the author likes to pick up on the great storytellers of Latin America and their magic realism. She had already preoccupied herself with neo-fantastic literature when writing her doctoral thesis. Änderungsschneiderei Los Milagros novel tells the fantabulous, wonderful and authentic story surrounding the turbulent events of the young seamstress Mariana, who alters a wedding dress for a like-aged woman whom she greatly resembles. The novel interchanges between dream and reality with the plot covering various levels of meaning through associations, words and sounds. Barbetta, who is married to an Argentinian artist, "always has pictures in mind" when writing. So, the text is interwoven with a wealth of images, such as cloth patterns, town maps, crossword puzzles or comics – and the book is a total work of art.
The Argentinian has also received several awards after the publication of her debut novel. She spent the year 2013 at Villa Massimo in Rome and, among other awards, received scholarships in 2014 and 2015 from the Berlin Senate and the German Literary Fund Darmstadt. It goes without saying that the Berliner-by-choice is also writing her second novel in German, and she has already presented extracts to the public under the provisional title “Das grüne Leuchten” (The Green Glow). Since 2007 she holds both, the German and the Argentinian passport. Receiving her German passport in Berlin "was as ceremonious as a wedding", recounts Barbetta. In any event, it was not just a bureaucratic act for her, but also a matter of heart and soul.