An evening in conversation with the author of the international bestselling memoir, Maybe Esther. Shortlisted for the 2019 Pushkin House Russian Book Prize, Katja Petrowskaja’s family story is inextricably entangled with the history of 20th-century Europe. There is her great-uncle, who shot a German diplomat in Moscow in 1932 and was sentenced to death. There is her Ukrainian grandfather, who disappeared during WWII and reappeared forty years later. And there is her great-grandmother – whose name may or may not have been Esther – who was too old and frail to leave Kiev when the Jews there were rounded up, and was killed by a Nazi outside her house.
Taking the reader from Berlin to Warsaw, to Moscow, to Kiev, from Google searches, strange encounters and coincidences to archives, anecdotes and jokes, Katja Petrowskaja undertakes a journey in search of her own place in past and present, memory and history, languages and countries. The result is Maybe Esther – a singular, haunting, unforgettable work of literature.
‘Rich, intriguing … Maybe Esther calls to mind the itinerant style of W. G. Sebald’ Guardian
‘Intensely involving … a fervent meditation on love and loss, with a remarkable cast of characters’ Financial Times
‘Mesmerising. It is writing that dazzles … deeply thoughtful and with insights that flash like sharp implements’ New Statesman
‘There's a literary miracle on every page here, the sort of book that makes you fall in love with reading. There's poetry and politics in this family memoir, but most of all there's the pleasure of being in the company of Petrowskaja's talent. A Proust for the Google age' Peter Pomerantsev, author of Nothing is True and Everything is Possible
‘Rarely is research into family history this exciting, this moving. If this were a novel it would seem exaggerated and unbelievable. This is great literature’ Der Spiegel
Katja Petrowskaja was born in Kiev in 1970, to a Russian-speaking family. She studied literature in Tartu, Estonia and then completed her PhD in Moscow. She has lived in Berlin since 1999. She won the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 2013 and wrote her bestselling first book Maybe Esther, in German. It was published in 2014 and was awarded the Premio Strega Europeo Prize, the Aalen Town Schubart Literary Prize, the Ernst Toller Prize and the Aspekte Literature Prize. It was a Spiegel bestseller and has been translated into nineteen languages.
Catherine Taylor is a freelance writer and book critic for the Guardian, FT Life and Arts, TLS, New Statesman and The Economist. She is the former deputy director of English PEN and has been a judge on literary awards such as the Guardian First Book Award, Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize and European Union Prize for Literature, and most recently the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @KatyaTaylor