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The fearless Carolin Emcke

I got it from my mother

Carolin Emcke 1As a parent, I often wonder what qualities one might, if at all possible, wish to instil, or inspire, in a son or daughter. A short list might include: curiosity, openness, stamina, wit – and a sense of fairness, or justice. The question is: how much of a role do parents actually play in encouraging such virtues in their children? A good deal, it seems, if my latest guest on Talking Germany is anything to go by. “I’m fearless,” says Carolin Emcke, “and I got it from my mother.”

Carolin Emcke 2The fearless Emcke is formidably versatile: she’s a prize-winning journalist, a powerful novelist, a war correspondent with 14 years of experience in the field, and a fully-fledged philosopher. Justice is a central theme. I’d underlined a passage in her fascinating book of self-discovery – How We Desire – in which the young Carolin witnesses a teenage boy at her school being maltreated by other boys. A teacher is involved, too. She doesn’t intervene. “There is nothing courageous to report,” she remarks. “But the next day I swore to myself that never again would I look on speechless if something like that were to happen again.”

Carolin Emcke 3I tell Carolin that I think the reason why I honed in on this incident is because it was so very reminiscent of scenes I witnessed in my own schooldays. Scenes that left me outraged at the in-justice. And, for a moment, I sense a kindred spirit. But, more than that: a generous spirit. Carolin Emcke is a good talker and, possibly, an even better listener.

Carolin Emcke 4After swearing that she will never look on speech-less again, she has developed a real talent, and a method, for helping people to say the unsayable. Her latest collection of essays is called Because It Can Be Said. Subtitle: On Bearing Witness and Justice, which explores how it is possible to talk about war and violence. In How We Desire Carolin also wrote, with regret, that “We are not only what we want to be. We are also what others make of us.” But she should be glad, as least, that her mother made her fearless enough to go to, and report from, what she describes as “landscapes of violence.”


July 7, 2014