Berlin Notebook: Where Are the Refugees?
Poet Josh Weiner Publishes a Chronicle of the “Refugee Crisis” in Berlin
The chronicle of a fall and spring in Berlin during the peak influx of refugees into Europe in 2015-16, Joshua Weiner’s Berlin Notebook opens a new view on German society’s attempt to cope with an impossible situation: millions of people displaced by the Syrian civil war, fleeing violence, and seeking safety and the possibilities of a new life in the west. As some Germans, feeling the burden of the nation’s dark past, try to aid and shelter desperate asylum seekers, others are skeptical of the government’s ability to contain the growing numbers; they feel the danger of hostile strangers, and the threat to the nation’s culture and identity. Unlike other contemporary reports on the situation in Europe, Weiner’s sui generis writing includes interviews not only with refugees from the east, but also everyday Berliners, natives and ex-pats – musicians, poets, shopkeepers, students, activists, rabbis, museum guides, artists, intellectuals, and those, too, who have joined the rising far-right Alternative for Germany party, and the Pegida movement against immigration. Intermixed with interviews, reportage, and meditations on life in Europe’s fastest growing capital city, Weiner thinks about the language and literature of the country, weaving together strands of its ancient and more recent history with meditations on Goethe, Brecht, Arendt, Heidegger, Joseph Roth and others that inflect our thinking about refugees, nationhood, and our ethical connection to strangers.
“There will be plenty of earnest ‘news’ stories about the situation of Syrian refugees in Europe and particularly, Berlin; but none of them will come close to the wide-ranging speculations and reportage of Joshua Weiner. His unique perspective on the refugee’s individual lives reflects not only their daily dilemmas inside a vast, and often torturously slow bureaucracy, but their personal sense of their own fate and what they hope for the future. This is a brilliant and lasting amalgam of history, personal interviews, literary speculation, and vivid description of what day to day life actually feels like for every part of Berlin society, including those who work for the welfare of the new comers, and those who are on the march to keep them out.” — Tom Sleigh, poet, author of Station Zed (Graywolf)
“‘Mine would be a perpetual crabwalk, personal, a winding detour, like my experience,’ the poet Joshua Weiner tells us — with characteristic understatement — of what he hopes to achieve in this wonderfully observed memoir of Berlin as the city reckons with the ever-increasing flow of refugees from the Middle East. Weiner brings his poetic eye and sensibility to each of his encounters over two trips to the German capital, from the pubs and public squares to interviews with refugees and wide-ranging intellectual discussions with other artists and thinkers. The ‘problem’ of the refugees — so commonly seen on the front pages, so commonly glossed over as a result—becomes a matter of deep personal inquiry for Weiner as he crisscrosses the city, trying to understand what’s happening, what ought to be happening, what people of good conscience can do and abide. Weiner is an unfailingly reliable, perceptive, and good-humored guide, and by its end Berlin Notebook (and the people who live within its pages) achieves what all good books achieve: it brings us closer to life as it is really lived in a tumultuous time and place — as Weiner memorably describes it, ‘one step from the border between meaningful connection and the economy of the lost.’” — Jeff Himmelman, contributing writer, New York Times Magazine
“The complexity of the refugee crisis in Germany is conveyed in this insightful narrative that tells the story not only of the refugees themselves, but also of a country, its history, and its culture. What began for poet Weiner (The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish) as a series of articles for a newspaper, written during his visit to Germany in October 2015 at the height of the refugee influx from Syria, turned into this updated ‘notebook’ following his return to Germany to follow up on the crisis in April 2016. In this free-flowing narrative that includes interviews with a wide range of people, both refugees and Germans, Weiner reveals both the logistical and underlying ideological issues involved in refugee resettlement. Revealing how stereotypes oversimplify situations and beliefs, Weiner conveys the refugees’ dignity and also sheds light on Germany’s sociopolitical issues. Weiner’s lyrical and affecting writing style betrays his poetry background, complementing journalistic frankness that captures the richness of the people and the city and makes the strife all the more hard-hitting. This beautiful study and exploration of people and values possesses relevance far beyond Berlin.” — Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
The author’s proceeds from Berlin Notebook will be donated to the International Rescue Committee.