Surviving to Tell the Tale: Josef Haslinger’s Phi Phi Island (2007)

  • Katharina Gerstenberger U of Cincinnati
Keywords: tsunami, Josef Haslinger, religion, coping strategies

Abstract

 

Literary texts about historical disasters tend to offer moral, political, or scientific interpretations of the occurrence that go well beyond the immediate experience of a catastrophe.  They are, almost exclusively, written by people who did not in fact experience the catastrophic event.  Survivor accounts, by contrast, typically do not have literary qualities.   Phi Phi Island, the Austrian writer and essayist Josef Haslinger's literary report on how he and his family lived through the tsunami of 2004, is an exception.  Point of departure for Haslinger's narrative is his inability to rejoice in the fact that he is alive. Carefully crafted and beautifully realized, his text combines the reconstruction of the events with reflections about how one can tell such a story in the first place.  This essay analyzes Haslinger's strategies for coming to terms with the coincidence of survival, observing that the very personal nature of the report stands in noticeable contrast to the writer's commitment to political commentary in his other works.  

 

Resumen

 

Los textos literarios acerca de los desastres históricos tienden a ofrecer interpretaciones morales, políticas o científicas del suceso que van mucho más allá de la experiencia inmediata de una catástrofe. Son, casi exclusivamente, escritos por personas que de hecho no experimentaron el acontecimiento catastrófico. Las versiones de los supervivientes, por el contrario, no suelen tener calidad literaria. Phi Phi Island, el informe literario del escritor y ensayista austríaco Josef Haslinger sobre cómo él y su familia vivieron el tsunami de 2004, es una excepción. El punto de partida de la narrativa de Haslinger es su incapacidad de regocijarse en el hecho de que está vivo. Cuidadosamente construido y bellamente realizado, su texto combina la reconstrucción de los hechos con reflexiones acerca de cómo uno, en principio, puede contar tal historia. Este ensayo analiza las estrategias de Haslinger para llegar a aceptar la coincidencia de sobrevivir, observando que la naturaleza sumamente personal del informe se manifiesta en contraste evidente con el compromiso del comentario político expuesto por el escritor en sus otros trabajos.

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Author Biography

Katharina Gerstenberger, U of Cincinnati

Katharina Gerstenberger is professor of German and department head at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of Truth to Tell: German Women's Autobiographies and Turn-of-the-Century Culture (2000) and Writing the New Berlin: The German Capital in Post-Wall Literature (2008). She co-edited German Literature in a New Century: Trends, Traditions, Transformations, Transitions (2008); and After the Berlin Wall: Germany and Beyond (2011). Her articles on topics of 20th and 21st German literary culture have appeared in Gegenwartsliteratur, Monatshefte, Women in German Yearbook, German Politics and Society, German Quarterly and in several anthologies, including German Literature in the Age of Globalization (2004), Spatial Turns: Space, Place, and Mobility in German Literary and Visual Culture (2010), and Generational Shifts in Contemporary German Culture (2010). From 2007-2010 she was co-editor of Women in German Yearbook. Her current project is titled "Disaster Narratives: History and Catastrophe in the German Imagination."

 

Published
2012-03-12
Section
Writing Catastrophes: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Semantics of Natural and Anthropogenic Disasters