Große Liebe by Navid Kermani (2014, Carl Hanser Verlag) is a book about a man reflecting on his first love, which was also his greatest, as far as he was (and somehow is) concerned. The narrator describes the love story – which didn’t even last two weeks – in 100 chapters, each no longer than one page (letter format, I guess, because in the book there’s everything between 1 and 5). So he remembers how he fell in love with a girl from his school when he was fifteen, while she was four years older and almost done with high school. The love story itself does not need much explanation: he sees her, falls in love with her, then finds a way to talk to her. They have a short romance until from one day to another she stops speaking to him and their story ends.
Of course, this story alone wouldn’t make for a hundred pages (or at least not in the way I just described it). This is why the narrator constantly compares his teenage-self’s feelings to those of some great islamic poets and scholars of mystique. Unfortunately, for me this does not make for additional emotional depth, and the story somehow fails to convince me here. However, it probably is an apt description of how an adult middle aged self would reflect on his great love as a fifteen year old. I just sometimes missed the connection between the two. The narrator’s fatherly attitude becomes enervating at some point, and I wished for a little more compassion with the dreamy teenager and his rebellious intentions.
How did I come across the book?
Navid Kermani was all over the news for the speech he gave at the German Bundestag on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the German Grundgesetz in 2014. Last year, he was also awarded with the Peace Price of the German Book Trade, and so I decided to have a look at his works. He’s also a renown scholar of Islamic Studies, and lot’s of his writings center on religion more generally. Since that is not a mayor interest of mine, and because the catch phrase of Große Liebe quite literally caught me, I decided to read this story. [Admittedly, there’s been quite a bit of religion in this one, too.]
When and where did I read it?
On a short trip to Berlin, overwhelmingly while on trains.
There’s this great one-phrase-summary by Galen in chapter 77: “Post coitum omne animal triste”. But maybe the following part might also convince you, especially if you have equally vivid memories of your pubescent self:
Schon der Titel [seines damaligen Tagebuches] Traum & Chaos, auf dem Einband der Nachwelt in Schönschrift bekanntgegeben, schlägt den Ton pubertärer Selbsterhöhung an , der im Tagebuch dann auf beinah jeder Seite enerviert. Unbewußt ist es, so scheint mir, eine Karikatur des Sturm und Drang, dessen Sakralisierung der eigenen Stimmung über etliche Vermittlungsstufen hinweg auf den Jungen gewirkt haben muß, nur daß von der Originalität und ja auch sprachlichen Brillanz keine Spur blieb außer der Häufung von Ausrufezeichen: “Was für ein schönes Gefühl, das Gefühl der Liebe!!!” (p. 38)