Norbert Gstrein

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Norbert Gstrein at the Leipzig Book Fair 2018
Norbert Gstrein (reading during the O-Töne 2008)

Norbert Gstrein (born June 3, 1961 in Mils near Imst , Tyrol ) is an Austrian writer .


After studying mathematics at the University of Innsbruck , Gstrein stayed for seven months in 1986/87 for further studies at Stanford University and in 1987/88 for five months at the University of Erlangen . In 1988 he completed his dissertation on the logic of questions , which was supervised at the University of Innsbruck by the mathematician Roman Liedl and the philosopher Gerhard Frey .

His brother is the former ski racer Bernhard Gstrein . Today Gstrein lives in Hamburg with his wife and child .

Literary development

First phase

In the completion of his dissertation was published (publications in literary magazines apart) with the story of a Gstrein's literary debut. It is about a young man who does not speak for himself, but whose life story is told from seven different perspectives. This results in facets, but also contradictions, and these contradictions show that the truth of a life eludes a one-dimensional (e.g. consistently authorial) narrative.

Until his report Der Kommerzialrat (1995), the places in Gstrein's prose texts are always Tyrolean villages. The novella O 2 , which is about a balloon flight beginning in Augsburg in 1931, finally ends in the Ötztal. In his first five books, Gstrein was repeatedly classified as a representative of anti-homeland literature because of the Tyrolean references. However, as the further development of the work proves, this classification describes at best a rather marginal partial aspect.

Second phase

With the novel The English Years (1999), Gstrein said goodbye to Tyrol as a place of action and also embarked on a historically and politically explosive field. It is about a woman who tries to reconstruct the story of a Jewish emigrant from Vienna living in London. It does so with so much compassion that she steadfastly ignores all sorts of inconsistencies she encounters. In the end, it turns out that she was the victim of an impostor. The identity of the emigrant, who died while the inmates of an English internment camp was being transported to Canada by ship , had been appropriated by a man who was not a Jew and, after the Second World War, from the "bombastic warmth" that were offered to him as an apology and reparation, cynically knew how to take advantage of it.

After the novel was published, Gstrein addressed the fundamental question of how the genocide of European Jews could be presented in an appropriate - not under-complex and also not ingratiating - way of writing facts, fictions and kitsch in his speech on a historical topic before the Erich Fried Society in Vienna, which was first printed in January 2000 in the Frankfurt literary magazine Büchner .

The following year he published the prose text Self-Portrait with a Dead , which was initially to form the framework for the novel The English Years . This plan was abandoned, however, because the self-portrait not only problematizes the narrator, but also the literary scene, which would only have distracted from the core of the novel.

Just as The English Years raise the question of the reliability of historical certainties using a fictional biography as an example, the novel Das Handwerk des Kötens (2003) addresses the question of the truth of a war. The narrator is a freelance journalist who reports how a colleague fails in a novel about a war correspondent who is friend and who was killed in the Kosovo war. Through this multiple perspective refraction, Gstrein shows that supposedly secured knowledge consists to a not insignificant degree of a crude mixture of vouchers, rumors, assumptions and interpretations. Gstrein dedicated this novel to the journalist Gabriel Grüner , who was killed in the Kosovo war . was read and misunderstood as a roman a clef by the literary critic Iris Radisch . Gstrein opposed this in his essay Who Owns a Story? to the defense, which, however, only met with little media coverage.

Third phase

The novel The Winter in the South , published in 2008, marks a turning point in Gstrein's work, not thematically, but narrative, because it is narrated for the first time from an unbroken authorial perspective. In an interview he explained: “I had the impression that my skeptical first-person narrator in the 'craft of killing' had reached a preliminary end point. His caution in dealing with reality was so great that the next level would have meant he let it be completely and no longer expresses himself at all. ”In terms of material, however, he tied in with The craft of killing with Die Winters im Süd : In the center is the story of a Croatian fascist who fled to Argentina at the end of the Second World War and returned to his old homeland after more than forty years to support the Croatian independence movement.

With The Whole Truth (2010) Gstrein turned to a genre that was completely new to him: the grotesque . A Viennese small publisher separates from his wife and marries a young, attractive author who has pronounced esoteric and philosemitic preferences as well as a very fabulous relationship with her own biography - not without considerable consequences for her husband and the editor of the publisher, Gstrein as the narrator made this story. Targeted references in the run-up to publication - in addition to allusions to and quotations from novels by Ulla Berkéwicz in the text - led in the literary-critical reception to a discussion above all about whether it was a key novel or not. It was often overlooked that the book is above all a satirical examination of the varieties and consequences of irrationalism in the 21st century, which can surprisingly easily be linked to religious motifs of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Religious fanaticism of a completely different and even more unsettling kind is at the center of the novel An Hunch from the Beginning (2013): A teacher is unsure how far he is complicit - for example with his numerous reading recommendations - in the increasing Christian-religious radicalization of one of his students . A bomb threat gives him cause to account for it, but this also means to take into account the uncertainty of his speculation about probable causes and assumed causalities. In the end, there is still concern about how much mythological models of world interpretation continue to have an effect in an apparently secularized world.

He has been writing the Writer at large column for the literary magazine Volltext since 2014 .

In the novel When I Was Young, published in 2019, an "unreliable" first-person narrator Franz looks back on his youth. As a wedding photographer, the son of a hotel owner experiences a lot of marriage celebrations and at the same time, based on the example of his parents, how little marriage has to do with tangible happiness in life. In addition, confronted with several tricky suicides, he experiences a range of psychological entanglements and also the " aporias of youth and old age".


Scientific work

  • On the logic of the questions . Dissertation, submitted to Roman Liedl and Gerhard Frey at the University of Innsbruck (Austria) in 1988. 112 sheets (unpublished).

Literary works



  • David-Christopher Assmann: Poetologies of the literary business. Scenes at Kirchhoff, Maier, Gstrein and traders. (= Studies and texts on the social history of literature. 139). de Gruyter, Berlin 2014
  • David-Christopher Assmann: Scandal with announcement. Norbert Gstrein's calculation. In: Christina Gansel, Heinrich Kaulen (Hrsg.): Literary criticism today. Trends - Traditions - Mediation. V&R unipress, Göttingen 2015, pp. 159–173.
  • Kurt Bartsch, Gerhard Fuchs (ed.): Norbert Gstrein. (= Droschl Dossier, 26) Graz 2006, ISBN 3-85420-713-1 .
  • Stephanie Catani : History in Text. Concept of history and historicization process in contemporary German-language literature. Tübingen 2016.
  • Jan Ceuppens: Wrong stories: Research with Sebald and Gstrein. In: Arne de Winde, Anke Gilleir (Hrsg.): Literature in cancer. Necromancy and memoria in German-language literature after 1989. (= Amsterdam contributions to modern German studies, 64) Rodopi, Amsterdam 2008, pp. 299–317
  • Susanne Düwell: Aesthetic reflection on exile and war in Norbert Gstrein's work . In Torben Fischer et al. (Ed.): National Socialism and the Shoah in contemporary German-language literature. Amsterdam 2014 (Amsterdam contributions to recent German studies, 84) pp. 197–217.
  • Joanna Drynda: The war from a historical perspective. Norbert Gstrein's search for the right language. In: Carsten Gansel , Pawel Zimniak (ed.): Speeches and silences in German-language literature after 1945. Case studies. Neisse, Dresden 2006, pp. 234–245
  • Marie Gunreben: "... escape literature by its own means". Norbert Gstrein's Poetics of Skepticism. (Bamberg Studies on Literature, Culture and Media, 2). University of Bamberg Press, 2011
  • Sigurd Paul Scheichl : An echo of the last days of mankind in Norbert Gstrein's “craft of killing”. In: Claudia Glunz et al. (Ed.): Information Warfare. The role of the media (literature, art, photography, film, television, theater, press, correspondence) in depicting and interpreting war. (Writings from the Erich Maria Remarque Archive, 22) V & R unipress, Göttingen 2007, pp. 467–476.
  • Daniela Strigl: "The living are alive and the dead are dead". Norbert Gstreins "The English Years" (1999). In: Wieland friend, Winfried friend (ed.): The German novel of the present. Wilhelm Fink, Munich 2001, pp. 224-229
  • Armin A. Wallas: The Disappearance in Exile. On Norbert Gstrein's narrative texts "The English Years" and "Self-Portrait with a Dead Person". In: Mnemosyne. ZEIT script for Jewish culture. 27, 2001 ISSN  1022-2642 pp. 215-224

Web links

Commons : Norbert Gstrein  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. The Schottenberockte and the Wichsleber. In: full text. Retrieved August 25, 2020 .
  2. Carsten Otte: Ideologies are criticized in Gstrein's new novel , review on SWR2 from July 28, 2019, accessed August 20, 2019.
  3. ^ Report on Austrian Book Prize for Norbert Gstrein ; accessed on November 4, 2019
  4. ^ The "Düsseldorfer Literaturpreis 2021" goes to Norbert Gstrein ;, published and accessed on March 29, 2021
  5. Thomas Mann Prize goes to Norbert Gstrein ,, published and accessed on September 10, 2021.