Magazine article World Literature Today

More Talent Than Success: The Enigma of the Underappreciated Author

Magazine article World Literature Today

More Talent Than Success: The Enigma of the Underappreciated Author

Article excerpt

Success is a difficult thing for a writer to define. Is it having a devoted readership? Is it critical acclaim? Is it earning the respect of fellow writers? Or is it a royalty check the size of the Ritz? You can fantasize outlasting your mortal self and being read in the future. Or altering the course of literary history. Some say it is the aesthetic satisfaction of doing good work, that strange feeling of reading your own prose and feeling apart from it. You couldn't possibly have written something so good. Where did that come from?

Accompanying the riddle of success is the enigma of disappointment. Most writers are bound to feel underappreciated. Writing well is hard work, much harder than nonwriters imagine, and when the result reaches a level that feels like art, there can only be disappointment, if not devastation, when it is met with a shrug. After sobering up, perhaps a more nuanced view of your own product is achieved or even a worse devastation-if you anoint yourself among the most self-deluded of the worst writers since the invention of cuneiform.

When they are not obsessing over their own work, writers peer at the fates of their colleagues in order to augur their own destinies, and what is found inexplicable there are the mirror phenomena of the undeserved success and the underestimated genius. The former category has less fortunate writers writhing in agony over the $2 million advance for The Day After Tomorrow (1994), a fictional version of They Saved Hitler's Brain (1968), one of the greatest eye-rollers to come out of Hollywood. Then there are such prose masterpieces as The Da Vinci Code, Fifty Shades of Grey, and anything by Stephenie Meyer, whose fans Stephen King offended by saying she "can't write worth a darn." Where is the justice?

But let's not linger on the unpleasant implications of the overpaid in artistry and instead consider the legions of underrecognized writers. Which international crime writers deserve more attention than they are getting? I informally surveyed a number of members of the International Association of Crime Writers and got a variety of answers. Naturally, some of those mentioned were not translated into English, but my correspondents hoped these writers would soon be earning more acclaim.

Thomas Pryzbilka, of the Bonn Archive of Secondary Crime Literature, recommended two authors: Uwe Klauser and Sabina Naber. Uwe Klauser, German, writes historical mysteries and has published books set in the Middle Ages. However, what Pryzbilka recommends are Klauser's historicals beginning in Berlin during the Third Reich and continuing into the postwar era. His police detective is Kommissar Tom Sydow, and the series has gone to five novels: Walhalla-Code (set in 1942), Odessa-Komplott (set in 1948), Bernstein-Connection (set in 1953), Kennedy-Syndrom (set in 1961), and Eichmann- Syndikat (set in 1962). Each examines different aspects of the legacy of Naziism, such as the Berlin Wall and the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

Pryzbilka also admires the crime writing of Austrian Sabina Naber and believes she deserves even more success than she has had. An Austrian and member of Das Syndikat, the German-language crime writers' association, Naber is an actor, journalist, playwright, lyricist, theater director, and documentary screenwriter. She emerged as potentially one of the leading German crime writers by winning the Friedrich-Glauser-Preis for best short story in 2007, "Peter in St. Paul." Even so, Pryzbilka believes she deserves more international attention. She has published seven novels, beginning in 2002 with Die Namensvetterin ("The Namesake"). Most of her novels have featured Detektiv Maria Kouba, but her latest, Marathonduell, is the first volume of a series featuring Chefinspektor Katz and Gruppeninspektor Daniela Mayer and is set during the Vienna marathon. According to the publisher, Gmeiner Verlag, Katz is the "intuitive freak" of the crime-solving pair, while Mayer is the "stoic pragmatist," inverting the usual sexual clichés and creating an investigative "dream team. …

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