By Emily Stout
A famous German author spoke Tuesday, April 6, 2004 about his experiences with the American West by sharing his insight as a writer and a reader of western literature.
Thomas Jeier, a writer living in Munich, said talking to people from the culture and visiting the area is more important than checking historical documents when he writes.
“You have to go there to get the real feeling, to catch the mood and the spirit of an area,” he said. “Even if my book is about an incident in the past, I have to touch the earth of that area in my own hands.”
One of Jeier”s goals in his writing is to make readers become a part of the story.
“I want you to relive my dreams, find yourself in a world I created against a historical backdrop so authentic and true it seems to be real,” Jeier said. “I want you to relive true history from the people”s side, not necessarily the American point of view.”
Most of Jeier”s protagonists are women, and some are Native Americans. He said it was a challenge to put himself in the bodies of people from different cultures and genders.
Despite the difficulty of writing from different perspectives, he said he felt it was important.
Jeier said his interest in the American West began when his cousin went to the United States as one of the first exchange students. The cousin brought him a tin drum, much to the dismay of Jeier”s parents, and two small American flags.
The second step was his introduction to Karl May, a German author who wrote westerns in the early 20th century. Jeier was drawn to learn about and research the American West after reading one of May”s books about an apache named Winnetou.
“I wanted to know everything about the first Americans,” he said. “It seemed to me that the truth was much more exciting than a fairy tale like Winnetou, and I was more than right.”
Some Germans still get the wrong idea of Native Americans because of the influence of Karl May”s novels, Jeier said.
“But I think Hollywood wasn”t much better,” he said. “Thinking of Burt Lancaster as an Apache chief gives you the same distorted picture we Germans had for so many years.”
Jeier has written more than 100 books. Two of his novels have been translated into English.
Jeier”s most recent novel, “Sie hatten einen Traum,” is about a young black woman at the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. It has been nominated for an award for German young adult literature.