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When Memory Turns into Fiction

A Study of Self-representation as a Literary Memory Strategy in He Who Blinks is Afraid of Death and A Tale of Love and Darkness

Master thesis by Helene Susanne Apelt



We are currently witnessing a widespread autobiographical tendency within the literary field with authors drawing on their personal experiences.


In the present thesis I look at two autobiographical novels that can be classified as neither entirely fictional nor factual. I’ve chosen to look at contemporary works that are distinguished in scope, subject matter and contextual framing, but still remain relevant points of references. The authors combine factual and fictional discourses through self-representational narratives and thereby question the interrelationship between motives such as identity, memory and exile.

In the present thesis I engage with the Israeli author Amos Oz’s novel A Tale of Love and Darkness (2002) and the novel Den som blinker er bange for døden (2006) (He Who Blinks is Afraid of Death) by the Danish author Knud Romer. I explore the ways that the narrators deal with their childhood memories, focusing on the relationship to the mother figure and the hometown. Growing up in different continents, Europe and the Middle East, we witness the impact of the Second World War on both protagonists. Whereas the German mother in Romer’s work move to Denmark in 1950, the mother in Oz’s novel is of Eastern European origin. She has resettled in Palestine during the 1930’s and mourns the destruction of her hometown Rovno. What these mother figures have in common is a feeling of alienation, trauma and exile to such a degree that they are shattered and unable to live in peace with their surroundings. These experiences are passed on to their sons who become double exilic figures, growing up as natives in an environment in which they feel estranged. Whereas the protagonist of Oz’s novel looks back at his childhood in Jerusalem from a distance both in time and space, the hero of Romer’s novel is a mental prisoner of his childhood city Nykøbing Falster.

Both works seek to represent the past by blurring the borders between fiction and reality. To account for such rhetorical devices, I discuss how Doubrovsky’s genre autofiction deal with memory and representation contrasted by Poul Behrendt’s invasion the double contract (dobbeltkontrakten in Danish). I also draw on the fields of witness literature and collective memory by discussing how it applies to these works. My literary strategy is contextual, and I combine memory studies with close readings. My aim is to bring back the author into the literary analysis, thereby opposing Barthes’ famous dictum that the author is dead.

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Opdateret: 22-02-11