When they were students, Stefan and Theresa were best friends, lived together in a flat share and had the same view of the world. Now, 20 years later, the contrasts between the two couldn't be greater: Stefan is the head of culture at a major Hamburg weekly newspaper, Theresa has taken over the parental farm in Brandenburg. A chance meeting between the two ends in a fight. Stefan and Theresa then start a lively exchange via email and WhatsApp.
In her epistolary novel "Between Worlds", which she wrote together with Simon Urban, Juli Zeh hardly omits any of the current social issues. It's about climate change, the Ukraine war, racism, gender and
It quickly becomes clear that the different lifestyles of Stefan and Theresa have also shaped their attitudes towards fundamental issues. The journalist Stefan - 46, single - sees himself as an enlightener and do-gooder: "In times of conspiracy theories, racism, sexism and Russophilia, journalists are the glue that holds society and facts together." In the editorial office, he has joined forces with younger colleagues with whom he discusses "white supremacy" or "intersectional feminism". "Anyone who sits with us has woken up, has their finger on the pulse, they know what's relevant, what's on people's minds," he says.
For Theresa - 43, married, two children - it's all too theoretical and misses the real problems: "Somehow you play a game in your little bubble that only affects you and confuses it with reality." She fights for her livelihood with her organic dairy farm. A lack of subsidies, bureaucracy and the feeling of having been forgotten by politics burden them and many of their neighbors in a region where almost 30 percent of the population vote for right-wing populist parties. "Here you can't talk to anyone about literature or world politics. But the people have both feet on the ground."
Zeh, SPD member and honorary judge, also speaks out on current debates. In interviews, for example, she expressed her concern about a possible division in society. In April, she was among the first to sign an open letter in which prominent figures opposed heavy arms shipments to Ukraine and warned of a third world war.
In relation to her new book, the author seems closer to Theresa's attitudes. Especially since Zeh, who was born in Bonn, has been living in a village in Havelland for years. Her bestsellers "Unterleuten" (2016) and the Corona novel "Über Menschen" (2021) are also set in the Brandenburg province.
For "Between Worlds" Zeh collected all sorts of pros and cons on current issues and compared them. Anyone who reads the book gets a concentrated overview of the arguments of the various sides - but must bring a good deal of perseverance and good will. Because spread out over 480 pages, the e-mail and chat exchange gets lengthy and sluggish.
- Juli Zeh with Simon Urban: Between worlds, Luchterhand-Verlag, Munich, 480 pages, 24.00 euros, ISBN 978-3-630-87741-9.