Nina George | LibraryReads Author Spotlight

On a trip to Paris with her husband, 60-year-old German Marianne decides to commit suicide, but fate leads her to ­Kerdruc instead. Nina George’s The Little French Bistro conveys the mysteries of life and love through the inter­actions among the inhabitants of that small Breton town. A resident of both Berlin and Brittany, George graciously answered a few questions LJ posed to her via email.

Photo Urban Zintel © by Nina George

Where did Marianne find the courage to take that first step—admittedly an act toward death but one that led her back to life?
When Marianne decides to end her life, three things have aligned for her: blank despair, an opportunity, and a sort of determination. But when Marianne decides she wants to die, she’s really saying that she wants to live another life—she just does not know where to find it. To want to end life does not always mean, “I want to die.” It means, “I just want to leave this life, I want to have a restart. I do not want to just go back and change little things. I want a reincarnation, but I do not know where to find it.” I imagine every human being has these moments. I have been in these situations, too. But I am much too curious to see what might be coming up around the corner.

Marianne seems to hold the key to solving all the problems of the people she encounters in Kerdruc. Why does she deny her own strength in the face of all that she means to others?
Most women…have been taught (by their mothers but also by patriarchal societies and religions) if you want to be loved, you have to be sober, easygoing, nice, well-educated, not so loud, not too powerful, not too ambitious. To break down these inner jails of self-destructive themes is a lifelong job…. To help others is a kind of “undercover strength,” because you do not use it for yourself. One day a woman finds out: I am worth it. I am worth being loved although I am strong—even, because I am strong. To change the mind-set of a self-restrained woman—this is what nearly every woman has to do.

The Bretons all suffer for love. Does it have to be so complicated?
Love is not complicated. It is there, or it is not. You can do nothing for or against it. But this is the challenge we have to struggle with over the years: What should we do with love from another which we do not want? What do we do when we are lonely some nights? How can we survive if someone we love is dying, and there is no one else to love us exactly in this soothing, caring way? Love doesn’t help us to deal with fear or career or politics or living with one another. It never does the work we have to do. Sometimes you can even love someone deeply and never tell him or her. Because love does not solve our problems. Yeah, okay, it is complicated. :)

Cats were worshipped in Egypt and associated with gods and goddesses. Were they always part of your design as those mythical creatures, or did they magically create themselves?
Cats and ravens: these are my favorite animals to add a mythical glimpse in nearly every story. In [my earlier book], The Little Paris Bookshop, there were two cats (named Kafka and Lindgren), and ravens are sort of heralds from the other worlds of dreams, the past, and the upcoming future. As a child, I fell in love with the legends of the Greeks and Romans. Although I am a skeptical, rational, analytical person when it comes to politics or business, another part of me is pure emotion, sensitive to the unexplainable. To be a storyteller also means telling about the myths that are part of daily life in every culture and character. In Brittany—la Bretagne—god is not very topical. It’s the sea and death, the women and the rocks, the other world and the Celtic legends. My education was imprinted by my father’s lesson: religion is something like a house. You do not need to look in every house of the gods and goddesses but tolerate and respect it if someone would like to live in a different house than you. For me as a child, that was logic.

Aside from Brittany itself, what figures so largely in Bistro is the sea.
What is the lure of the sea to us?
There are two general types of people: mountain and forest addicts and ocean lovers…. The sea is the dynamic, the unpredictable, nurturing but also rogue, full of passion and movement, in a permanent flow, full of emotions and depth, which frightens most people. Let’s say: feminine. Mountains are made of eternity, solidity, scary in their shadows, and confining in their deep, cold valleys; you have to wait sometimes a dozen years until a mountain shows any emotion…. [T]hey are ­masculine.

Over the years I realized that people who feel safe in the mountains, who find relief and peace, are often people who are very good at keeping things stable and maintaining a routine. Ocean lovers are different: full of an inner urge to run away, a yearning to change their routines.

For me, the sea is a mirror of myself. When I am by the sea, I live within the tides—I feel my inner tides, the changing of emotions, conceptions, and I deeply understand that our souls are moving all the time. Inside of everyone there is an endless and deep ocean, full of sentiments, thoughts, ideas, fears, hate, and love. We do not remain who we are—tomorrow I will have various colors of the sea on my mind. And this is okay—this is human nature. We are made of water.

You’re from Germany, now also living and writing in France. And this book takes place
in Brittany, which is distinctive from the rest of France in its language and culture.
How does this “double distance” affect you as a writer?
If someone would ever ask me to describe my inner landscape, I would unfold a map of Brittany. Brittany is one of the oldest parts of Europe—once, at the beginning of the world in the Carboniferous Period, this microcontinent was called “Armorica.” The Romans were impressed with the savage seashore, the endless forests, the old stones (most of them have faces…), and called it “Finis Terrae”—end of the land. But the Breton people call it “the beginning of the world.” If you come here for the first time, you will be hurt—because you are thrown back on your own beginnings. The nights with these pearl-lit stars, the never-sleeping sea, the rocks: this is where time does not matter. It does not matter how old you are, what you have done until now, or what kind of culture or religion you come from. You are at your own beginning. Could there be a better place to set stories—or to settle down for a lifetime? I may be far away from everything I am in the Big City Berlin, but I am closer to being myself than ever.—Bette-Lee Fox & Barbara Hoffert

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