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Kurt M. Hartmann was born in Hungary and educated in South Africa and the UK. He is a physicist and a former consultant to the German government on technological matters. He lives in the Munich area. Windows on the Abyss is his first novel.
Below is a Q&A with this author.
1. What can you tell us about your new book, Windows on the Abyss?
The book records the agonising breakdown of a mind suddenly confronted by a tragedy that is, for the most part, of its own making. The breakdown is recorded as a cascade of confused and contradictory thoughts raging through this mind and terminating in violent emotional outbursts.
2. Why did you write your book?
The book sets out to relate authentic experiences to, in this way, achieve a deeper appreciation and understanding of these experiences.
3. How is it different from other books?
Most books dealing with the topic of mental breakdown leave off after giving a subjective description of the breakdown. Windows on the Abyss, in contrast, augments a highly subjective description with a more objective or rational analysis, based on currently accepted scientific paradigms. The rational analysis is effortlessly incorporated into the storyline.
A further difference to other works consists in the use of a poetic dimension to accommodate features of the breakdown which still remain (and perhaps always will) outside the confines of rational analysis.
Yet another unusual feature is the independent telling of relevant events by two persons, the one, emotionally very close to the person suffering the breakdown but cut off from him, and the other, the sufferer himself. This offers two perspectives on the happenings, as the presence of two vanishing points in a sketch of a cityscape widens the panorama.
4. Why should a reader buy it?
Considering the contemporary social setting within which the story unfolds, a reader will enjoy a more comprehensive description than usual, of a topic that has never lost its actuality.
5. You have received critical acclaim for 'nailing a feeling or perception', so is this something you have consciously tried to achieve or is it a natural talent?
I usually have an instinctive feel as to what I want to say and how I want to say it but it does take time before I hit on the ‘best’ choice and combination of words.
6. Your influences are poetry and science, so how do you get these together so effectively in your writing?
I let poetry speak where science must leave off. Science can usually deal with questions about ‘how’ things occur. Many of the big questions around our existence – those asking for the ‘why’ of things – can, at present, be more effectively accommodated within a poetic framework.
7. What is next for you?
Fascinating me at the moment is what Einstein and Kafka might have talked about had they met. They could have done so, since both lived in Prague and in Berlin in the early years of the 20th Century. I plan to embed this core idea within a love-tragedy that unfolds in the Berlin of the Cold War era, where Kafka’s Great Wall of China has metamorphosed into the Berlin Wall and where a message sent across this wall, even if in accordance with Einstein’s theories, reaches its destination as rarely as did a message sent by the Emperor of China, reach a remote corner of his Empire.
This powerful and thought-provoking debut novel records the agonising breakdown, triggered by his mother’s death, of a mind suddenly confronted by a tragedy that is, for the most part, of its own making. Exploring the breakdown via two voices - one, emotionally very close to the person suffering the breakdown but cut off from him, and the other, the sufferer himself - and interlacing poetry and objective views from current scientific thinking give the book a unique perspective.