Joshua Cohen in Berlin: An Interview

Joshua Cohen is an American writer. He is author of five novels, including Witz (2010), Book of Numbers (2015) and, most recently, Moving Kings (2017), as well as numerous short stories and non-fiction pieces. He has worked as a contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine, the New York Times, the Jewish Daily Forward and the London Review of Books, and has taught at Columbia University and the New School in New York, where he lives. In the winter semester of 2017/18 he is Samuel Fischer Guest Professor at the Peter Szondi Institute of the Freie Universität Berlin.

Interview by Chris Fenwick

You’ve lived in Berlin on previous occasions – I think you first came here in 2001, and the final part of Book of Numbers is set in a more recent incarnation of the city. What drew you here in the first place, and how do you feel about the way the city has changed?

I was told, I forget by whom, that the city was cheap. And the truth was, it was – it was cheaper. I had a job working for the venerable Jewish newspaper The Forward – I was the paper’s Europe correspondent. That meant: a whole lot of territory, not a whole lot of Jews. So I was on planes and trains and buses a lot, and that’s where I began writing fiction. In transit. In the window seat.

As for how I feel about how the city has changed, I don’t know. Let me just say that it’s cleaned up a lot. But then so have I. When I was here back then I felt as if Berlin and I were at the same stage of life: irresponsible about everything – about our money, our health, our sleeping – because our true responsibility was to history.

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