First some information about the author of this book. Jasmina Kuhnke, born in 1982 in Hagen, works as an author and activist. As the latter, she communicates a lot on Twitter under her stage name “Quattromilf”, which is a self-description for a four-fold “Mom I’d like to follow”. The main topics of Kuhnke include racism and other forms of discrimination, she is concerned with a subjective long-term reading impression about the matter and just as often about herself.
Kuhnke has repeatedly experienced existential attacks on her person and, in some cases, her family. It describes such and other disparagements directly, loudly, and often roughly. Anyone who finds this exhausting and just exhausting has to put up with the accusation of being a fair-weather discourse person and, for example, not recognizing racism as the problem that it is for this country and all the people living in it.
With this background now in the foreground of a book that has just been published. According to its cover, “Black Heart” is a “novel”. This cover is followed by 59 chapters on 204 pages, each preceded by a one-page declaration under the title “What it is”. It says: “I write to give other women hope … I want you to know: You are not alone. … I want to tell a story that is similar to mine, that could be mine.”
Whether the author is still speaking in this I or the first-person narrator, who is also named below, is not resolved. Otherwise the book cannot assert itself as a “novel” against the biographical presence of its real author. There are reasons. One of the most important things is that the language of “Schwarzes Herz” is very similar to that in which Kuhnke writes on Twitter, for example. Another is that the first-person narrator shows far more de facto parallels than real differences to the author of the book, from the sport practiced in her youth to the mother’s origin. Finally, a third reason is the basic tone of the first-person narrator, which also corresponds to that of most of Kuhnke’s public statements: almost everything is struggle and accusation and reproach and self-defense.
This conflict between an omnipresent real person and the aggressively formulated claim to have produced a “novel” can now be resolved in at least two ways. One would be to attribute an almost ingenious formal twist to the book. From the deletion of all names and the use of the label “Roman” it could be concluded that someone here has not simply “only” written down his own life in an act of self-therapy, but has skilfully sketched a structural problem that affects many people. The second way to resolve the conflict would be to read the book not as a novel – but as a biographical report of Jasmina Kuhnke.
“Black Heart” describes racism and misogyny, it is sometimes as challenging and exhausting as it is right and necessary to expose oneself to everyday violence in Germany in the sense of at least one becoming aware of it. If one disregards this reality and tries to grasp the “black heart” with the means of art, it becomes exhausting, but in a different, minor way.
The language of this book – not the plot described in it – is shaped by crooked clichés. Sometimes the narrator “jerks my heart”, sometimes breaths fill “my sick soul with a high of endorphins, serotonin and adrenaline”. The plot in turn – at least in the uncorrected version sent out by the publisher in advance – is weakened by unclean references and redundancies, such as a bilateral lung collapse, which is told on two pages. In addition, the first-person narrator’s reports turn out to be very strange, especially when she remembers very precisely the earliest days, for example when, as a three-year-old, she felt “how my mom’s tension seemed to fall off” at a specific moment.
Tension rarely drops while reading the book – but tension does.