Patrick Wright

Patrick Wright

Where Might We Find a Moral Utopia?

Festival of Ideas Online/
Tue 16 February 2021

Crowdcast

Patrick Wright

Where Might We Find a Moral Utopia?

Patrick Wright
Tue 16 February 2021,

Crowdcast

This event was part of our online programme and took place on our Crowdcast channel. You can watch it HERE.

Patrick Wright tells the story of how the acclaimed German author Uwe Johnson abandoned West Berlin to find inspiration in what many considered a busted slum on a desolate English island.

He offers a profound excavation of person, place and time, revealing how Johnson lived and died on the Isle of Sheppey at the dissolution of the post-war consensus.

In 1974 Johnson, originally from the Baltic province of Mecklenburg in the GDR, was already famous as the leading author of a divided Germany. What caused him to spend the last nine years of his life in Sheerness, where he eventually completed his great New York novel Anniversaries in a house overlooking the outer reaches of the Thames Estuary?

What did Johnson mean by detecting a ‘moral utopia’ in a north-Kent town that was widely derided, located in a place abandoned to deindustrialisation? And what was the significance of a stranded Liberty ship full of unexploded bombs?

Wright, who himself abandoned north Kent for Canada a few months before Johnson arrived, returns to the ‘island that is all the world’ to uncover Johnson’s English decade, and to understand why his closely observed Kentish writings continue to speak with such clairvoyance in the age of Brexit.

Guided in his encounters and researches by clues left by Johnson in his own ‘island stories’, Wright looks back to the 1970s, when North Sea oil and joining the European Economic Community seemed the last hope for bankrupt Britain. In doing so he provides an alternative version of modern British history: a history for the present, told through the rich and haunted landscapes of an often spurned downriver mudbank, with a brilliant German answer to Robinson Crusoe as its primary witness.

The Sea View has Me Again - Patrick Wright

Patrick Wright’s The Sea Has Me Again: Uwe Johnson in Sheerness (1974-1984) is published by Repeater. Buy a copy from Waterstones, our bookselling partners.

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