2020 Longlist

My Father Was a Man on Land and a Whale in the Water


Translated from the German by Jen Calleja

2020 Longlist

A young woman goes on a perilous journey in search of her absent father. What ensues is a Freudian adult fairy tale.

This Swiss novella opens as a child bursts into the home of the narrator, Loribeth and attacks her with an iron. A fight breaks out and within pages, the story has spiralled into a hallucinatory, savage world in which Loribeth throws the iron onto the child from an upstairs window, stuffs the damaged body inside a suitcase and takes off on a journey to find her estranged father, encountering a host of bizarre characters along the way.

About the Author

Michelle Steinbeck is a Swiss author, curator and editor. Her first novel, My Father was a Man on Land and a Whale in the Water was published in 2016 (Lenos) and nominated for the Swiss and German Book Prizes.

Librarian’s Comments

Loribeth is a girl who needs to return a suitcase with a dead child inside to her father, who abandoned her a long time ago. This way, she ought to free herself from him and her own anxieties. This coming-of-age story is set in a world which seems to exist between dream and reality.  Loribeth’s uncertainty of growing up is apparent when her world turns absurd and nightmarish during encounters with motives of marriage and pregnancy. In a surreal, phantastical language that borrows from fairy-tales or the bible.  Michelle Steinback created a timeless story that, nevertheless, reflects our contemporary zeitgeist. Her language is rich in imagination and references that allows for diverse interpretation and it doesn’t slow its pace to take a breath.  Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin, Germany



Darf Publishers


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