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The woman with the crazy peacock

Isabel Bogdan is the woman for the absurd.

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The woman with the crazy peacock

Isabel Bogdan is the woman for the absurd. In order to do something "crazy", as she says herself, she studied Japanese and English after school. She then earned her money with technical translations or a garden guide until she came across a peacock with behavioral problems while on vacation in the Scottish Highlands. Without further ado, she came up with a short story, which she titled "beginning of a novel" for a competition, which she said was "blatantly shitty".

It didn't stop with the announcement of the "beginning of the novel": The 54-year-old won many prizes, made a complete work out of the material - and became a bestselling author in 2016. Now "The Peacock" has been filmed with a German star ensemble. It will be in cinemas on Thursday (March 16). And of course there are several bizarre stories about it too.

"Sometime late one night I got a message on Facebook from a man I didn't know, asking if the film rights to 'The Peacock' were still available," Bogdan said at a meeting in a small café in Hammer Park. Not far from here, in the Borgfelde district, Bogdan has been living with her husband for 18 years.

The man from the Facebook messenger was the director Lutz Heineking Jr., who was sitting somewhere snowed in in the Allgäu, reading the "Pfau" and, as he says himself, drinking a lot of whiskey. "I thought, well, that's a professional, the author at night, obviously drunk and writing directly," continues Bogdan. And yet one thing led to another, the project took its course. Bogdan and Heineking found out that they both came from Cologne and both had attended the same dance school. Once again one of the special twists in the life of the 54-year-old.

Just like the story about the peacock that Bogdan experienced in one way or another. "In the manor house where we've been vacationing for 30 years, there was actually a mad peacock that attacked everything blue it encountered, including holiday guests' cars," says Bogdan over sea buckthorn and mango cream cake. At some point the lord didn't know what to do anymore, killed the peacock and tried to make it disappear. "The story was so crazy that I just had to tell it," she continues.

So she created a plot about a group of investment bankers who come to the country estate for a team building weekend and are then confronted with a dead peacock - and in the process with the sensitivities and vanities of their colleagues. With fine irony, dry punchlines and very lightly, Bogdan creates this picture and tells the story from the different perspectives of the protagonists. An atmosphere that the film captures magnificently and with many loving details.

The actors embody all the different characters brilliantly: Tom Schilling as an arrogant rascal, Lavina Wilson as a tense team leader, Annette Frier as a cook who doesn't mince words, Jürgen Vogel with a lot of hair and gapless front teeth, David Kross as insecure banker chick and Serkan Kaya, who is tormented by other worries.

"I see a film as a chain of translations," says Bogdan. Just as authors trusted her as a translator, she trusted the film team: the screenwriter translates the novel, the director and cameraman translate it into images, the actors translate the characters. Bogdan was able to let go of her story. Even if she struggled with a few details, she is enthusiastic about the result. “The characters in the film are significantly more evil than in the book. That's good and fits the film like that," she says.

Bogdan comes across as unpretentious, down-to-earth and somehow down-to-earth, like someone who knows what she's capable of. Even if that probably took a while. She was around 30 when, after a technical translation of a chemical test protocol for mold growth in bamboo from Japanese into German, she knew that it was no longer her thing. This was followed by orders for the translation of popular guidebooks. "I was able to work my way into it, deal with language, do what suits me," she says. After that she translated long “funny women's novels”, as she says herself.

Getting out of this drawer was not that easy. "You've got the sound so good, that's a talent too, accept that," she was constantly told. But firstly, Bogdan doesn't like pigeonholes like that, and secondly, the feeling for language is indeed one of her greatest talents, alongside that for absurd moments.

In "Pfau" it is this distant, easy talkativeness with which she tells the story. In "Laufen", her second novel from 2019, she translates the rhythm of jogging into her own language. The story, filmed for ZDF with Anna Schudt, is about a woman who, after her partner committed suicide, comes to terms with death and the relationship while running. To do this, she put herself in the shoes of a woman who doesn't really match her person and yet also tells something about her and her own fears, as she says. "It took courage to dare to tackle this topic."

As a translator, she was initially reluctant to venture into literature. At some point, works by Jonathan Safran Foer, Nick Hornby, Megan Abbott and Jane Gardam were among the texts that she translated from English into German. "As a translator, you're always asked if you don't want to write something yourself. That also suggests that translation is second-rate authorship,” says Bogdan. At the same time, she thought for a long time that as an author she had nothing great to tell the world. "I'm not the type of person who has 1,000 stories inside that absolutely have to come out," she says. Until that peacock fell at her feet.

Once she had the book deal in her pocket, she had to temporarily decide whether she wanted to be an author or a translator. "I've found that I can't write and think like Nick Hornby in the morning and like me in the afternoon," she explains. So she first worked through her assignments and then concentrated completely on her first novel. Now she only translates Jane Gardam: "That's my only permanent author."

And she's working on a new novel. In the broadest sense, it's about a flat share for the elderly, a completely different topic, again. She just can't seem to get the hang of working, although a deadline is pressing. But now she's enjoying the hustle and bustle surrounding the "peacock", in which she can be seen as a pub visitor in a sequined T-shirt, and her husband, a passionate amateur folk musician, appears as such. Bogdan is always up for weird stories and weird situations.

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