Kim de l'Horizon

Kim de l’Horizon

Moving away from the old roles

Kim de l’Horizon is a star of German-language literature and has recently begun to shine on stage. Alongside its many advantages, fame also has its downsides. An encounter in Zurich.

Jörg Marquardt (Copy) / Getty Images (Image)

A quiet morning at Volkshaus Zürich. There are only a few patrons in the café. All eyes are drawn to the entrance when Kim de l’Horizon comes into the room. Green sweatpants, red and blue top, and bright red lips topped with a moustache. Kim certainly stands out. But that’s also down to their celebrity status. De l’Horizon (31) has become a star of German-language literature overnight. “Blutbuch” (“Bloodbook”) is the name of their debut novel that caused a sensation in 2022.

Kim smiles and sits down for the interview – “Sorry I’m late, you know what public transport is like...”. The initial impression is of a confident yet respectful and approachable person – with no hint of airs or graces.

Yet Kim, originally from Ostermundigen in the canton of Bern, could easily be forgiven for being a little cocky about their success. A winner of the German and Swiss Book Prize, “Blutbuch” quickly became a bestseller and was translated into 17 languages. A virtuoso novel about the search for one’s own origins – about fears, desires and the power to reinvent oneself. The book has turned de l’Horizon into a public figure – hostilities included.

Kim is asked again and again about their own gender identity. “Non-binary” is the answer given. Or “gender fluid”. People like Kim identify as neither male nor female. For them, gender is a colourful spectrum – not a black-and-white issue. The narrator in “Blutbuch”, who unfurls their family history, is also non-binary.

Kim is frustrated that the media often focus solely on this issue.

What bothers you about the public perception of non-binary people?

I don’t believe in fixed identities. For me, it’s important that we become open to new experiences again.

What’s holding us back?

Our culture. As children, we’re still keen and excited to try things out, to slip into other roles, to discover who we are. This openness is something we gradually lose in the course of childhood.

The celebration of gender diversity and liberated bodies is polarising. The online space is filled with rage and abuse against Kim de l’Horizon. Because of this, police protection is requested for an appearance at the Frankfurt Book Fair. There’s even a physical attack in Berlin.

Kim doesn’t want to waste many words on the hatred. “It’s just a desperate cry for help from people who have experienced violence themselves.” More important to the literary star are the positive changes that “Blutbuch” has made possible, above all the alliances and projects with other people.

Kim has become accustomed to the hype surrounding themselves. “When I’m in a good mood, I enjoy being approached, except maybe in the sauna.”

The book’s success has turned life upside down, especially in the first year – non-stop readings, panel discussions and interviews, including many appearances abroad. Sometimes Kim felt like a pop star on tour, who wakes up wondering which city they’re in. At some point, the stress became too much. “I needed distance to find out what I actually wanted.”

After a long break, de l’Horizon is now back on the public stage – quite literally: an adaptation of “Blutbuch” is currently running at Schauspielhaus Zürich, with Kim themselves starring in a leading role. “Blutstück”, directed by Leonie Böhm, is a wild mixture of slapstick, impromptu songs and touching speeches based on subjects raised in the novel. Kim was involved in the project. It isn’t the only stage version, though, as “Blutbuch” is also scheduled for performances in Hanover, Vienna, Magdeburg and Bern.

Do you get stage fright when you’re up there?

No, I’ve done so many performances in front of large audiences in the last two years that I don’t really get nervous anymore. It’s more of a sense of joyful anticipation.

What appeals to you about the Zurich production?

The fact that the play is constantly changing – because the actors interact with the audience. I enjoy processes where I don’t know at the beginning what the end result will be.

Kim looks impatiently at their watch. There’s a lot going on again right now. In addition to the stage performances and the promotional activities surrounding “Blutstück”, a play written especially for the Schlachthaus Theatre in Bern has recently opened. “I like to work on many projects at the same time. Just the one full-time job? That wouldn’t be for me.”

Kim’s adopted home of Zurich is an anchor amid the hustle and bustle. Their focus had already shifted here for university. Kim is not drawn to Berlin or any other big city: “I prefer the view from the cultural fringe.”

And what’s next? The public is eagerly awaiting the next novel. But Kim doesn’t want to be governed by that. To them, the creative process is crucial. “I want to do what I find pleasurable and meaningful.”

Kim de l’Horizon has to go now. There’s just time for one important question.

Is Kim de l’Horizon a fictional character?

No. There’s no true self hidden behind a fictional character. For me, Kim de l’Horizon is another way of existing. I free myself from the legacy of my family name by transforming it.

Win tickets for “Blutstück”

The performance of “Blutstück”, based on the novel by Kim de l’Horizon, is running at Schauspielhaus Zürich until 4 May. The production starring de l’Horizon in a leading role is supported by Migros Culture Percentage. You can win one of three pairs of tickets here.

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