Life Experiences Inspire Hattemer-Higgins ‘97 In Literary Career

Ida Hattemer-Higgins ’97 kicked off her career as an author this past Tuesday when her first novel, “The History of History,” went to print. Hattemer-Higgins drew upon her personal experiences, including her time at Andover, and her travels as inspiration for her novel. “The History of History” chronicles the peculiar chain of events surrounding a woman in Berlin and her obsession with her perception of the continued presence of Nazi Germany. “A young woman in contemporary Berlin wakes up without her memory and becomes obsessed with the city of Nazi past. She becomes convinced that she committed a crime, and slowly, these suspicions begin to take on more resonance. Ultimately, most of what she suspects points to something powerful and true,” Hattemer-Higgins said. “The phrase ‘A History of History’ is used several times in the novel and it has its own definition within the novel, but essentially, it refers to a meta-historical position. The novel is dealing not so much with the Holocaust as with the spiritual aftershocks of the Holocaust, what it means to us today,” she continued. Hattemer-Higgins said that experiences in her own life prompted her to write “The History of History.” When she first moved to Berlin in 2001, she ended up with a job as a walking tour guide. “I gave tours of the Central city of Berlin and concentration camps outside the city, so I was really dealing with the Nazi past very often and it was a big part of my life, so my protagonist is a walking tour guide the way that I was,” she said. Hattemer-Higgins said that she considers it vital for an author to draw on his or her own reality while writing. She said that she admires Ernest Hemingway for “A Farewell to Arms,” which he composed from real experiences driving ambulances in World War I. “I have a number of literary heroes, who’ve melded their own lives as texts that can be read alongside their fiction,” she said. “As a reader, you can feel the richness of the way that they resonate emotionally.” “But it’s not only that I think that the fiction is enriched,” she continued. “What kind of life do you want to have for yourself? Of course, you could be a writer who just rents an attic somewhere and just lives in that attic and thinks up, imagines, wonderful fictions but it’s not just all about writing great books, it’s also about living in a way that’s exciting and interesting and feels authentic.” Hattemer-Higgins, staying true to her doctrine, has lived in seven different countries and learned to speak five languages fluently. Since graduating from Columbia University in 2001, she has not lived in the United States and instead has assimilated into expatriate communities throughout the world. Hattemer-Higgins said that Andover helped to develop in her a desire to experience different nations and cultures. “I got really interested in living in different parts of the world already at Andover, and when I was a senior I did a trimester in the Ivory Coast. I learned French there and really enjoyed going to school in West Africa,” she said. Hattemer-Higgins said that she had very mixed feelings about her three years at Andover. “To be totally honest, I was pretty miserable with the years I was at Andover. I felt the school to be something like a prison and, unfortunately, hemmed in by all of the rules and all of the work,” she said. “But, in the meantime, I’ve become kind of nostalgic, since there were also a lot of great things. I think that, if you’re receptive, Andover will make you very sophisticated as a critic and as a thinker.” “This is going to sound kind of funny, but one thing that was really good for me was that Andover was where I actually started having my first experiences of failure, which forced me to figure out what, if I can’t just do excellence, I’m going to pursue,” she said. “When you’re capable of always being the best then you just kind of always do whatever is widely considered to be high prestige.” “But then, when you can’t be the top and can’t really excel, you’re forced to think about what actually suits your personality and what actually might be your interest and taste,” she continued. “If you want to develop into an artist of some kind it’s crucial that you go through that.” Hattemer-Higgins still maintains ties with Andover, although she said she feels a connection to the people rather than the institution. She still retains friendships with most of her close friends from Andover. “At a certain point, you kind of forget that Andover’s where you got to know each other. But, at the same time, I think it’s unconciously significant because, you know, having been at Andover is like having been in the army together. Other people don’t understand,” she continued. “We’ve just gone through so much together, since Andover too.” From her time at Andover, Hattemer-Higgins said that she most appreciates the education she got from the English department and her fellow classmates. She recalled a teacher, Mr. Hendrickson, who selected five students from his class to form a literary society that regularly met at his house where students would write to one another. “My experience at Andover was pretty ‘Dead Poet Society,’ with a teacher, who was sort of our champion, and this society,” said Hattemer-Higgins. “It was something we thought of as subversive and exciting, which I don’t think was the larger culture at Andover. It was very much our subculture.” “It really helped me to form a concept of myself as a writer by thinking of myself in that way because of their encouragement. When I finished this novel, actually, the first people that I sent it to were four of my close friends who were all from Andover.” During college, Hattemer-Higgins embarked on numerous semesters abroad to Germany and China that further encouraged her desires to travel and live overseas. Following her graduation from Columbia, Hattemer-Higgins spent a brief stint as a teacher in Tokyo, Japan after which she moved to Mumbai, India to work in the film industry. She has since relocated to Germany, Sweden and Russia and picked up each country’s respective language along the way. She said, “I’ve sort of went through this period where I was just moving around a lot. You can move wherever you want, really, but I kept thinking about Berlin and eventually moved there in the end.” Hattemer-Higgins said she looks to continue her literary career well into the future. In accordance with her lifestyle, she will live in Moscow for a while to work on her second book and then move on to the Middle East for a third. “Because I’m going to try to include my own life story, I’m going to be living in the places I want to write about and incorporating and creating my own experiences, she said. Hattemer-Higgins is writing a group of three novels, including ‘A History of History,’ and “these novels are going to address what I find the most hard to understand issues of the twentieth century, like a personal reckoning of the 20th century,” she said. According to Hattemer-Higgins, the first one deals with the Holocaust, the second one will deal with dreams of utopia, communist utopia in Russia and other places in Europe and then finally the last one will deal with the problem of oil in the twentieth century. “All of the novels are going to be very personal and very autobiographic. Looking at these things through the lenses of my own experience of the aftershocks of what I see and, sort of, massive tragedies is sort of my goal, and I think it’ll take me… another 8 years to finish.”