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Daughter to Jewish refugees, scientist Zacharias Dische and doctor Maria Renate Dische, Dische was born and raised in the Washington Heights district of New York City. As a teenager, she fled the regime of her stepfather Sig, only to end up in Libya during Col. Gaddafi's revolution. From there, Dische backpacked to Kenya, where she worked for famed paleontologist Louis Leakey. She returned to the United States in 1972. Back in her home country, she enrolled at Harvard University, majoring in Literature and Anthropology. After graduation, Dische worked as a freelance journalist, publishing in The New Yorker and The Nation. In the early 1980s, Dische moved to Berlin, Germany, a place where she still spends a considerable amount of time.
In 1986, Dische produced the documentary film Zacharias (1986). The film was based on her own script about her father, a Jew from Lemberg, who – having grown up in Vienna – fled to America through France to become one of the most distinguished biochemists of his generation. It was broadcast on the ZDF.
In 1989, Dische published her first novel Pious Secrets. The book became a bestseller throughout Europe and was translated into fifteen languages. In 1993, Dische made her first appearance as a children's author alongside co-writer Magnus Enzensberger, publishing Esterhazy, the tale of a hare searching for love in the Berlin of the late 1980s. Her next children's book, Zwischen zwei Scheiben Glück (1997; Eng. Between Two Seasons of Happiness, 1998) tells the tale of a young Jewish boy who, following Kristallnacht, was sent into exile by his father, to stay with his seemingly stern grandfather in Hungary. The novel was awarded the German Young People's Literature Award and was also released as an audio book. Dische's most recent novel was also her most successful one. "The Empress of Weehawken", Dische's autobiography told from the point of view of her grandmother, was released in 2005 to significant critical acclaim.
This book does a number of things beautifully, even brilliantly. It looks at the America of the 1950s and 1960s from a European refugee's point of view, in all the infant superpower's naivete, self-importance and glistening material success, as the refugees struggle to make the dream work for them too. It explains how life can appear to a person who is both a believer and a painfully practical realist. It also shows how character is inherited yet subtly altered over the generations.The real grandeur of The Empress of Weehawken, however, lies in the narrator's voice. Pure as a bell, always unerringly true to character, Frau Rother is drawn as accurately as the slice of a surgeon's scalpel. And that's what the author is doing here, performing autopsies on the characters of her family. The writer is the real medical examiner.
The book was also a notable commercial success, selling over half a million copies in Germany alone. In 2007, she released a collection of short stories, entitled Loves.
Dische divides her time between Berlin and New York. She is married to lawyer Nicolas Becker and has two children.
- "Irene Dische". literaturfestival.com.
- Wilentz, Amy (2007-08-05). "'The Empress of Weehawken' by Irene Dische". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-04-29.[dead link]
- Some Thoughts on The Palace by Aulis Sallinen, 1995. At the Music Finland site.