The Lebanese novelist Rashid al-Daif asks the German novelist Joachim Helfer to help him schedule and interpret an interview in Literaturhaus, a distinguished literary institution in Berlin. Al-Daif would like to interview not Günter Grass or Herta Müller but an unnamed German porn actress (13). Al-Daif’s unlikely object of interest triggers one of many conversations about heteronormativity, sexuality, and masculinity that the two writers will entertain in the “East-West Divan,” a nine-week exchange program set between Berlin and Beirut and hosted by the Berlin Wissenschaftskolleg. Presuming that intellectual exchanges enhance cross-cultural dialogue and understanding, the organizers asked both participants to write an account of their experience.

Al-Daif (2006) published in Arabic How the German Came to His Senses, a novella in which the main character, Rashid, ponders the homosexuality of his German interlocutor, Joachim. German...

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