Wellesley Professor Emeritus Explains How Political Novels of the Past Can Inform Our Present

A head shot of a male professor and female alumna with a sound wave behind them
March 25, 2019

As he sought to understand the complexity of the current political moment, Jens Kruse, professor emeritus of German at Wellesley, began a self-directed study of the literature of dictatorship.

Seeking to expand his knowledge of authoritarian and totalitarian novels beyond 1984 and Brave New World, he developed a 12-novel reading list that spanned over a century of fiction and included such authors as Jack London, Franz Kafka, Sinclair Lewis, Margaret Atwood, and Philip Roth. At the conclusion of his 15-week immersion with a small group of fellow readers, he wrote an essay detailing his discoveries for Politico.

Sanja Jagesic ’08, a Durant Scholar and former student of his, came across his article and was riveted. For Jagesic, novels of political upheaval are of particular interest. She was born in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and emigrated to Germany with her family when war subsumed her homeland; they eventually settled in the United States. Jagesic recently spoke with Kruse about the questions he explored in his essay, his reading course, and what novels of the past can offer contemporary readers. What follows is their recorded conversation.