The Invention of Disobedience

Martina Clavadetscher

German, Unionsverlag, Zurich, 2021

“We strive for a degree of randomness, even if the algorithm means that this randomness, of course, is also predictable.”

“We’re all looking for explanations,
and we do that in our past,
because it’s the only place we can look.”


Martina Clavadetscher gives us the story of three women: Iris, Ling and Ada, all of whom are trying to escape society’s constraints. In the process, and in a series of powerful images, the lines between human and machine become blurred. What is real and what is the result of a new, poetic, digital creation?

Clavadetscher’s novel centres on real people and digital bots, natural and artificial intelligence. The author links the two spheres through the interwoven stories of three women who are trying to find both themselves and a way out of their disempowerment. In her flat in Manhattan, Iris is attempting to escape her boredom by telling a small audience the story of her half-sister Ling, who works in a Chinese sex-doll factory.

In a specialist laboratory, Ling assists with the job of teaching one of the dolls words and sentences. As the doll gains a command of language, she remembers where she came from, and recalls her progenitor, Ada Lovelace. Ada, Lord Byron’s daughter, founded modern algorithmic thought in 1843 with her legendary “notes”. She resolutely challenged herself to “invert the order”. But because Ada was a woman, she was all but forgotten by history.

Disobedience is something that the narrative itself achieves. Whoever is telling the story, be it Iris or the talking sex doll, reinvents herself and the world. In this novel, which is set in New York, Guangdong and London, Clavadetscher takes a subtle, literary approach to an issue of global potency. The book’s real charm lies in the fact that its author is disobedient, too. Instead of separating humans and bots strictly from one another, she allows the dividing lines to seem permeable. Are Iris and Ling real? And is immortality not an illusion after all? With the two women seeming to lack freedom just as much as the synthetic doll does, new fields of thought open up.

Clavadetscher has also found a special style in which to play with reality. Giving her lines a strong rhythmical structure, she brings together elements of lyricism and theatre to create a narrative tone that is all her own. This lends her science and technology subject matter a supple, poetic form. The task of finding an equivalent for it in other languages makes the book a particularly attractive prospect for translation.

Text by Beat Mazenauer

Die Erfindung des Ungehorsams
Unionsverlag, Zurich
Translation rights
Franziska Sonderer,
Publication date
February 2021
Swiss Book Prize 2021


Martina Clavadetscher

Martina Clavadetscher, born 1979, is author and playwright. After her studies of German literature, linguistics and philosophy, she was house author at the Lucerne Theatre. She received the Essener Autorenpreis and was nominated for the Heidelberg Stückemarkt. For her prose work, she received the prize of the Marianne-and-Curt-Dienemann foundation and was nominated for the Swiss Book Prize. She lives in Switzerland.

Photo: Janine Schranz