Those Dark Days

Ruth Schweikert

German, S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, 2019

“Tuesday 9th February 2016, 1.09 pm; I’m standing in my winter coat in front of the Café zur Weltkugel in Zürich smoking what could be my last cigarette; the almost full pack I tapped it from with my numb fingers is striped a dainty sky blue and white, like the material for a summer dress, or a baby blanket.”

“And what am I waiting for now?” – in her latest and most deeply personal book, Ruth Schweikert writes of her experience of breast cancer. On 9 February 2016, she was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of breastcancer. Guesswork and fear become reality. But what is that reality?

We expect precision and insight from an author. When the subject of the story is the author’s own illness, however, this ambition becomes a literary and personal challenge. She has to see past her own feelings, past her own fear, sadness and pain. So nothing is certain in Ruth Schweikert’s latest work, which sets out to describe the reality of illness with radical precision. She writes of sleepless nights, injections, catheters, but also of her own writing and reading during her illness, and – surprisingly – the wonderful world of text messaging.

She explores not only her illness, but the possibilities of portraying illness in literary form. Ruth Schweikert tells her story without self-pity. Nothing is whitewashed in this detailed, gritty account from a writer who is shaken to her very core and who peppers her story with text messages from friends. While adding an extra voice and a painfully authentic perspective, these texts serve the purpose of saying more about how she is faring than her own words. The result is a voyage of literary discovery – of the author’s sense of self, of her fears and – not least – of her battered body. This is a book about the challenge of writing about real life and the value of a life.

Those Dark Days is a stark, brutally honest book about loneliness and shame, illness and death. Yet it is simultaneously a joyful, life affirming story of friendship, love and the liberating power of literature.

Tage wie Hunde
S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main
Translation rights
Myriam Alfano,
Publication date
March 2019


Ruth Schweikert

Ruth Schweikert was born in Lörrach in southern Germany in 1965 and grew up in Switzerland. She now lives in Zürich with her family and works as an author and playwright. In 1994 she made her debut with an acclaimed collection of short stories entitled Erdnüsse. Totschlagen (Peanuts. Killing), followed by her novels Augen zu (Eyes Closed), Ohio and Wie wir älter werden (How We Grow Old). She has won numerous awards for her work, including the Ingeborg Bachmann Competition’s Bertelsmann Scholarship (1994) and the City of Zürich Art Prize (2016).

Photo: Sibylle Meier