Look who’s back by Timur Vermes

Look who's back

Look who’s back by Timur Vermes

German fiction

Original title – Er ist wieder da

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source – Review copies

There are times a book published elsewhere in the world gets noticed before it is even translated this is one such book it cause a storm when it was published in Germany ,and me with my finger just on the pulse really hoped it had a uk publisher pick it up so when those lovely folks at Maclehose said they had brought the rights and the rising star of translation from German Jamie Bulloch had been given the task of translating the book I knew it was going be great .Timur Vermes was born in Nuremberg to a German mother and Hungarian father he has written for various paper in German and also ghost-written a couple of books .This is his first novel .

The boys gathered around me , but kept a certain distance .After affording me a cursory inspection , the tallest of the youths , clearly the troop leader ,said :

“You alright ,boss ?”

Despite my apprehension ,I could not help noticing that the Nazi salute was missing altogether .I acknowledge that his casual form of address , mixing up “Boss” and  “Führer “

Just after he wakes up and talks to a group of boys he still thinks it is 1940 something .

 

Well to the book Look who’s back ,now from the cover on the top you may already have a clue what the book is about .We meet Hitler but not in 1940′s German no he has woken up in the middle of Berlin in 2011 .Now he has to adjust to modern Germany .At first people see him as a bloke dressed as Hitler maybe from a party the night before,as Hitler slowly gathers that he has been brought forward sixty plus year his beloved fatherland as he sees it now is in a state of trouble .So he decide to try to regain power but as he thinks he is starting to be taken seriously .People actually think he is a very clever satire act ,but as it unfolds they laugh but the laughter stops with the more he says .As he become a star on You tube with his rants and views .Bur what do the modern extreme right make of him ? Will he ever accept a German run by a women ?

My supporters were fewer in number than ever before .And,mein Gott , there had been times in the past when they were in terribly short supply .I have a clear recollection of that occasion back in 1919 when I paid my first visit to what was still then the German worker’s party : seven people were present .

He starts small again in the present but remembers the past .

Loook who’s back is part of the continuing German looking back at the war years and figures involved in the war years ,this started a couple of decades ago with films like Europa ,europa ( a film following a Young Jewish boy who joins the Hitler youth to avoid the death camps ) ,Stalingrad ( a group of German soldiers get cut off from the troop and stuck in the deep Russian winter )  then of course Downfall .Now Timur has tackled modern German as  viewed through the eyes of the past and how often have we wondered what the  leaders of the past would make of the present .What would Churchill make of modern Britain is one thing I wondered ? Also the part I like is how Hitler is now viewed as a figure of fun by the modern German public what was once his true power the rant speech is now just surreal to a modern German public .It also shows how we view people in Modern media his rise now is because he is viewed as a clever satire ,but isn’t ,but people just think he is pulling the wool over their eyes .Vermes has tackle something that at times is still at the heart of modern Germany ,how did the past happen and could it happen again ? Jamie also really caught that voice of Hitler well .

Do you have a favourite satirical novel ?

 

Death in Pont-Aven by Jean-Luc Bannalec

death_in_pont-aven

Death in Pont-aven by Jean-Luc Bannalec

German crime novel

Original title - Bretonische Verhältnisse: Ein Fall für Kommissar Dupin

Translator – Sorcha Mcdonagh

Source -review copy

When I receive the email from Hesperus press about this the first two things that caught my attention in the blurb  was the setting for the Novel the Breton region in France an area that has always interested me  as it is quite distinct from other parts of France and the other thing was the main character was a Caffeine junkie and anyone that knows me well knows I love my coffee so I knew I would feel some if as little part of kinship with Commissaire Dupin .Now who is Jean-Luc Bannalec ? Well he was born in Brest ,his father was A Breton and his mother was Germany ,he lives in France and Germany .Although it well may actually be  the name is a pseudonym of a a well-known German Publisher Jörg Bong this was mention in a piece about the books runaway success in Germany in Die welt newspaper  .

Dupin had spent his whole life amidst the glamour of Paris ,but two years and seven months ago he had been “relocated” to this remote backwater due to “certain disputes ” (as the internal memos had put it ) and ever since then had drunk his petit cafe in the Amiral ,it was a ritual as delightful as it was inflexible .

Dupin left Paris under a bit of a cloud .

The book is set as I said in Breton ,more specific in the small sleepy town of Pont-Aven where Commissaire Dupin a grumpy Parisian whom has for one reason or another end up in this quiet back water ,where he has chance to sit in cafes all day drinking endless cups of Latte and watching the world go by .When one day the 91-year-old owner of a local hotel is found dead and it is all rather gruesome this makes Dupin investigate what appears a classic closed room murder ,but as he goes through the crime and the people surrounding this well-known village that had for years been a home for many famous artist ,we discover the is more than meets the eye to the crime .

The pool pf blood looked grotesquely large to Dupin .It had spread out in a shapeless mass across the uneven stone floor .Pierre-Louis Pennac was a tall man ,thin ,wiry ,with short grey hair .An imposing figure even at ninety-one years old .

The body of Pierre-Louise is found in the hotel he had worked as manager since 1947

Now this fits in the classic crime thriller genre Dupin maybe could be best compared with Andrea Camilleri and his well-known detective Montalbano .They both investigate crime in a different setting than expect Breton isn’t so well-known and similarly Montalbano is in Scilly which other than it mafia connection is relatively unknown  .They also both like to sit in Cafes in Dupin case and of course in Montalbano it is in the restaurants eating .Jean-Luc has also used a classic type of case for his début the closed room case a person dead in a locked room and no sign of how they died this has been a staple of the crime novel from the start when Poe used it in murder on the Rue morgue .So as you see this has all the hallmarks of what makes a great crime novel and it is in parts it is quirky than most crime novels I’ve read in translation the last couple of years .

Do you have a favourite setting for a crime novel ?

Journey into the past by Stefan Zweig

journey into the past

Journey into the past by Stefan Zweig

Austrian fiction

Original title –  Widerstand der Wirklichkeit

Translator – Anthea Bell

Source – Personnel copy

I couldn’t do two weeks about Pushkin press without at least once reviewing or mentioning Stefan Zweig ,as he is the writer most associated with them in my mind anyway .I have perviously reviewed his books Letter to an Unknown women   and although not published by Pushkin press the post office girl .I have also read Amok for this fortnight .In my mind Zweig is a true one-off writer that thanks to Pushkin we have gotten to read in English .At the height of his fame in the 1920′s and 1930′s he was one of the best known writers in the world .This is one of a number of books by Stefan Zweig that is published by Pushkin press .

“There you are !” He went to meet her with arms outstretched , almost flung wide.”There you are ” he repeated , his voice climbing the scale from surprise to delight ever more clearly ,while his tender glance lingered on her beloved form “I was almost afraid you wouldn’t come !”

“Do you really have so little faith in me ? “

Ludwig arrives and meets the woman in the opening lines

So too the Journey into the past was only discovered in the seventies and published in the Germany .Ludwig is German engineer and in love with a women whom happens to be married ,but he is sent for a short trip to Mexico to work on opening a mine ,but whilst he is doing this the first world war breaks out leaving him stranded in Mexico .We see him recalling the past as he returns to see if his love is still there what has happened to her .As he travels back to his homeland the memories of their  past  as they await meeting again on the station . The narrative drifts through time past and present mingle .

They left the station , but no sooner were they out of the door than stormy noise met their ears , drums rattling , the shrill sound of pipes – it was a patriotic demonstration of veterans  associations and students in support of the Fatherland .Like a wall on the move ,marching in ranks four abreast ,flags flying ,men in military garb were goose stepping along ,feet thudding heavily on the ground .

The early signs of the Nazis and Ludwig and the woman leave the station .

Well this was a book that supposedly Zweig had worked and reworked this novella for over twenty years ,you can see how it has been cut and edited at just 81 pages it actually feels more like a 300 page novel than a short novella .Zweig has left fact bare and concentrated on the feeling ,memories and broken love  and dreams .Ludwig was a different character than I had previously encountered in Zweig works as in the previous book I have read he has mainly used female characters .I loved the sense of lose and longing we got from Ludwig a man caught by time ,the woman isn’t named we know she is married to a councillor so is maybe an older muse for the young Ludwig whom is in his mid twenties .You also see the changing times and how Zweig worked more recent times into the narrative like the fact when Ludwig arrives back there is a nazi parade taking place almost a small signpost to the future events that drew Austria into the second world war .If you love a tale of lost dreams and loves and longing this is one that you will love .

Have you read Zweig ,if so which is you favourite book ?

The lost honour of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll

The lost Honour of Katharina Blum  or how violence develops and where it can lead  by Heinrich Böll

Original title - Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann

German fiction

Translator – Leila Vennewitz

Source – personnel copy

A couple of years ago I review the German Nobel laureate Heinrich Böll best known book billiards at half past nine .Böll  he refused to join the Hitler youth as a boy took an apprenticeship as a bookseller before becoming a full-time writer aged thirty .He was chairman of German PEN for a long time and then he chaired International PEN .He won the nobel prize in 1972 and passed away in 1985 .His book were mostly reissued in english a couple of years ago by Melville house .

Inquires into Blum’s activities during the four days in question progressed nicely enough at first ,and it was only when attempts were made to gather information about that sunday that they were brought up short

On the Wednesday afternoon Blorna personally paid Katharina Blum two full weeks wages at 280 marks per week ,one for the current week , the other for week to come

The reportage style of Böll writing in this book

 

The lost Honour of Katharina Blum ,follows Katharine Blum ,she gets drawn into a tabloid sensation after meeting a man at a party who it turns out is a bank robber  and she becomes the target of the newspaper “der zeitung “( this is thinly veiled version of the German paper der bild a sort of German  version of the sun ) .She is called a whore ,a communist sympathizer as she sees her private life torn apart by the paper and gets hate mail just for knowing one man . this leads her agreeing to do an interview with someone from the paper and now a couple of hours later she is at a police station giving this statement to the  police about recent events in her life  .What happened during that interview ? We see the story of her recent life unfurl .

Seven anonymous postcards , handwritten with “crude ” sexual propositions that in one way or another all included the words “communist bitch”

Four more anonymous postcards containing insulting political remarks but no sexual propostions .These marks ranged from “Red agitator ” to “Kremlin stooge “

The fall out of what of Katharina Blum life in the papers .

 

The style of this book is like a police report or a bit of reportage we get a detached feel on the events in Katharina’s life and what lead to her agreeing to the interview and how she meet the man ,whom dragged her into the presses eyes .Amazing this book to say it was written in the 1974 before the modern scandals and rise of the modern celebs that have been caught in the media spotlight  ,Katharine blum reminds me of many people who have been in the  UK papers over the last few years people who have  gotten  caught up in a big story by chance  or accident , like the landlord of a recent victim of a killer  who saws his life invade by the papers by just being her landlord or the woman that hid her child .Katharine story is a bit more than theres in the end but we see how far some can be pushed by the tabloids and the prying eyes .For a book that is nearly thirty years old I would say the themes and style of Böll writing is still relevant today as much as ever .He captures what it is to have your life fall apart it seems .A small work that packs a punch above its weight .

Have you read Böll ?

The Loser by Thomas Bernhard

Thoams Bernhard the loser Faber Finds

The Loser by Thomas Bernhard

Austrian fiction

Original title – Der Untergeher

Translator – Jack Dawson

Source – personnel copy on Kindle

Well I couldn’t take part in German Lit month and not review  a book by Thomas Bernhard could I ? I had read this for Thomas Bernhard week I did earlier this year but held it back for German lit month .I have mention quite a bit about Thomas  Bernhard and his life in my previous reviews and pieces all found here .This is the Fifth book by him I have read and review on the blog  .

The teacher’s child ruined my Steinway in the shortest period imaginable, I wasn’t pained by this fact, on the contrary, I observed this cretinous destruction of my piano with perverse pleasure. Wertheimer, as he always said, had gone into the human sciences, I had begun my deterioration process. Without my music, which from one day to the next I could no longer tolerate, I deteriorated, without practical music, theoretical music from the very first moment had only a catastrophic effect on me. From one moment to the next I hated my piano, my own, couldn’t bear to hear myself play again; I no longer wanted to paw at my instrument.

Bernhard, Thomas (2013-02-21). The Loser (Kindle Locations 65-70). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

Now The loser isn’t very different to the other books I have read by Thomas Bernhard .It is told in the form of a monologue a recollection of two mens life and the event before ,during and after a meeting with the world-famous pianist Glenn Gould .We never get told are Narrators Name as he recounts how he and his friend Wertheimer they are both studying Piano at Salzburg .They are invited to see Gould play the Goldberg variations and are to say the least blown away bu this mans talent ,more than any one they know or have seen play .This revelation brings the two men to the edge and we see how for a long time after they try to discover a new way as they now see the music they loved isn’t worth as much .The narrator left music to become a philosopher  .The other Wertheimer is drawn into a dark spin of suicide and a life falling apart .

If I hadn’t met Glenn Gould, I probably wouldn’t have given up the piano and I would have become a piano virtuoso and perhaps even one of the best piano virtuosos in the world, I thought in the inn. When we meet the very best, we have to give up, I thought. Strangely enough I met Glenn on Monk’s Mountain, my childhood mountain.

Bernhard, Thomas (2013-02-21). The Loser (Kindle Locations 97-99). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

Well as you see this has all of the traits you would expect from a Thomas Bernhard Novel a narrator ,art in this case classical music ,life’s falling apart .Now what makes this stand out a bit is the inclusion of Glenn Gould ,he is a real figure and his life could almost read like a Bernhard novel .I must admit I am not a huge Classical fan but among the few Albums I do have is Glenn Gould Goldberg Variations which I got after seeing the film thirty short films about Glenn Gould in the nineties .

I advise if you haven’t seen it try to next time it is on tv or on stream somewhere .This book is less bile filed than say the woodcutter is similar in style the monologue is very like the woodcutter in the way it recounts past events .But this book is more about loss ,loss of a dream ,loss of direction .The German title is actually a word that means more than loser meaning one that goes under ,almost like in the Stevie smith poem these character are in a sea of music and are drowning after seeing Gould  and this book is them waving at us .

Have you listened to Glenn Gould ?

I was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia

Pushkin_JackMortimer

I was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia

Austrian Fiction

Original title Ich was Jack Mortimer

Translator – Ignat Avsey

Source – Library copy

glm_iii

Well on of the best things about Pushkin press and one of the reasons I choose to do a fortnight dedicated to their books is perfectly shown by this Novel originally published in 1933 ,we finally got to read it in English due to this translation .Alexander Lernet-Holenia was born in 1897 in Vienna ,he fought on the eastern fron in world war One and then in the inter war years became a writer ,he was a protege of the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke .He was first called up as he was still a reservist lieutenant and fought in the invasion of Poland but became wary of the Nazis and in 1941 wrote a book called the Blue Hour describe as the only Austrian resistance novel .He spent war trying to avoid combat and prison but after the war he grew to be a well Known figure in Austrian culture .

During that evening and the next morning .Spooner found out from the doormen in Allergasse and from the head waiter of the nearby Cafe Attache ,but in particular from a commissonare who used to sit either on the street corner or in a bar opposite ,under a sign with two white horses that the girl was called Marisabelle Von Raschitz .

Spooner tries to find the girl he gave a ride to in his cab .

The book follows Viennese Taxi driver Fredinad Spooner ,as over course of one November he gets drawn into a strange and dark world .He has a girlfriend, but he  has fallen for a girl he gave  a ride too and tries to find her and to try to catch her eye he drawn into a dark world as a few days late he picks up a ride that ends up dead in his cab this ride turns out to be the Jack Mortimer of the title .Spooner sees he has a hotel room reserved and thus he decides to  assumes the identity of this man ,with out even know who he really is .and because he Spooner is nervous of what may happen when the body is discovered in his cab .But who was Jack Mortimer and why is he in Vienna ? and why is he dead ?

He took the dead man’s belongings out of his pockets and put them out on the table .They ,too ,were wet to some extent ,and only the passport ,wallet and the letters ,which had been in the breast pocket ,had stayed almost dry

He opened the passport

And what did he find Spooner in this collection from the dead man in his cab

 

I Loved this book the feel is like a mix of what I love best of the Austrian fiction of the time a sort psychological tale of what drives people a sort Freudian look at Spooner why he does what he does    and the best of Noir america, the sort of  adventure when a unexpected door opens  by the finding of the body and how it draws Spooner into a darker world around him .I wasn’t surprised to find out it had also been film twice .In fact one of the main things I left the book with was a feel for a film I saw many years ago in fact I blame mention of Patricia Highsmith (some one I not read enough off )and a film by the German director Wim Wenders called American friend a version of the  Highsmith Book Ripley’s game and that sees the characters drawn into a dark world the darker side of Hamburg in that case .Another triumph from Pushkin press I hope to go back and try other books by this writer as I like his style that seems more american than his fellow writers at the time .

Have you read this writer ?

What gems from Pushkin press have you found ?

 

Naw much of a Talker by Pedro Lenz

NawMuchofaTalker.270

Naw much of a talker by Pedro Lenz

Translator – Donal McLaughlin

Swiss fiction

Original title – Der Goalie bin ig

Source – Review copy

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Well when I was contact by the publisher about this book it sound really fun take on a translation Pedro Lenz has spent time in Glasgow the lead character in this book is from Glasgow ,so the choice of Donal McLaughlin a Scottish translator meant that he could translate the book into a Scottish vernacular .Pedro Lenz was born in Langenthral in Switzerland studied spanish literature at Bern university ,since then has spent time as a freelance writer for papers ,magazines and is also a member of a spoken word group .This is his debut novel and was nominated for the swiss book prize and won the Berne prize .This book is also to be made into a film .

Tell me summit ,Goalie .Whit like wise it in jail ? Ah don’t kow anyone else who’s been .

Is thart how ye came ?

Naw , naw at aw .Ah telt ye , didnt ah ,someone said it wis yir birthday .Ahm jjust intrtisit ,that ‘s aw

It’s nowt special

Just after he gets let out Goalie ask how it was locked up .

Now the title has change from German to English but the German title gives a clue tot the books main character he is called Goalie ,and is like a character out of an Irvine Welsh novel he has just been released from prison after serving time for drugs  and he  has decide to get away with his friend Regi and his new girlfriend to spain for a break .Now how do you describe Goalie well he is one of these guys that is destined to be a no hoper a loveable rogue ,but his greatest flaw is that he trust those around he maybe a little too much and this can lead him into trouble .It seems this isn’t the first time this level of trust and belief has led goalie astray .He is also a great spinner of yarns and likes to twists his own truths .As they are away he tells his yarns and slowly his friend ,tells him he should be doing more with his story telling ability .In the end we see him trying to forge a new life away from his old life .

Well this is a book of the voice ,I can see why some that does spoken word performance ,would fall in love with the loveable rogues and tall tales of Glasgow .Goalie is the embodiment of type of man not even from Glasgow but a man who lives his life large on tall tales and what he has done ,there is many of them in every big city in the corner of a pub or club holding court and telling his Yarn .As I said in the start Goalie could walk of the pages of Irvine Welsh or even Roddy Doyle Novel ,he would be a side character in their books maybe a man in the pub as the commitments played telling tales or a fellow drug taker from train spotting telling a story as the buy There drugs .Now this isn’t the easiest book to follow at times it is in a thick Scottish dialect ,but when I tend to speak the lines to myself I got the real feel of the book .This is a book that would do well as an Audiobook or to be read out loud a clever take on modern Glasgow and its colourful characters .

would you like more books in Dialect or given a more regional feel if set in the uk in translation ?

Mrs Sartoris by Elke Schmitter

mrs sartoris

Mrs Sartoris by Elke Schmitter

German fiction 

Original title – Frau sartoris 

Translator – Carol Brown Janeway 

source – personnel copy

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Elke schmitter is a German writer from Krefeld ,she studied philosophy at Munich university and then became a journalist before becoming a full-time writer in 1994 . This was her début novel .I choose this book because I had visit Krefeld ,it was a chance buy in the works (a uk shop that sells unwanted stock cheap ) and may I say a gem of a find for 50p!

Without hesitation I was immediately ready to attribute all of Ernst’s annoying characteristics – including his ridiculous name – to his father .For example ,Imri was always proper and took her self seriously ,as was the expression back then , but Ernst displays of pedantry must have come from Heinz-Gunther 

Ernst wasn’t an easy husband to have for Margaret 

Mr sartoris is a first person narrative told by Margaret Sartoris ,her life is told by her from her lost love for a rich landowner called Philip that she feel in love with one summer .The break of this relationship caused her to have a mental breakdown and end up in a hospital that happened when she was 18 ,we capture her later when she is married to Ernst a veteran from the war but a man who has no real passion as she is now in her forties she finally meets another man that makes her feel the passion she had felt in her youth with Philip so she begins an affair with a man .Along side this plot there is a plot about a car crash the two finally meet at the end but you have to find the book to see what happens .

When I got to the hotel for the first time ,I could hardly breathe .It was a mild summer day ,with no wind  .I had my hair cut , and glad it wasn’t raining .I was wearing  doe brown suede pumps and a wine two piece I had brought a few days before …

Margaret waiting for her first meeting with Michael the man .

Well I don’t read many books about love and affairs ,I am not a huge fan of romantic fiction but this book is slightly darker than that it is easy to view this from my description as simple chic lit but now Magaret jumps of the page as a damage soul that is having an affair to try to finally grasp what she had once lost .The cover quote says a modern-day Madame Bovary but it is a far more German take on that story ,that sense of duty that I feel is very common in German society is deep in the story her relationship to Ernst is far from perfect but she makes in work out of duty to him  and the daughter so this affair is a real test of her as a person .But she wants the passion she is finding in the arms of the other man .I feel sorry this one is a book that has dropped of the radar and hope this review makes a couple of you root it out as it is well written with a real sense of tension as she builds Margaret’s life and her story to the climax in more ways than one .Another book that if not for Lizzy and Caroline push to make more women writers read this German lit month may have gone unread .

Have you a favourite book about affairs ?

 

The taste of apple seeds by Katharina Hagena

the taste of apple seeds

The taste of apple seeds by Katharina Hagena

German literature

Original title –  Der Geschmack von Apfelkernen.

Translator Jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy

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Katharina Hagena studied English and German at Marbach , Freiburg and London ,after getting her degrees ,she spent two years working at the James Joyce centre at Zürich ,this lead to her first two books which are non fiction and relate to Joyce’s work .This is her first novel .she currently lives in Hamburg .

I was intoxicated by the aroma in the entrance hall : it still smelled of apples and old stone , and my great-grandmothers carved dower chest still stood by the wall .on either side of it were the oak chairs adorned with the family coat of arms : a heart divided by a saw .My mother and Aunt Inga’s heels clacked against the floor ,sand crunched beneath the leather soles .

such a feast for the reader in her words sums up the farm-house so well .

I feel awful it took me so long to get to this book I read it earlier in the year but I loved it so much I felt it need the chance of German lit month to get every one to know about it .The story follows Iris and her growing up ,a grandfather with a secret in  his past during the second world war and her grandmother ,now in her twenties her grandmother has died she is having to return to the house where she spent her summers and to the memories of those summers ,so she decides to spend the summer there and choose what to do with the farm-house remember her family the smells of summers gone by and her mother and also her  aunt a pair that were so close  growing up .A journey through iris growing up ,and having friends and falling in love for the first time  families and how three generations got on in post war Germany chuck in a handful of interesting side characters some that always wore black the odd secret her and there you have a stunning book .

An apple

Or , rather the remains of an apple .The flesh at the blossom end was missing ; the top half with its stalk lay in two pieces by his shoe .Lexow stood still , his breathing was rapid and fitful . there was a rustling in the tree .

The trees played a huge part in Iris memories .

I loved the nature of this book rural Germany a happy on the whole family a young girl finding herself in the world ,I don’t read many female writers mainly as it seems to be male writers on whole that get translated more so Lizzy and Caroline saying we had to read two weeks of female writing means I have read a few more female German writers recently  .Given Katharina hagena history and previous work I had to try to link it some how to Joyce and I can in the sense of place she capture that so well like in Joyce the smell of liver cooking is memory for me that lingered long after I read Ulysses ,this had the scent and taste of apples and apple  trees  the clean smell of there blossom in my mouth for weeks after I had put the book down.Also as ever I have to say Jamie has shown why he is one of the best young translators from German around as with his work on peirene you are hard pushed to find fault with it  .I’m pleased to see this visual book has had a film made and just released in Germany and by the look of the trailer they have caught what I visualized in the book .

Do you have a smell you have attached to a book you have read ?

The Black spider by Jeremias Gotthelf A Halloween german lit month treat

the black spider

The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf

German Gothic Fiction

Original title Die Schwarze spinne

Translator – H M Waidson

Source personnel copy

Jeremias Gotthelf was a swiss pastor and writer ,His actual name was Albert Bitzius ,he was educated in Bern wre he founded the second oldest Swiss fraternity ,before becoming a pastor and then in his thirties he took up writing .He used the Bernese countryside and his strong religious beliefs in his books .

Christine had been gleefully watching everything outside in the field .The sun might burn hot as she worked at the heavy labour ,but the spider hardly burned any more at all .

The devil made his mark  on her .

The book focus on the people in a Bernese village ,we start at a farm where a baptism is in full swing ,then we get an unbaptized baby that  is kissed by a hunter and this kiss cause a black mark to appear and she is touched by the devil this Christine .So there is now a pact between the village and the devil that leads to years and years of godless behaviour ,when at some point this falls apart a plague of spiders swarms around the village  and they now need god to come back and save them .That is the barest bones of this tale it is a real quest between good and evil between god and the devil in tit many faces .

Next to the church was the inn , for these two institutions so often stand close to one another , sharing joy and suffering together , and what is more , in all honour .

But are they hand in hand

Well that is it in part this book has a really twisted narrative style one could almost say it has an old testament feel to it selling pone soul to the devil and it having a bad outcome all sounds like the wrathful god of the old testament  .This at times seems like a Sunday sermon that he may have told round Halloween to scare the kids and adults into god fearing Christians ,But that said Robert Johnson was said to have sold his soul to the devil and he did make some great music ,.But we also get a feel of traditional Germanic folk tales with figure like the hunter and a knight appearing in the story ,also the selling of a soul to a devil has been a recurring motif in a lot of German fiction around this time and before even Faust for Example .Then there is also the way Gotthelf describes the village the church and the inn next to one another has a slight feel of temperance movement and is the godless behaviour connected to the drink .This has been a great read for Halloween one for a dark evening and a quick check to see if there isn’t a spider about to jump on me like Robert smith in the video .I read the Oneworld classic copy of this book with a 1958 translation ,I know NYRB classics has just issued a new translation which I hope to read and compare as I felt the choice of words and way the story unfold was a little stayed at times .

Have you a favourite Halloween read ?

 

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