Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard my 300th review

Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard

German title Holzfällen: Eine Erregung,

Austrian fiction

Translator – David McLintock

Source – library

Well after reading the corrections earlier this year ,I felt I need another fix of him before the year was out ,so when this had appeared in the library system I ordered it in .So I said a bit about him in my post earlier this month so I ll add this gobbit .In his last will ,he had banned all future productions and editions of his books within Austria for the remaining length of the copyright .This dislike of the system of arts and appreciation of arts within Austria is apt for this book .

While everyone was waiting for the actor ,who had promised to join the dinner party in the Gentzgasse after the premier of “The Wild Duck ” ,I observed the Auersbergers carefully from the same wing chair I had sat in nearly every day during the fifties , reflecting that it had been a grave mistake to accept their invitation .

Our narrator sat at the start of the book .

The arty types of Vienna have just been to the Burgtheater to see the latest production a version of the Henrik Ibsen play “the wild ducks “(Which opens as a dinner party is about to start rather like this book ) .So the arty folk all arrive at the Ausbergers house awaiting dinner and the chance to meet the star of the show .We meet our Narrator he is sat in a wing backed chair .we know this as it is frequently mentioned .The narrator is by his opinion an outsider of the group have recently returned to Vienna .So as the nights go on we see the actor ripped apart by the guests and the whole art scene in Vienna dissected piece by piece ,this is interrupted as the narrator adds his own feelings on this as well .The evening moves on and as the drink flows the arguments and observations grow stronger .

At this point the actor suddenly started recounting anecdotes ,the kind of theatrical anecdotes that always go down well in Vienna and provide life support for many a Viennese party that would otherwise be in danger of dying of paralysis .Most Viennese parties are able to survive for a few hours only because of these anecdotes .

Parties can dive into boredom our narrator tells us

Well this is what I love about Bernhard intense prose that just drag you in you feel as thou you are the narrator ,he is a writer but maybe not the best or maybe not as well thought of as he should be either way you feel this in some part this is Bernhard himself thinly veiled .It is in a lot of ways about how you view art to appreciate it or pull it apart at the seams and seemingly pull talented people apart because of minor flaws .I was reminded as I read this of one particular episode of Frasier where Niles and Frasier were meant to go to the theatre to see a famous actor but due to a mistake end up spending the show outside due to the own pretensions not letting them loose face and end up meeting and talking to the star even thou they missed the show completely .You feel in this book you are in a room of Austrian Nile’s and Frasier’s ,they would slide in so well with the crowd in the book .I think this is my favourite by him and maybe a good place to start with Bernhard as it isn’t overly long .Oh and fitting choice to be the 300th review on Winstonsdad

Have you read this book ?

The Gordian Knot by Bernhard Schlink

The Gordian Knot by Bernhard Schlink

german title -Die Gordische Schleife

German Fiction

Translator – Peter Constantine

Well German lit month is drawing to a close again and I had hope to read this in time for Bernhard Schlink week ,but time went against me so I include it here .This is the third Schlink book I ve covered on the blog and the fifth I have read .I must say this is a change from the others ,Being his first novel is a radical shift in style it is a thriller ,written by him self he had earlier co written a novel .

“And to the nameless professor ,who tried to teach me how to cut through the Gordian knot ” he sat down “I reread the story about Alexander the great and the Gordian knot . it was just as the professor said many had tried to unravel the knot ,but Alexander simply cut through it with his sword .

The title is mention on the last page .

SO The Gordian Knot takes it title from a story of Greek mythology Involving a man who had became king and the gods gave him an impossible Knot to untie ,this was there to Alexander the great ,he cut the knot this giving to a phrase cutting the Gordian knot meaning thinking outside the box .Anyway back to the book it is a thriller we meet a translator Georg Polger ,he is struggling till a job turns up translating plans for a military helicopter .This all happens in the office of mr Bulnakov ,also in the office is Mr Bulnakov secretary Francoise .Well Georg and Francoise fall in love .But then he is shock to discover her one day copying the plans he has translated .Before he has time to confront her she has disappeared ,then a chance mention about a photo she had ,that he shows to friend he says is somewhere in europe he friend says no it is New york so he heads of to New York and find out who the women he fell in love with really is in real life .This is a novel about spies and people getting caught up in that world .

“It’s the cathedral in Warsaw where her parents were married ”

A short while later Georg’s friend asked to see the photograph again .

“it isn’t a particularly good one “Georg said .”She didn’t like being photographed ,so often took snapshots of her when she wasn’t looking .Though some pictures did turn out quite ….”

That’s not Warsaw .I know that church can’t think of its name it’s in New York.

First hint that Francoise isn’t quite what she seemed to Georg .

 

 

Well this was a real change from Schlink usual soul of the nation style fiction  .That said it was a page turner thou in the style of an airport thriller  or Holiday read ,well that isn’t quite  fair it is slightly better than them .In fact the two things in reading this I was most remind of was firstly Graham Greene Georg is a hapless guy caught up in a spy story but he doesn’t realise it ,rather like James Wormold in our man in Havana he is not the sharpest tool in the box .The other thing I was reminded of was the world of Alfred Hitchcock I felt Francoise is a classic femme fatale the sort women that frequently crops up in Hitchcock films and could have been played by Kim Novak or Eva Marie  Saint  .So this isn’t the most taxing or deep of Schlink books but it is a cracking read and great to see where it all started for him as a writer .Always nice see a publisher taking chance on an earlier book by a writer .

Have you read this book ?

Do you like to see writers earlier works translated ?

 

The Hunger Angel by Herta Muller

The hunger angel by Herta Muller

German  title Atemschaukel

Translator Philip Boehm

Source – review copy

Well this is the third book from the German /Romanian Nobel winning writer  Herta Muller ,Every time I try her books I found myself more drawn into her style and quirky imagery and wordplay .She is a true one-off, this book is another that is set partly in her homeland of Romanian but this time it is in the mid forties as the war is drawing to an end .We see how the German Romanian suffered at the hands of the Soviets .

What can be said about chronic hunger .Perhaps that there’s a hunger that can make you sick  with hunger .That it comes in addition to the hunger you already fell .Then there is a hunger which is always new ,which grows insatiably ,which pounces on the never-ending old hunger that already took such effort to tame .

Leo on hunger when he has been at the camp a while .

We meet Leo he is in his teens and he is a German Romanian just like Herta Muller is herself .We see his life as he is caught up in the post world war two events ,as Romania side with the Germans the Soviets are now rounding up all the German connected Romanians Like Leo to send to the Labour camps ,WE see how this young man caught up in this copes with the horrors of a labour camp we see how a normal man ,this man has a poet’s eye as you will see from who it based on ,has to struggle and change to cope with the system in the camps and is thus on the other side is a broken man and maybe not as free as he seems  .It seems that Muller largely based Leo on Oskar Pastior a German Romanian like Muller ,she was friends with him and they had planned to write this book together meeting near the end of his life and making a journey to the place he had been sent in the old soviet union (now in Ukraine ) to get a feel for the man here is him reading one of his own poems in German  but Oskar passed  away before they could  finish the project ,so this is her take on his time in a labour camp from what she learned in the time they spent together ..

There are also other partners .

I’ve danced with the teapot .

With the sugar bowl .

With the biscuit tin.

With the telephone .

With the alarm clock .

With the ashtray .

With the house key .

This poem on the last page sounds like Paitor from the two poems I ve read and is Leo when he is free or is he ?

 

Well it is an easy piece to compare this to Aleksandra Solzhenitsyn one day in the life .. and in some ways Darkness at noon by Koestler .Both of which show the horror of the labour camps or soviet prison system (yes I know darkness never says it is russia but it is implied that it is ).It does and it doesn’t ,I feel it is Muller own unique style that maybe sets this above the others and the clever use of the Hunger angel metaphor ,each person has their own Hunger angels in their minds what form it takes is unique to each of them .Another hard look into her own origins and that of her fellow German Romanians .Like in her other books they always seem stuck between two worlds and not of one place or the other not Romanian or German and this is rather like Muller’s writing that always seems misplaced not quite german and not quite east european , it is always uniquely her .Another great read for Lizzy’s and Caroline’s German lit month

Have you read this book ?

Do you have a favourite book set in the labour camps ?

 

Winters in the south by Norbert Gstrein

Winters in the South by Norbert Gstrein

orginal title Die Winter im Süden,

Austrian Fiction

Translators – Anthea Bell and  Julian Evans

Source – review copy

Well Norbert Gstrein name was new to me when this book dropped through my door a few weeks ago ,but a quote from the great W G Sebald on Gstrein last book that was translated into english over ten years ago “an exceptional work of prose fiction” So Norbert Gstrein who is he Well he grew up in a small hidden village in the Tyrol in Austria ,his brother is a famous ski racer ,he was interested in maths early in his life ,he later studied it a university ,but after that took up writing it was his novel english years that first caught the eye that was his third this Winter in the South is his sixth of the seven he has written .

It was in her second month in Zagreb in the autumn the war began ,that the news reached Marija that made her life Foreign to her for ever .She had not set eyes on her father for more than forty – five years ,and had thought he was dead for almost as long, so at first she did not react at all to the advertisement that the neighbours had left outside her door and that couldn’t possibly have been from him.

the book opens as Marija world is thrown doubly into chaos .

 

Winter in the south ,is a book about people and war ,but more about  two wars the second world war and the Balkan conflict .The two main people are Marija a women in her fifties whose marriage on rocky ground ,but is returning to her native Croatia and to Zagreb ,as this happens her father who fled leaving he Marija and her mother as he was a well-known Croatian fascist in the second world war ,he ran to Argentina .But the father is now drawn by the war and splitting of Yugoslavia and the return of Fascism maybe to Croatia ,also to get to know the daughter he hasn’t seen for over fifty years .But will she forgive ,is he to old for war ? Do people change ,where is home and what is important to people is it family or politics that  matters ?

Whenever he felt like breathing some life into the stalemate of his Zagreb existence he talked about Buenos Aires in the same homesick way he talked about Croatia back in Argentina .

The father is maybe a man now with no homeland after he returns

This book is full of threads a classic piece of central European writing a book that dives into the soul of people and what drives them  .The prose follows ,the father flight from Vienna after a killing in 1945 ,his following life in Argentina (having just read Gombrowicz diaries on his time in Argentina it was interesting to see a fictional take on living there ).Then there is his daughter life in the Croatia of the nineties that is beginning to drift towards the madness of war again .Gstrein shows both the personnel cost of war ,the story of a family broken apart after the second world war .But also the echos in the conflict in Yugoslavia that hark back to  as the old wounds of world war two surfaced as the war began ,as the fact that the two major part of Yugoslavia had been on different sides in the war .Then the father why is this man in his seventies at ,east so willing to go to war again ?As many of you that read this blog on a regular basis know I have a soft spot for Balkan conflict stories  and also for fiction set round Argentina ,due to time working in the nineties with many refugees in Germany from this war .Anthea Bell and Julian Evans have managed to make this complex work come alive in English and yet again another great selection from Machlehose one does wonder why it has been ten years between translations for a writer with seven novels and a number of prizes for his books ,He seems a hidden gem of Austrian writing .

Have you read his earlier book The English years ?

 

I was born There ,I was born Here by Mourid Barghouti

I was born there ,I was born Here by Mourid Barghouti

Palestine memoir

Translator – Humphrey Davies

Source – Review copy

I was sent this late last year read it but never got to review it but just at the moment seems the right time to review it ,with the current situation in Gaza .I reviewed his earlier book I saw Ramallah .Mourid Barghouti is a Palenstine Poet   .He grew up in Ramallah in Palenstie ,he went in the late sixties to study in Egypt and was caught in Egypt by the six day war .Thus he spent the next thirty years in Exile first in Egypt where he married a well known Egyptian writer ,then he spent time in Hungary as a representative of the PLO.He returned in 1996 for the first time to Palenstine ,this made up the earlier book I reviewed I saw Ramllah ,this book is kind of a follow up .

The passengers don’t appear particularly upset at the news of the impending attack announced by Mahmoud .In fact ,the fat passenger sitting in front of me in the middle seat comments sacastically “as if the film needed more action! every day they kill us retail and once in a while they get the urge to kill us wholesale .Big deal !

From section with the driver Mahmoud the everyday living under attack

I was born There ,I was born Here is a collection of snippets of life through Barghouti eyes ,we meet his driver whilst he is Palestine at a literature festival Mamhoud ,we see him telling Mourid his view on life in Palestine ,living under constant attack  and how they just cope with it as part of there lives .Elsewhere we see how the world of writers have been involved when he meets Jose Saramago a writer who once compared Ramallah’s situation to that at Auschwitz .There is a great story about the struggle to get from place to place when they are stopped by some soldiers at a roadblock in Israeli .Showing his son his birth place in Deir Ghassana is a touching moment .

“You are in violation of the law ”

“What’s the driver’s license got to do with you ? Are you a traffic policeman ? Only the Palestinian traffic police can punish me ,which it will have the right to do .This is what the argeement between us says ”

“I don’t know anthing about agreements .Screw agreements .Here the only law is the law of the state of Israel understood ?

A conversation when there car is stopped en route to Deir Ghassanah

Like I saw Ramallah the poet in Mourid Barghouti has a keen observer eyes among the struggle of everyday life in modern Palestine is a dry wit ,the fact that yes life is hard but they can most of the time see humour in the situations they find  . Now it hard to take sides in the conflict between Palestine and Israeli .But I find reading books from both sides makes you think how bad things are especially for the Palestinian people that seem to have been given the rough end of the deal completely after the formation of Israeli . I do often wonder where all this will end up (having grown up with half my family from ulster ,I know there can be some hope for many years ago that situation seemed to be with out end the some how managed to sort itself out ) .So I hope you read this book and get an insight into the everyday in Palestine.Another wonderful translation by Humphrey Davies from Arabic .A last wordfrom me  my heart goes out to those on both sides that have needlessly lost there lives in recent days  .

Do you have a favourite Palenstine writer ?

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