The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

the mussel feast

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

German fiction

Original title – Das Mushelessen

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source – personnel copy brought on Kindle

Birgit Vanderbeke is a German writer ,she lived in Frankfurt growing up and studied German .Before becoming a freelance journalist .She currently lives in southern France .The mussel feast is her best known book and a set text in most German high schools .

This evening of all evenings we’d say we decided to eat mussels.But it really wasn’t like that .Ypu couldn’t call it a coincidence .After the event, of course

The sit to have the mussels what does it mean ?

So the mussel feast is set on one evening a family sit down for the special meal of Mussels to eat .There is a mother son and daughter .The story is being told by the daughter ,all that is missing is the father .As the evening unfolds we see why there having this meal as it is the fathers favourite meal ,the mother really isn’t keen on this meal but happily spends hours scrubbing the mussel’s to the point that her hands start to bleed .This family now in the west had managed to escape the east of German .The family is a strange one the mother is a teacher a nervous women who seeks solace in playing Schubert on the piano .The father has grown up embarrassed of his origins as an illegitimate child this he make the family feel as he tries to mould them in an imagined image of them .The daughter she is the most level head of the family .The son now he gets a lot of dressing down and abuse from the father . So when they sit at 6.00 there is a Erie silence as the father should and always is there ,the bowl of mussel is laying their cooling there to afraid to eat them .The story is virtually poured out as the daughter lets the history of the family and even the bowl the meal is cooked in that came with them from the East to West Germany .The four-hour later a phone rings what’s happened ?

My mother said ,forget the martyrdom ,this is absolute purgatory ,but my father said it helps ,and he laughed at us when we fussed; stop making such a fuss ,he’d say and ,pain is relative that,in fact is true ,because my father had hardly any sensitivity to the sun .

The mother hates the sun but the father seems to think it is a minor point .

Now I love Peirene ,well Meike choices ,this is a classic choice what is amazing is that it has taken 23 years for this book to reach us in English.This still has an impact but at the time would have  been  electrifying  and timely ,yet again showing the importance of people like Meike that champion the smaller books from round Europe ,even thou it is late we still get the glimpse behind the irom curtain  .Now the book its self ,well I know that this is one of those books that has two levels the first is to see it as a family story the story of a family in fear of a father and coping ,surviving come from East to West ,but in some ways regeretting thinks from the east maybe an early example of ostolgia ? .The pther level is what is the father is he more than he seems is he indeed a simple example  for a wider figure in the old east Germany ,the Stasi man (or women ),is the way the family is all in fear of one a wider view of what life was like in East Germany  .Yes the father seems like a repressive regime at times making the whole family bow and bend to his will . Now style wise this is in the classic vein of central european writing that feel of being full on comma after comma ,give an almost breathless feel to the narrative and  add to the feel of the book that makes you feel the tension at the table ,the shadow of this father falls of the page over you as the reader .To the point you worry is he coming back ?

Have you read this book ?


17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. upkerry11
    Apr 18, 2013 @ 16:48:00

    I read this book recently and while the plot sounded like a good idea I felt it went on way too long. By the time I finished the book it felt so padded I just didn’t care….


  2. parrish lantern
    Apr 19, 2013 @ 04:50:34

    this is a perfect example of a book to read in single sitting, you only get the atmosphere of this tale if you,re caught up in the claustrophobia of it’s telling.


  3. Brian Joseph
    Apr 19, 2013 @ 09:20:11

    I had heard good things about this book. The literary possibilities when writers tie in food with their stories are so abundant and fascinating!


  4. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    Apr 19, 2013 @ 15:46:03

    Yes, I agree that this would have had more impact 25 years ago. Such a shame it takes some books so long to get here. At least Meike brought it to us in the end. 🙂


  5. Jacqui (@jacquiwine)
    Apr 21, 2013 @ 07:26:38

    I really enjoyed this one. There’s such a great sense of tension to the narrative. I’m looking forward to reading more of Peirene’s books in the future and I’ve got ‘The Brothers’ on the tbr pile.


  6. Sarah
    Apr 24, 2013 @ 09:26:15

    Hi Stu, I read this earlier in the year and really enjoyed the breathlessness of the writing. I agree with Parrish – the fact that the action takes place on one afternoon makes it a good book to read in one sitting. Pereine are doing an amazing job, I’ve liked all of theirs I’ve read so far.


  7. Tom Cunliffe
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 07:38:47

    I should have read this when it came out but missed it somehow. I love Peirene books too, but I think I prefer slightly longer novels.


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  17. Lisa Hill
    Aug 18, 2019 @ 01:56:02

    Well, Stu, it’s only taken me five years to get to this book on my TBR!
    Here are my thoughts:


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April 2013


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