The king of China by Tilman Rammstedt

 

The king of China by Tilman Rammstedt

German fiction

Original title – Der Kaiser von China

Translator – Katy Derbyshire

Source – Personal copy

Well, another book from Seagull books for my second German Lit month selection. Tillman Rammstedt is the son of a famous Sociologist. He studied Philosophy and literature at a university in German and Scotland. He is part of a group of writers that form the literature group Fön including Michael Ebmeyer and Florian Werner. He lives in Berlin. This book won the Ingeborg Bachmann prize in Germany.

We’re staying at the Bamboo Gardens, a cosy and tranquil hotel. The staff aren’t quite as helpful as we’d like but that has partly to do with the culture, Grandfather explained. The rooms are tastefully decorate, Ming fuinture, a small but clean bathroom, abundant foliage outside the window, but grandfather says the typical flair of the city is somewhere restricted by the modern residential block directly opposite. The room costs 680 Yuan, a mid range price as we found when we made a comparison.

The first letter reads like the travel guide bar the last words about looking at prices.

I was struck by the synopsis of this book when I was choosing a read for German lit month. As there isn’t many comic German novels out there, especially as the English had always a wrong idea that the Germans hadn’t a sense of humour.For me, this was shattered when I lived in Germany and this book is as good as any of the great comic English novelists.The book follows a trip to China by Keith and his grandfather. Now the trip doesn’t actually happen as they are just about to leave the grandfather dies. The trip was the choice of the grandfather from Kieth four siblings as a gift, but when Kieth lose the money he grandfather says to go alone, then passes away. So Keith instead of telling the family hides at home sleeping under his desk and outsight of his window. He also starts to send back postcards and letters to the family. They start of sounding like they are just from the travel guide but as they progress Kieth starts to invent things like a mad channel just showing teeth cleaning. Then there journeys in trains next to fairground arts. Intersped with this is the story of his grandfathers young with Franziska who the young Kieth is in love with her.

My dears,

To my left lies a trapeze artiste, to my right a lady contortinist, both asleep, and I too am actually far too exhausted to write, but so much happened today that I want to tell you about, even though the days are beginning to blur together, even though tey seem like years to me.

Another letter when Kieth has let his imagination go wild, rather like Billy liar.

Now, this isn’t a travel book it is a book in the tradition of books like Billy Liar about inventing a world or that of Calvino with his Invisible cities. What happens when a white lie runs out of control, When Kieth start to drift off from the travel guide, which when he writes the early letters sound just like he has written from the travel guide when he talks about the history of places and I have a huge life when he described the hotel as mid-price, quickly saying they decide so after seeing other prices. But it seems an odd thing to say. The letters are the imagined world of a young man with his own problems, but a love of his grandfather and even more of his younger grandmother. This would be herald as comic great here, I was reminded of a writer like Dan Rhodes here or more so Magnus Mills where like Mills he uses a situation to create the story.

 

 

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Nov 03, 2017 @ 23:26:48

    I like the sound of this one, and I love the cover:)
    (But yeah, it’s true, we do tend to dismiss the German sense of humour as either slapstick or as non-existent.)

    Reply

  2. Caroline
    Nov 05, 2017 @ 14:07:26

    I had this for ages but e er read it because it hadn’t been translated. Good to know it is now.

    Reply

  3. Trackback: German Literature Month VII: Author Index | Lizzy's Literary Life

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