The system of Vienna by GertJonke

The system of Vienna by Gert Jonke

Austrian fiction

Original title – Himmelstraße – Erdbrustplatz oder Das System von Wien

Translator – Vincent King

Source – Personal copy

I always look to find new writers for German Lit month. Thomas Bernhard is one of my favourite writers. So I decided to look for another Austrian writer. I found the writer Gert Jonke and brought this Novella. LIke Bernhard Jonke won most of the Major prizes in German literature.He started off studying German studies at University. Then worked in radio dramas.Before writing novels, he was known for his experimental style of writing. This novella follows a journey on the streetcar in Vienna.

I spent the hot summer back in those years mostly at the house of a great-aunt in the country, though, where I would sink down into her garden as if into a sutropical rain forest, in the shadows of the larkspur along the trailers and stalks of vegetables with pods and hulls bursting open in the heat, planted all the way out to the twilit place where menacing stands of horsetail and hemlock woods lined a pondoceanswamp in the sour-smelling surf of which the afternoons coursed along, garbed as tribal migrations of dragonflies in the sky,under whose evening attire my great-aunt would tell me about the most exciting and, to her most decisive moment of her life, which was referred to as the neumarkt air, so good ,so healthful.

One of those long sentences the austrians do so well.

The book follows the twelve stops of his journey on the streetcar. But this journey is one in time and the history of the city itself. The story is said to be autobiographical. But the twelve stops also have separate tales.From a woman arriving at a hospital in one tale. Then another looking back on summers spent with an aunt in the country. Then we have characters like a man that has lost his slides for a lecture. A fish dealer gives his views on Austrian politics and his part within the system. A stamp collector tells how they change the King of Yugoslavia stamp after he passed away. A man that has a view of life formed by what he has found by chance over the years.

“Take a look, though. Don’t you see that the building shouldn’t be standing where it is ? The French emabassy over there was built in the wrong place, although no one intended it to be, but they delivered the wrong plans to the construction firm; they sent the construction firm in charge of the French embassy in Vienna the plans for the French embassy in Bangkok, and delivered the counstruction firm in charge of the French embassy in Bangkok the plans for the Fench embassy in Vienna.

Not sure if this is true but a fun tale told to the narrator.

This is one of those strange little books that are a compelling read.I was drawn in by the mention of the likes of Lawrence Sterne and Italo Calvino on the cover. He has the humour and absurd nature of Sterne for sure. LIke Calvino at the heart of every tale is Vienna Wien.As the tales get stranger and stranger. He takes everyday characters we may see on a streetcar and turns them into the surreal. From a man viewing the world through found items, like the flotsam and jetsam washed up on a shoreline. Building in the wrong place, I was reminded of the comment the German artist Joesph Beuys said when he felt the Berlin wall was too short to be in perspective with the rest of the city. An absurd idea like moving a building in Vienna because it is in the wrong place.He also like Bernhard is a master of the long sentence as you see in the first quote. He is Another writer I will be reading more from and another powerful voice from Austria. Have you read Jonke if so which book should I try next?

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Nov 08, 2017 @ 11:40:28

    Sounds marvellous Stu, particularly if it has echoes of Calvino. Your reviews are very bad for my wishlist!!

    Reply

  2. biblioglobal
    Nov 09, 2017 @ 21:07:04

    I just so happen to be in the market for an Austrian book right now! Good timing! I’ll have to look for this one.

    Reply

  3. 1streading
    Nov 13, 2017 @ 20:44:32

    I haven’t read this but I have read two of his other novels, Homage to Czerny and Geometric Regional Novel. I seem to recall he was influenced by music in structuring his work.

    Reply

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

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