The Alp by Arno Camenisch

 

 

 

The Alp by Arno Camenisch

Swiss fiction

original title – Sez Ner

Translator – Donal McLaughlin

Source – personal copy

Another new name for the blog. As I searched for books for this years German Lit month. Dalkey Archive has published a number of the leading Swiss writers over the last few years. This book is one of a number from that series I have bought over the last year or so. Arno Camenisch burst on to the scene when this book came out in both German and Rhaeto- Romanic. It was the first of a trilogy he wrote about rural Swiss life.

The farmhand has eight fingers, five on his left hand, and three on his right. His right he keeps mostly in his pocket, or resting on his thigh beneath the table.When he lies in the grass outside the hut, next to the pigpen, fast asleep with hos boots off and his socks off as well, the swineherd counts his toes.The farmhand sleeps in the afternoons as, by night, he’s out and about.He vanishes when everyone’s gone to bed, come back at some point during the night.

Thje loss of fingersshows the tough nature of the work these four men do.

When I took a picture of this book on twitter I called it the Anti Heidi. As for me, it portrays the Swiss rural community like it is, in many ways similar to the rural world of England.And that is a hard life for many of the people who work the land. The story is told by four unnamed characters they are the Dairyman, his farmhand, a cow herder and swine herd. What we see is the hardness of there lives the days they live milking herding animals. The jokes shared like if one hadn’t a dog he’d be a swineherd man.This is all told as we see tourist making the most of the Alps and the rich farmers. They read about a glorious past and another has just a fork to eat with. The tying of milk stools to their waist to sit on whilst milking is an ancient scene at times there world seems old-fashioned it is only when the modern world breaks in we see when the book is set.

The day-trippers wash off their walking boots in the fountain outside the hut.They take their shoes off, and their sweaty socks. The day-trippers sit at the edge of the fountain with their feet in the basin, The diop their dirty soles of their shoes in the water, use their finger to dig the dirt out of the sole. Thanks a lot,they say when the swineherd brings them a cup of milk, no worries,don’t mention it,, the swineherd says.That’s for the dirt in the fountain he thinks to himself.

The fountain they use t wash and drink from is used by trippers to clean their boots and socks …

There is a feeling that places change and sometimes people in that world don’t change. These four characters seem like flies caught in the amber of their time. Their lives are unchanging but shrinking as the modern world automates farming the feeling is these four men may be the last of the generation but there is also a deep sorrow in Camenisch portrayal of their world.Alongside a black humour that one only ever finds in these tightly knitted worlds of farm hands, miners, fishermen or shipyard workers. Those doing a day work that can see the funny side of the darkest parts of lives. I lived for many years in the northeast of England,  worked with a group of old people. The characters here reminded me in many ways of the way these four characters talked. An eye-opening view of alpine life. The real Heidi character in the modern world.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. travellinpenguin
    Nov 11, 2017 @ 00:15:28

    I always enjoy characters such as you describe in books. They are so real and easy to picture.

    Reply

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