River by Esther Kinsky

River by Esther Kinsky

German fiction

Original title –  Am Fluss

Translator – Iain Galbraith

Source – review copy

I have reread this for German lit month as I read it late last year and never reviewed it and had wanted to but as time flew this year I picked it up last week. Esther Kinsky is a German writer and translator she had lived in London for a number of years with her late husband the German to English translator Martin Chalmers. In her work as a translator of English books into German she had worked on books by John Clare his journey from Esse. That follows Clare walk in the countryside of 1841.  she also translated Iain Sinclair’s book which he followed in Clare’s footsteps and she has also done works by Henry David Thoreau of the books she has translated this three jumped out at me as they seem to connect to this wonderful novel.

The king stretched out his hands and the ravens gather around him. Several settled on his arms, shoulders and hands, briefly flapping their wings, lifting again and flying a short distance, then returning. Perhaps each bird wanted to touch him art least once, or perhaps they had no choice. Thus encirclircled by birds, he began to make gentle swinging and circling movements with his arms, as if they were haunted by a memory of wings

The King in the opening chapter see saw one evening a strange figure .

This is one of thos novels that have no real plot it is a meandering work just like the rivers our narrator tells us about. She is a German that has ended in our capital. She has then drift to Hackney and spends her time wandering the marsh-river area around the river Lea the book and many strands all come from these meandering walks the memories of her past and time in her childhood on the Oder and the single visit of her father but then the other people she meets eccentric character like the King a Man in a headdress that  I was never sure was just an imaged person a sort of modern take on the Crow King especially when she said he opened his arms and the ravens drifted around him. Or was this just an eccentric dress like a beefeater that wanders the river paths of the Lea? Then she meets orthodox Jews and other people that have ended up in this multicultural area like people from Former Yugoslavia leads to another digression to the rivers there many views of the rivers both in Europe and America she had seen over the years form a sort of memory of her life and also flow like a river as you read it.

What were my memories of rivers, now that I lived on an island whose thoughts were turned seawards, where rivers looked shallow and pretty, noticable only when they frayed into flats, or cut deep channels as they flowed out to sea ? Sometimes I dreamed of rivers I had known, rivers that cleaved their wat through plains and towns, rivers kept at bay by flood defences, or which rippled through the bright countryside. I remembered ferries and bridges and endless searching in unfamilar terrain for ways to cross a foreign river . I spent my younger years by a river that appeared to me in dreams when I ran a fever.

The river of my childhood was the Rhine. The chugging of barges

I remeber a few evening by the Rhine in my early twenties a much broader and buiser river than ours in the Uk in a way.

Now anyone that follows this blog knows that this is the sort of book I am a fan of those that can not be put in a pigeonhole. I pointed out that she had translated John Clare the peasant  poet and his walk of 1841 which was redone by Iain Sinclair another great writer around London and this is another grea\t view of that city from an outsiders eyes like Sebald she views the places she sees differently and drifts through time and place this is another book that would be great to map out the places mentioned on a google map guide like someone did with Sebald’s rings of Saturn if I ever have a spare week or two I may even try this myself as it made me think of the times I used to walk along the river Dane in Congleton growing up then past Alnwick castle with my first dog as I meet a whole host of people as Alnwick was always full of tourists and finally to the still canal waters of here my home and those cold mornings with my old pal Winston this is what great fictions do when a reader connects and that draws you into the tale.

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The end of a Mission by Heinrich Böll

 

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The end of a mission by Heinrich Böll

German literature

Original title – Ende einer Dienstfahrt

Translator – Lelia Vennewitz

Source – personal copy

It has become a tradition in a way to review a Heinrich Böll for German lit month. I have reviewed five of his book before.I have a few more on my tbr pile and with Penguin putting his debut novel out. It has been over thirty years since Böll died so it nice see he is getting new attention as for me he alongside Gunter Grass was the voices of post-war West Germany. This book came in 1966a mid-career book by this writer.

The evidence of the elderly Inspector Kirffel was short and to the point. He said that the scene of the crime was known to all local inhabitants for miles around as “Kupper’s tree” ; although there was no tree anywhere in the vicinity and never had been – not even in his childhood had he ever seen a tree there – he  chose to use the name because it appeared on the regional maps. Herr hermes, the teacher from Kireskirchen who was such an expert on local lore, had explained the name this way; some generations ago a tree had probably soodthere , and someone called Krupper had either hanged himself or been hanged from it .

The place the jeep was found was a place named after a tree that may have been there at some point !!

This is maybe the most german novel by Böll I have read. The book is set around a trial in a small county court in an otherwise sleepy town and the trail of a father and son Johann Gruhl and his son Georg. The trail of these two came about as the son stole an Army Jeep near the end of his conscription in the army he takes it to his fathers and the Jeep is burned out.the jeep was found near a local landmark which is highlighted a number of times in the book.  The book follows the trial the son was sent out in the jeep in a meaningless exercise to get a certain mileage on the jeep was ask to drive around but end up at his father who was in trouble with some huge outstanding bills in the family Cabinet maker business. The Jeep got burnt was this malicious or an act of art or being anti-military! The trail is held by a local judge known for being a bit of a pushover. The judge is just on the verge of retirement. So over the course of the books, we see witness setting the events first one way and then another to discover what really happened this is a comic book that also highlights the absurd nature of the state and the army at times when a system becomes inflexible. The book follows the inner working of a trail and the madness of it sometimes.

Upset and nervpous as he was, Dr Stolfuss (he had also known Gruhl senior from childhood and had always had a soft spot for him – a few weeks before the incident he had even employed him to restore a valuable Empire chest of drawers which had finally, after a lengthy inheirtence dispute with his cousin Lisdeth, sister of Agnes Hall, come into his possesion. In paying Gruhl he had in fact, if not demostrably. put himself in the wrong because, knowing that Gruhl was being snowed under with seizure orders, he had sliiped him his money privately)

Another witness and another odd tale and tonuge in cheek at time

This is different to the other books I have read by him but is an interesting comic work into the absurd nature of the state, justice system and the way being draft in the army can change the family business. The absurd jeep ride by the son it is all tongue in cheek at times but also shows the bureaucratic process and justice system at its most absurd as the two men are set to the fact the Judge. This is the sort of novel that would struggle to get out now as it is cerebral and also comic also it subject matter of a small country trail around a stolen burnt out jeep isn’t the most exciting but that is what sets this apart as it is stunning read by one of the great writers of his time. I enjoy the fact the way he takes apart the inner workings and shows the madness the state can sometimes have. Have you a favorite Böll

The tiding of the trees by Wolfgang Hilbig

The tiding of trees by Wolfgang Hilbig

German fiction

Original title – Die Weber, alte abdeckeri, Die kunde von baumen

Translator – Isabel Fargo Cole

Source – personal copy

Well, it is German lit month and I start with a new writer and new press for this blog I have actually read two books by Wolfgang Hilbig but hadn’t reviewed the earlier book which I hope to bring later in the month. But this is the last of his books to appear on Two line press. Wolfgang Hilbig grew up in East Germany he was initially a poet after giving up his job as a stoker. He wrote a number of works till in 1985 he got a visa and traveled to West Germany and wrote his first novel. His works look on life as a writer in the former GDR and the politics of the time. He won many prizes and wrote twenty books.

What do I know now , said Waller, of the preplexities that came over me as I tried to write my first stories? right here I falter: back then I’d never have dared to put it that way! that act of story-wrting consisted in an ongoing routine of crossing out words that had found their way to paper with no effort on my part. I seemed to have set them down in some kind of madness – I found whole lines, whole passages filled with words what could have arisen in no other way, all I couldaccept was the branching frame work of the conjunctions – and suddenly it was as though someone, not I , had shone a lamp on them: my words, if I could still read them at all, were the falest conceivable way to express what I actually wanted to name

The openiong lines show Waller isn’t really writing at times and also the sense that he could only writer freeier later on in his career.

This novella is narrated by a shift worker called Waller. He is a man similar to the writer himself he is in his twenties as the book is written this is 1961. The Berlin wall has cut of the east german. The writer lives in the city of V with his mother on Cherry Tree Avenue where the tree has disappeared and in their place is a dump and the Garbagemen that he sees working that dump. He is writing a report and also trying to write about the disappearance of the trees. But he seems to get caught in a cycle of start with the city of w and living on cherry tree avenue but never writes any further as thou he is blocked from writing more in his mind and wanting to tell who the open pit min turn a wood into a pit and when that was used into a dump and the dump is manned by these barely human garbagemen shifting through the trash of the locals. Will Waller ever finish his writing!

How long ago, I asker myself, had I last been in that area? many years must have passed, and the terrain had changed utterly. The ash had grown into an extensice plain, leveled, but in contrast to earlier times impossible to survey: it was covered in dense brush, strange weeds that stood yards tall, and nothing led through that tangle but narrow paths forming a bewildering labyrinth. I had no idea what that jungle of  plants consisted of : dry, tough grass, burdock, reedd… things whose yellow flowers caught the eye at a certain time of year, scrubby mugwort, dingy goldenrod, thickets that thrived better on barren ground than in fertile soil..

The local area has been changed beyond his memories of the place and now is a barren jungle of weeds a metaphor for the GDR maybe !!

There is a real darkness and sense of the world the narrator is living in the black air around him the ash that at a point he wipes of the page he is writing these mysterious figures all add to an air of a world where all is not what it seems. A world where the ground has been ripped apart I have seen the open cast pits when I lived in the northeast in the 90s, in fact, my father repaired the huge dragliners so I got to see very close an open cast from the bottom and the effect it had on the landscape but the difference here was after it was filled it was filled with water and became an area where nature flourished here we see the scars opened and the filled with rubbish and the people that live on the tip sorting the rubbish all this from the local area. This is a commentary on the way the GDR ruing parts of East Germany after the Berlin Wall was closed and ravage the land for Coal. The Huge machines that dug open the land like the Blue wonder . Then when they left the government turned it into a tip and the home waller knew when young on Cherry tree avenue is no more the cherry trees are gone. A desolate world captured in a wonderfully poetic work of despair and hopelessness wonderfully captured from one of the best writers of the later 20th century in German.

 

 

 

That was the month that was October 2018

  1. A school for fools by Sasha Sokolov
  2. Midnight in the century by Victor Serge
  3. Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte
  4. The Dwarf by Par lagerkvist
  5. Inspector Cadaver by Georges Simenon
  6. Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah
  7. Cult X by Fuminori Makamura
  8. A vision of Battlements by Anthony Burgess

This month saw me reviewing 8 books on the blog from seven countries one new press the Manchester university press with the Irwell editions imprint for the Anthony Burgess reissues they are doing for his rarer books. I managed to take part in both the NYRB fortnight and 1944 club last month even a crossover with Kapputt. My journey this month took two stops in Russia with a surreal novel around a school and another about being exiled in Stalins russia then an insider’s view behind the Nazi regime. Then a Swedish novel in Medieval Italy about a dwarf pulling the strings of those around him. Then to a distant french island and a son looking for his real mother after that we followed a boyfriend trying to find his girlfriend in a cult then we ended up with the first reprint of what was Anthony Burgess first novel he wrote which had been out of print for forty years. A good month.

Book of the month-

A Vision of Battlements

A Vision of Battlements By Anthony Burgess is my book of the month I think this is the first time for a while I’ve not picked a translation but in Richard Ennis Burgess has a great anti Hero and the duller side of world war two stuck on Gibraltar with drunk troops and a major that has delusions  of grandeur just a great book that shouldn’t have been out of print for so long from one of the great British writers.

Next month-

I hope to take part in German lit month but maybe not as much as previous years I have a few review books to read but the new Murakami and Marias I have out from library need to be read this month.

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