Decompression by Juli Zeh

Juli Zeh

Well here we go I’m trying to break new ground with my reviewing style, with a book that in some ways sums up what  about reading fiction in translation is about for me. that is discovery of books I wouldn’t maybe read if they were in English as much as I agree with the women in translation project and am all for more books by women getting translated, I can never draw myself away from the lit I grew up with which is Burroughs, Kerouac , Burgess and well on the whole male writers, So Juli Zeh isn’t a writer I would usually be drawn too but it is german lit month, I had tried an earlier book by her and failed after a few pages. But the synopsis of this one appeal to me.I was suprised to enjoy this more than I expected too.

As for me, I’m keeping my mouth shut. I’m not talking about literature, I’m not talking about dying. We’re both making an effort. This is going to be a lovely vacation. I won’t provoke him, and he won’t let himself be provoked. armistice

From Jola’s diary on the first day there …

The book is about a take on the classic  love triangle. We have  Jola, she is a beautiful soap star, but with a yearning for more than that entails. She has gone with her Husband Theo to Lanzararote to learn to scuba dive (hence the title of the book ) for her new film about a famous Model come underwater photograph. Thus step in Scuba instructor and third in the ;love triangle of this novel Sven he has been paid a great deal to bring the attractive Jola up to speed on her diving.What follows is a love affair but also given the dangers of being underwater a lot can happen.Will these two break Sven’s peaceful world.?

The love triangle is perhaps one of the oldest stories in fiction and in the world in general. From wuthering heights , Doctor Zhivago and through to even Harry potter a love triangle makes a good plot line.But what lends it strength is the characters that make up the three sides so who do we have here Spolit brat Jola, stunning an actress.But also rather like the lead characters in the Peter Stamm novel from earlier in the month given all the success there is something missing at the heart of this woman.

We don’t have to be on vacation. The old man could get to work on writing a book about the island. I can train for Lotte. That’s the beauty of being in the arts. You can call everything work, and then you can realize it’s shit without being disappointed.

Jola again from her diary she is quite shallow really.

Then we have Sven the classic Laid back drop out yes he studied Law but he then left all that behind to move to the sun and teach diving. One can imagine a number of Characters like this. I loved the bit where he googled the couple, that was maybe one of the pieces that gave this such a modern feel.

Three hundred and eighty-four thousand hits on Google. That was a shock. Even though I didn’t know exactly why it frightened me . In the background, a software program was uploading data from my dive computer. If Antje appeared in the doorway. I could click on the other screen in a flash. I didn’t feel like explaining what I was doing and why. Googling clients wasn’t really my style.

I loved this so now .

Last is the triangle is  Husband Theo , for me I kept thinking Arthur Miller for some reason, I don’t know why but I got that juxtaposed position of his Marriage to Marilyn  Monroe  with Theo’s and Jola’s . He  is in the middle of a huge bout of writers block and has been lashing out at his wife. Maybe drawing Jola into the Arms of Sven whom she has tried to lead astray.She is scared of him as the firrst quote suggests.

As soon as she was finished installing the navigations devices, Jola jumped onto land, pulled Theo off the bench, and sang. “Sailing, Sailing, over the bounding main,” in his face. He lurched into motion , grumbling , a burned down cigarette.

Theo a broken man lashing out at times.

This is a classic tale given a warm setting and almost  like putting a pan of water on boil we wait for the screen to start bubbling and boiling as the three  main characters  start cooking.Juli Zeh has mixed the love triangle  genre and given it the pacing you would expect from a thriller when reading it. In Sven the main narrator she has a laid back character capturing his life falling apart by the arrival of these two. I watch the film version of inherent vice and felt Sven was rather like Doc the lead character in that drawn into a world and situations he didnt’ quite want to be in .

German Literature

Decopression bY Juli Zeh

Translator John Cullen.

Nicotine by Gregor Hens

Nicotine by Gregor Hens

German Non-fiction

Original title – Nikotin

Translator Jen Calleja

Source – review copy

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Now you’re underneath the stairs
And you’re givin’ back some glares
To the people who you met
And it’s your first cigarette.

Neil young mentions that first cigarette in his song Sugar mountain.

Well after Gregor kindly choose five German books of short length last week, I finally get to his book. Gregor Hens is German writer and translator. He has translated books by the Likes of Jonathan Lethem , Rawi Hage and Will Self’s Umbrella, he lives in Berlin . Will Self also did a wonderful forward for this book about his relationship with cigarettes and smoking which inspired my post here .I so pleased that Fitzcarraldo decide to translate this book this is what small press do so well be brave and publish books like this.

I’ve smoked well over a hundred thousand cigarettes in my life and each of those cigarettes meant something to me. I even enjoyed a few of them. I’ve smoked ok, great and terrible cigarettes. I’ve smoked dry moist, aromatic and almost sweet cigarettes, I’ve smoked hastily and other times slowly and with pleasure. I’ve scrounged , stolen and smuggled cigarettes.

I like Gregor have smoke all sort from French, German, Russian and British cigarettes in my time as a smoker.

Well Nicotine was written by Gregor two years after he stopped smoking himself . This book  is an autopsy of a smoker , bu not a dead one .A retrospective of a smokers life, the how, when and where. But h also he expands it out to the wider concept of trying to stop smoking as a person but also the way it has sprung up to a whole raft of stop smoking ideas . The book follows him from his first cigarette ,in fact  even before back to  his family journeys in a car with his family of smokers. Through the packets of cigarettes he has brought in the past. The rituals of smoking that every smoker has. Cigarettes and culture from Twain talking of always trying to give up. Italo Svevo. even to Smoke one of my favourite films. This is a look back at being a smoker.

So why the last cigarette? Why should I smoke it? Why should I enjoy it like Cosini? I’ve already shown how strong I am! If I’m able to renounce a lifetime of any kind of smoking pleasure. Every possible cigarette, if I’ve decided this am sure of it, why not this one too? Why, when I ‘ve already come to terms with this resolution long ago, do i open the rubbish bin in the kitchen and retrieve the half-empty packet that had been thrown away a few minutes ago?

That moment you finally let go, I can’t remember the last one but the days leading up and not feeling well.

I think it is easy to say I connected with this as like Gregor I am now an Ex smoker, not quite two years but ten months is the longest I have ever stopped. I even feel now like Gregor does in the book I can look back at the autopsy of my smoking life from those first cigarettes, to like Gregor packets in fact one of the ones he mentions a few times in the book Peer Export , which is a german brand which has jumbo packet which was smoked by the step father of my ex German girlfriend. This is maybe the first of a new genre the ex smoker works. With smoking becoming a more and more anti social habit, I feel we will see more and more of books like this of writers tackling kicking the habit and their journeys.So if you have ever given a bad habit up or just like well written non fiction this is your book. This is a journey to the heart of nicotine through a blacken lung back up to the clear light of day.

Have you a favourite book involving smoking ?

The incorrigible optimist club by Jean-Michel Guenassia

The Incorrigible Optimist club by Jean-michel Guenassia

French Literature

Original title -Le Club des incorrigibles optimistes

Translator – Euan cameron

Source – review copy


 “Immigrant Punk”

Upon arriving to the melting pot
I get penciled in as a goddamned white
Now that I am categorized
Officer gets me naturalized
Now that I’m living up in God knows where
Sometime it gets hard without a friend
But as I am lurking around
Hoptza! I see another immigrant punk!
There is a little punk rock mafia
Everywhere you go
She is good to me and I am good to her…

Legalize me! Realize me!

I choose Gogol Bprdello they capture what it is to come fromeast to west so well in their music and this would suit that back room !!

I had intend to try to review just german books this month but as we all know events on Friday in Paris have led me to review this book now rather than next month. What better to remember what a great city and spirit the French and the people of Paris have than a huge 600 page epic debut novel. This book won the Goncourt prize that is voted by students when it came out. It’s writer is a writer born in Algeria, he has been a screenwriter before writing this epic about life in  Paris in 1959 trying to capture a spirit of the time in this book.

“I’m no longer Czech. I’m not French. I’m stateless. It’s the worst scenario. One doesn’t exist. I do have a glimmer of hope of seeing my brother again. He’s American. We phone once a year to wish each other a happy new year . He’s a foreman in the building trade. He has a family. He lives well. But he can’t afford to come to Eruope.I’ll put in another request next year and the following one.

A  club of men fragment change the country’s name it could be any time in the last fifty years.


This is a story of one young boy Michel  a 12 year old in the cusp of becoming a young man but in some ways still a kid. he isn’t you’re normal kid he loves to read and take pictures and is drawn to the arty west bank and to the local Bistro , where he is playing table football with his mates. But at the same time drawn to the men that come and go from this bar Bistro to a back room with a pencil written sign that of the title of the book this mix of french intellectuals and refugees from East european draw this young man into their world of escape from the iron curtain as they sit play chess and talk about their lives life in the Iron Curtain .Meanwhile we sees how the war in Algeria touches Michel as his older brother is called to the front .So from Igor Leonid , thou his mother and his brother who just miss what their son and brother is getting from  these guy as the likes of Kessel and Sartre are their and in the air as they speak.

The Marinis, in their corner of the room, were gathered around grandfather Enzo. They were waiting. Franck, My brother, had made up his mind which side he was on.He was talking in a hushed voice to Uncle Baptiste and grandmother Jeanne. My father appeared, carrying an enormous cake with chocolate icing, and began singing “Happy birthday Michel” . The Marinis joined in the chorus

Michel Birthday and family tensions as the family gather for his birthday one the few times they are all together.

This book reminds me of what we all love in Paris that spirit of talking and discussing the world in the bars and bistros of the left bank. That is the world that was rocked by Friday night the new Michel’s gunned down. Paris and the way it has except people leaps off the page, the sad  thing is will this forever change for me I hope. So if you want a remind why Paris is such a great city. Right to the book Michel is a character I have come across a lot in american fiction, but he is more round than any character I have read in an American novel about growing up. Michel world comes alive that cafe those guys him listen absorbing and growing as he listens to the guys lives and stories is just ooze into you that socialist spirit of France at the time I want to go and reread my Sartre and finish the huge book by him on Freud I’ve had on the backburner for a few months.

The Flounder by Günter Grass

The Flounder by Günter Grass

German Literature

Original title – Der Butt

Translator – Ralph Manheim

Source – personnel copy

I wish I was a fisherman
tumbling on the sea
far away from dry land
and its bitter memories
casting out my sweet line
with abandonment and love
no ceiling bearing down on me
save the starry sky above
with Light in my head
and you in my arms

I wish I was the brakeman
on a hurtling, fevered train
crashing headlong into the heartland
like a cannon in the rain
with the beating of the sleepers
and the burning of the coal
counting the towns flashing by
in a night that’s full of soul
with Light in my head
and you in my arms

Fisherman blues is one of those songs that evoke a bygone age .

I have long been a fan of Gunter grass and have reviewed him twice before her with Cat and Mouse , From the diary of a snail , I was sad to see his passing earlier this year as when I reviewed Siegfried Lenz earlier in the month Grass was one of three or four big German writers who were break out  and widely translated, he was gruppe 47 those writers trying to but a spin on the new Germany. He is best known for Tin drum, but as a writer this book from the mid 1970’s sure a change in style and direction for him.

The third beast

Iisebill put on more salt, before the impregnation there was a shoulder of mutton with string beans and pears, the season being early October. Still at table, still her mouth full, she asked “should we go to be right away, or do you want to tell me how the story began ?”

The opening lines of the book were pick as the best opening lines in German literature in a poll in Germany .

The book is set in nine chapters and follow the pregnancy of Iisbill the fisherman’s wife. But the book is historic tour of German folk history and women in general as their part in the world.. This is summed in little side tales of history food and women. The book follows The area of germany Grass was from that northern part just by and including at various times parts of Poland, Add to that a talking fish descriptions of food being made and we have one strange yet unique book.Hard to describe other than it has nine chapters and a couple await their child while we hear about the world they live in to that point from every angle in a way .


A pinch or redemer salt

another delay when my question- which

century are we playing mow ? – was answered

Kitchenwise: when the price of the pepper fell …


Nine times she sneezed over the bowl

where lay the hare giblets in their broth

she refused to remember

that I was he kitchen boy.

Darkly she gazed at the fly in the beer

and wanted( no more delay)

to be rid of me no matter what

I choose a poem that echoed somewhat the opening lines of placing salt on the food .

I said it marked a change in Grass style it was the first book he wrote that wasn’t influenced or involved the second world war as its main subject matter. You also see maybe for the first time his love of Grimm and the fairytales the story evolved out of the Grimm story The fisherman and his wife , he would later use Grimm to form the third part of his memoir a dictionary of his life an Homage to the one Grimm did in their day. I seemed to have described little of what is in the book that is because it one of those books that is more a collection of small almost one would say flash piece some a paragraph others a tens of pages ranging from Tales , memoir , history , poems , the story of Iisebill and her husband , the talking flounder and even  food described .The talking fish tells of his life from stone age years to the 70’s when he has to face a feminists panel. This is a book that has divide people for its view of women through history. I feel it was a book of its day so to speak and maybe looking back at it 40 years on it can seem out step with feminism, but that is not for me to say fully. For me it was a writer trying a new style of writing in this book he tried similar things later on in books like My century where he used a patchwork of hundred stories to describe the 20th century. For me it is sad that Grass is read less than he was twenty years ago I know writers come in and out fashion , but from what I gather his last work was a piece on refugees so maybe he was more up to date than it seemed. Grass was never afraid to speak his mind and campaigned for the german SPD party for many years in fact the idea for this book came when he was on the road with Willy Brandt. So as we see another great German chancellor Helmut schmidt died a book that was published in his time as chancellor seems a fitting book.This is my new favourite Grass till I start soon on his first two volumes of Memoir Peeling the onion and the box ready for the Grimm book when it gets translated.

have you a favourite Grass


Gone to ground by Marie Jalowicz Simon

Gone to Ground

Gone to ground by Marie Jalowicz Simon

German Memoir

Original title – Untergetaucht

Translator – Anthea Bell

Source – Library book

In Berlin, by the wall
you were five foot ten inches tall
It was very nice
candlelight and Dubonnet on ice

We were in a small cafe
you could hear the guitars play
It was very nice
it was paradise

You’re right and I’m wrong
hey babe, I’m gonna miss you now that you’re gone
One sweet day

Oh, you’re right and I’m wrong
you know I’m gonna miss you now that you’re gone
One sweet day
One sweet day

I choose Berlin by Lou Reed as in this book it is the character in the background

I want to add a few non fiction works for this German lit month and this is one I found in my library system. Marie Jalowicz Simon lived in Berlin all through the second world war even thou she was a Jews, she hid and change  her identity to escape capture. Shortly before her death her son Hermann got her to tell her story and this book was put together from the tapes Hermann her son recorded and the writer Irene Stratenwerth to make this book of her war years.

A few months later, on 18 march 1941, my father died. He must have guessed that it was coming. A few day before his death the notes in his diary that he kept, finally, in five-pfennig octavo notebooks, were headed, “like being on the high seas”. He must have been feeling as if he were seasick. He had lain down for a moment , he wrote, he had felt so dizzy, and then it had passed over. But he had realised this was a case of life or death

Her father’s death after he has to stay unable to get out of Germany .

Gone to ground follows Marie’s story from telling of her youth a Berlin with a lively Jewish population to the first signs of the future when the Nazi’s take power. Her father attempts to get them to safety fail when he can’t a permit to travel in 1941 to Palestine as he is unable to be a lawyer under the Nazi rule. At this point the family is in forced Labour and everyday she is seeing those around her disappear at this point with a little help Marie disappears into the city where she will spend the next few years traveling from cellar to flats  staying in hiding. Going deeper as what she called a Uboat after she was nearly caught  she is helped by a collection of characters some with good intentions others with bad wanting a young woman in their home. But Marie manages to get through just to study after the war and make her living translating .

Little girl

All alone

to the Heller’s house has gone

what a fuss, who’s to blame?

I must bear it all the same.

As so often, I was singing to myself in my mind as I carried my suitcase from Schierker Strasse to Schinleinstrasse. It was a day late in february 1943. I wondered whether it was wicked to sing when Heller was possibly being tortured to death at this very minute. then I adapted a little more of the” Hanschen Klein” nursery rhyme to suit my own situation.

Never fear

be of good cheer

Things may yet be better here

The first winter Marie is in Berlin on the fun going from place to place .

This is one of those stories that needs to be told , we all have to be thankful to her son for recording his mother’s story one of the few Jews to make it through the war in the heart of the Nazi war machine Berlin. The story has been well put together by the writer and what is Marie’s voice shines through a strong young woman, her luck in find a block of flats whom tenants help her for most of the war, thus making one feel the strength of the human spirit in the darkest times. I said when I got this book it had reminded me of the great German Film Europa Europa another true story of a young Jewish boy who decide to become an Aryan and get through the war that way.Both show how the drive to survive can drag people through the darkness either trying to fit in or trying to hide. This is a powerful book to sit alongside the like of Primo Levi and Anne frank as a testament to how people escaped some got through and others didn’t .

Have you read this book ?

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