Eulogy for the living by Christa Wolf

Eulogy for the living by Christa Wolf

German Memoir

original title – Nachruf auf Lebende

Translator – Katy Derbyshire

Source – personal copy

I have a lot of books from Christa Wolf on my shelves but haven’t reviewed a book by her here on the blog until now. I have decided to start with a book about the start of her life, with a work that was published after she passed away found in her writings was this piece which she wrote in a four week period in the early seventies she had tried many times to write about her childhood here own families experience at the end of the second world war where here family left the home which after the war became part of Poland this is the period that covers that times as she has her last day at school as the family head further towards the center of Germany to avoid the oncoming Red Army. This was an experience and time she had tried many times to write about this time.

it embittered me that the Fuhrer’s portrait was torn from the walls in all the houses in the town. Our Fuhrer was an oil painting, sixty by forty centimetres, dressed in tones of grey. A red ribbon ran around his elegantly tilted grey peaked cap, the cord at the front was also grey. He didn’t look at us, insteadgazing rather precisely at the sliding glass door between the dining and living rooms, a door that made my friends consider our home modern, and displaying his strong straight nose to us in oprofile along with a single grey-blue eye, which was rigid and whiochwe therefore thought was firm. He gazed firmly, Not always, Frauelun Dr strauch had told ius when we talked about the uprising of the goths-

The loss of the pictures shows the changing tide and the quote from her favourite teacher later tried as a leading Nazis.

The book ties in with another work on her childhood patterns of youth she also wrote about her early years. But this is just about the escape from her hometown as they head to safety. As her family Leaves her hometown of Landberg on the Wrathe. so on 30th January in 1945. When her mother decides it is time for the family to head out of the town. As the story unfolds the young Christa can’t grasp how the regime has fallen apart the spot on the walls in the town where the Fuhrer portrait had been taken down as the locals await the appearance of the red army. Her school the Herman Goering school. her favorite teacher later arrests as a leading Nazi this is a young girl’s view of this world her family settled middle class her family ran the grocer’s shop like when her mother considered bringing the fur coat with her shows the class of her family. She finds it hard joining the escape as she had the doctrine from Nazis in her question of whether heading to safety is the best. This is a short period of time looked back at with a clear sense of the time. it is easy to see why Wolf struggled writing about this time.

Don’t forget what a wonderful childhood you both had! My mother had words like these at her disposal, she would put her hand on your shoulder to say them, and there was no face you could present to words like that. Why are you acting so stiff? we did have a wonderful childhoof and now it’s over, we were walk-ons in a oplay guaranteed a happy ending on the days of our birth, and now they were casting us into the midst of a tragedy, its laws absolutely unknown to us- although it is a little flattering in the far corner of one’s conscious mind to be entrusted with such a difficuly and productive role. fear immediately ceases once the loss one trembled at the thought of has come to pass. All at once, the thin dew of boredom that settles on circumstances too long immobile is blown away.

I loved this passage it shows how as children even the hieght of Nazism a perfect childhood could be had.

This was found in her writings after her death wolf was best known for the way she looked at the east german regime her first book coming out in the sixties. She wrote often at odds with the Stasi but with a socialist heart to her works, she only wrote one book that came out after unification which she was opposed to which question the Stasi’s actions at the time. the subtitle of this book is called taking flight as we see the young Christa loved her school her teachers her home and in a way was blinkered at that age to the wider vision but her experience is a personal testament of the time which is drawn from her own experience of the time. It is easy to see why it was a struggle to write about without inhibitions as she said as she looked back on the time and how her mother reacted through her eyes her mother strength shows through. I have the latter part of her life next on my list of Christa wolf’s books the last part of a series of diary entries she wrote for the same day for over fifty years. Have you read a book by her?

Winstons score – B  an interesting insight into her life that was a struggle to write

The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

German fiction

Original title –  Der Reisende

Translator – Philip Boehm

Source – Personal copy

Pushkin has a habit of turning up with these lost gems of writers from around Europe. Here we have Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz. Boschwitz was the son of a Jewish businessman that died in world war one where he was brought up by his protestant mother they left Germany for Sweden but in the mid-thirties he was called up for the Wehrmacht. So they went on the run around Europe before ending up in London in 1939 where he published his second novel under the name John Grane and the original title was  The man who took trains. This and his debut novel didn’t come out in German until a few years ago this is a new translation of the book that follows the events on Kristallnacht written shortly after that night Ulrich captures the chaos but also the loss of personal identity for our main character otto Silbermann.

I’m living as though I weren’t a jew, he thought, somewhat incredulously. For this time being I’m simply a well-to-docitzen- under threat, it’s true, but as of yet unscathed. How is this possible ? I live in a modern six room apartment, People talk to me and treat me as though I were one of them. They act as if i’m same person I used to be, the liars – it’s  enough to give a man a guilty conscience. Whereas I’d like to show them a clearer picture of reality, namely that as if yesterday I’m something different because I am a Jew. And who did I used to be? no-who am I , really A swear word on two legs, one that people mistake for something else!

It dawns of Otto what has happened and how the world is changing.

The action opens just after Kristallnacht has just happened in Berlin and it has finally dawned on Otto Silbermann a successful Jewish businessman that runs a factory just about until now he thought he was going to avoid the worst of what was happening he isn’t overly Jewish looking and had a German wife. But when he meets his partner Becker after the night as he talks he notices the difference in his manner and later at a hotel he had been going to for years he sees how people treat him differently.  But this single night has turned the world around him to one he doesn’t know and he now must try and get money for his business and try and find a way out of Germany what follows is a wonderful portrayal of a man on the run as he sells his business for a pittance and then goes on the run on train after train rides as he crisscrosses Germany trying to connect with old friends and work a way out of German even at one point he gets to a border but is then turned back into the heart of Nazis Germany. There is a sense of the world shrinking around Otto as he sees who are his true friends and acquaintances are and those that now despise him as it shows the way the Nazis manipulated people.

Silbermann’s coat pockets were bulging out from all the bills, so he went to a shop to buy a briefcase, after making the purchase he realized it was already 6:55, so he dashed to the nearest post offive, where he too a form from the telegragh counter and sent a local telegram to his wife. Because he was worried about returnuning to his apartment, he asked her to meet him in a cafe close to home.

When he left the post office he wondered what he should do with the forty-one thousand five hundered marks he has recovered. He decided no to dwell on the matter of Becker and how deeply his former friend had disappointed him although that did little to stave off his painful, depressing reflections.

AS he starts to go on the run with the money from his buisness and the loss of his friends

This is a classic thriller that goes at full pace as we see Otto trying to get away, of course, the train and escape is a nod towards John Buchan in a way Hannay of course tries to escape the spies that are following him on a train to Scotland. Then he has taken a large linch of Kafka as the world he is living in becomes a maze of these train journeys as he tries to escape and avoid being seen as Jewish the world he knows is changing to a Kafkaesque nightmare before him as door after door gets shut in front of him. Otto is the every Jews Man of Berlin after that night trying to escape the collapsing world around them in Otto case he has the fact he can pass as Aryan but it still means his papers are showing him as Jewish. Another gem from Pushkin and I feel there are still more books out there waiting to be rediscovered that like this haven’t aged the book actually feels modern and the pace it is told at is wonderful we get caught up in the chaos of that world.

Winstons score – +A a true gem rediscovered

You’re not dying by Kathrin Schmidt

You’re not dying by Kathrin Schmidt

German fiction

Original title – Du Stirbst Nicht

Translator – Christina Les

Source – Review copy

It is strange when you have heard people talking just last week about what makes it through to English in Translation and how sometimes great books get missed as they don’t fit the mould of what is expected from a country’s writing or like this book just seem to get missed the book won the German book prize (the German equivalent of the Booker prize) which had Herta Muller and Clemens J Setz on the shortlist. Kathrin Schmidt has written eight collections of poetry and five novels this is the most successful novel she was on the Berlin discussions called the round table and has been an editor in the past the book is described as autobiographical in parts as the writer herself had recovered from a stroke in the time she was writing the book.  There is also a collection of short stories in the pipeline to be translated into English.

She knows that voice.It’s Inga. She sems to have bought someone with her. “Come on in!” says a deep voice, butthen there’s the sound of falling over, followed by a gloating laugh. Why can’t she just open her eyes! She has to work out what just happened. Her fruend Inga wanted to visit her and was encouraged to come in, but there must be a deep piton the other side of the door. They’ve fallen into it. She becomes agitated now, she realises. What.s happened to her friend, whose voice she heard so clearly? Ahthere she is again, unsuprisingly upset.

Early on she start to know who is talking to her but still has large gaps in her memories of her past.

The book is told from the viewpoint of Helene as she recovers from a life-changing stroke which put her in a coma as she comes round from the sedation they have put her one we see how she starts to piece together her life after the stroke. What do you do when you have forgotten everything everyone you have known is new to you as you start to awaken from a blur this is described? We see as she starts to piece together the post wall german as she remembers her youth in East Berlin. It is a battle as she starts to fill the gaps that are in her kind as she has lost control of her body. and is slowly regaining control of it she looks at who she was and doesn’t know herself and starts to begin life anew the book question who are we what makes a person what are we the sum of our past or the person we are now! Then what happens when we lose that can we refind love or does it come from elsewhere this is a powerful work that tackles difficult subjects.

Legs up! Both of them

Helene’s lying on the mat,. Her left leg gets to ninety degrees, her right leg manages maybe thurty. Not bad, she thinks. She knows her right arm won’t manage anything, though- she can’t direct a single finger even a tiny bit. And here comes the command already.

“Arms out in front, and up!”

The left one goes up.

“And what about the right one?”

The physion knows the answer to that, so can’t she just get off her case.

Now the woman shoves her fist under Helene’s shoulder and stimulates the shoulder blade with her knuckle – she can clearly feel it , but it’s hardly painful, The physio guides Helene’s right arm up and turns it slightly outwards. As she’s holding it outstretched and up in the air, she challenges Helene to brace herself against her hand, at short intervals,

The recovery is slow as her body starts to regain its movement

What I loved about the book is how it used language so well even in translation how it builds the vocabulary used and wording of people changes like early on the nurse is just called the bum wiper simple words but as we see Helene grow as her brain starts to recover the vocab builds. It is a journey of discovery a woman rediscovering herself but also facing a past that she has forgotten. It shows you what a journey of self-discovery Helene takes after the stroke..The is great us of how we recover things like noise in the hospital that triggers memories of her past life. A road to recovery told as the past is gone and the future awaits but we see how the bridge of recovery is built piece by piece as the past slots together like a jigsaw. A great book that should come out sooner it won the German book prize 12 years ago. Have you read this or any other German book prize winners or shortlisted books?

Winstons score – +A a lost gem

 

Love in Five Acts by Daniela krein

Love in Five acts by Daniela Krien

German Fiction

original title – Die Liebe im Ermsfall

Translartor – Jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy

It is always nice to revisit a writer that the first time you read them wasn’t what you thought they were well Daniela Krein is such a writer I was sent her debut novel Someday we’ll tell each other everything which when I finally read it I Loved like this novel it focus on relationships and also was set in former East Germany. Krien is also a documentary filmmaker who grew up in former East Germany and has lived in Leipzig where this book is set since the late 90’s. The book focus on five people from Leipzig and how relationships and families work in the 21st century and tackle tough subjects like children dying.

Every evening she waited for Ludger to come home.The tempering job took up his time like no other project and he often got back late. While she waited, she cooked, read made telephone calls or stood by the window, never forgetting thaft everything she was doing was merely killing time. The tension only ended when she heard his key in the lock and Paula wondered whether  it was really just down to the apartment and its emptiness

Just after they are married she has a void will the children fill it for Paula .

As I said the book has five stories that are all set in and around Leipzig where Daniela Krein lives. They start with Paula and her husband and children. She met what was an eccentric guy but when they married he became authoritarian her husband is a traditional head of the householder but when they lose their daughter Joanne her husband blames his wife for the loss of their daughter as he struggles with his grief and lass out at her.  so leaves her and goes Abroad leaving the fragile Paula trying to rebuild her life and find some love in it after a double blow of both the void of her daughter and now her husband !. Then we meet Judith a doctor and Horsewomen.  I liked Judith she is a woman that is a rider I have to say I’ve meet a few Judith over the years one of these horsewomen that is more interested in Horse than men really but we see her navigate the world of Online dating and the ups and downs that brings along the way. She is also a good friend of Paula so linking the stories together. Then Brida who like Paula is connected to Judith as she is a patient of Judith she is a writer but is at a crossroads of her life where she has to choose whether it is love or writing the path she should follow! there are two more stories but I will leave them for you to follow.

Judith lights a cigarette. She gets up and opens the window, then writes;

Dear succesful, striking, masculine man, empathy is the ability to read another persons feelings. Anybody claiming to have empathy “in spades” strikes me as suspicous.

She addsa winkering smiley and clicks send

Judith smokes serenly, not hastily like those nictoine addicts. In search of her preferences she chose non-smoker and no desire to have children. She  generous about age. They can be betwen thiry-five and fifty-five, although a fifty-five year old must have quite a bit to offer to make up for the age difference. She’s a doctor, she’s familar with the problems men can have over fifty. By theb a hard sustained errection is an improable bonanza. Like a lottery win. But she doesn’t do the lottery

Judith looking on line for love and the men she meets !!

I enjoyed her first book although at the time I remarked on the cover art this cover I like it captures the strength that is just below in all the women in the book in this series of interlinking stories of modern life and love in Leipzig. The book is more on the inner turmoil and not so much full of action but more the inner lives behind closed doors as we are drawn into the lives of these five women all connected. Thou set in Former East Germany this isn’t much of a theme just in the background of characters at the fringe of the stories. A look at the modern world for German wives, singletons, sisters, and well Horsewomen !! Five viewpoints that see the both sexual, emotional, martial, and work lives explored. I have to agree with another review I read that said about Jamie’s translations he had translated the first book from Krien. They hadn’t disliked a book he has translated I agree with that sentiment plus his translations never seem overly clunky they flow. Have you read either of the books from Krien that have been translated?

Winstons score – A It is  a solid book about modern women’s lives.

30th April 1945 by Alexander Kluge

30th April 1945 by Alexander Kluge(with an additional piece by Reinhard Jirgl)

German fiction

Original title – 30. April 1945 – Der Tag, an dem Hitler sich erschoß und die Westbindung der Deutschen begann

Translator – Wieland Hoban

Source – personal copy

I fell in love with Alexander \Kluge last year he had long been on my list of writers from Germany to read. Kluge was a leading light in both Literature and film and later on Tv he was a member of the Gruppe 47 writer that featured the like of Gunter Grass and Uwe Johnson for two and in many ways shaped post-war German literature. The discovery of him is the link for me to Sebald as he has a style of interlink vignettes and history like Sebald did. We also have the bargain of a few chapters from his fellow german writer Reinhard Jirgl who adds a few chapters he is another writer on my list to read his book the Unfinished came out last year and is one I want soon.

The most dangerous weapons of the second world war en route further westwards

At night along the Danube, trucks drove up to riverboats that lay hidden in the undergrowth on the riverbank. Barrels were loaded onto barges. The Barrels were unmarked. Even in the darkness, the captains of the six river vechicles were still advancing kilometre after kilometre on the Danube, going upstream, They were ensuring distance from the eastern enemy.

Only years later did those invlved find out that their task had been to prevent the enemy from getting their hands on the nerve gas, tabum, on the river. By day they were meant to look for shelter under overhanging branches on a distributary of the Danube. Before morning had broken, a motorboat caught upwith them and gave the command to unload the containers once more onto pioneer barges.

Thinks getting moved as the russians close in!

The full title of this book in German gives full insight into this book and that is the fact it is the day that Hitler had shot himself in the Bunker as the Russians drew closer to Berlin. As I said this is more a patchwork quilt of a novel that takes us on a tour of the west and eastern front at the time Hitler took his own life. there is a dark cloud over the Wehrmacht as they don’t yet know of Hitler’s passing but there are the red army and western forces heading towards the heart of Germany. Then the wider scope a Neutral ship in the water, the US at the time and there is Zurich we are told which films are shown at the time(and interesting mix of English and German films from the war which is an interesting insight). Then we move forward to Obama visiting Berlin to give a context of the change over a period of time. These 100 or such snippets build an interesting picture of the world at a crossroads in time.

He had Only Got Three of his students Through to Spandau-West

The educator Dr Friedrich Ruhl, who had led 18 pupils into a military intervention and only got three of them through to Berlin, attempted to report to the Ministry of Education, a ruin, where there was nonetheless work going on in some rooms. He was getting on the nerves of the porter, who was still active in his cubicle reinforced by wooden cladding, because he kept appearing day after day and asking for someone to report to. But there was no offical left in the remannts of the bulding to whom he could have spoken about pupils in a military intervention.

Elsewhere people run towards Berlin but loss his pupils along the way.

Like his other book, I reviewed by Kluge he uses short vignettes from a few lines to a few pages. to give small insights of the world at a moment of time I have seen in recent years Youtube use a similar effect to build films of a set day They did one for the new year a couple of years ago where everyone did what they did on the day thus like this showing a myriad of views it shows what a visual writer he is this is a man that isn’t after the shots going through Hitler’s brain no he wants to catch that exact moment outside that bunker as his homeland was on its knees bleeding as the war was coming to the end he also shows the before and after in small pieces that show how we end up with Hitler and also how the world moved on after. So I have to more books by kluge to read and I see there is a number more are four more from Seagull books for me to get. Have you read Kluge, do you see the connection to Sebald? He uses a similar way of layering the story he tales bit by bit I was especially reminded of  The rings of Saturn as we also dart here and there in this book like Sebald did in the rings.

Two views by Uwe Johnson

 

Two Views by Uwe Johnson

German fiction

Original title – zwei Anischten

Translator – not noted but it is indicated that it may be Paul Christopher

Source – personal copy

Well, I usually have more german books read during this German lit month but this month has just gone to pot so I am now arriving at Uwe Johnson a writer that has been on my reading list over the last few years since the news anniversaries was being given a new translation his masterpiece. He was a member of the Gruppe 47 post-war writer in Germany. He initially was more of a translator of English literature into german as his early book Ingrid Babenderde was rejected by many publishers. He spent time also as an editor. This came out in the mid-sixties and was the last book before his four books that formed his masterpiece anniversaries came out. I have part read it but it is so huge I need to give it another run. In the later part of his life, he lived in the Uk in Sheerness which is where he died.

After Nurse Beate had been working in a large hospital in East Berlin for some time, the administration offered her lodgings in the organizations staff house. Green garden light swept into the room, tinting the face of the man behind the desk; a place in a two-bed room was considered a privilege; she was standing

she hesitated before answering, to find out. she saw the functionary comparing the passport photo at the top of her file with hersekf, and tired to look as blonde, unspoiled, and trustworthy as the man wantedto believe she was, altogether, she felt reminded of school

Marie is young and just starting her nursing career and had joined a hospital in Berling

Well, two views is an interesting book. if a little slow-burning book that uses two characters and event around the time the Berlin wall went up and the east and west part of Germany became split the story follows Diebert a photographer who is in Berlin in his new sports car which later is stolen he spent all his money to get. He is taking pictures of the new wall that has just been built but he is also trying to find the nurse he had met sometime earlier an East german Nurse Beatie whom he had a brief fling with in January now they have the wall as a barrier and the story follows how they are dealing with the Wall and their new lives this isn’t a political work it is a personal view well two views of this world they are living in this is a relationship split as many where at the time like the families divide when the two countries have split up. A plan is hatched to bring the young nurse to the freedom of the west but will it work will they be the same as they were before with that brief fling.

The prestigous sports car had really set up the tourist Dietbert during his latest visit to West Berlin. He had felt more entitled to take his place in the columns of cars that fought for the room between the ling rows of buildings. He had braked with more bravua in front of pedestrians, had driven more gaily into all thoseunfamilar districts. In the restaurants the car key did not remain in hi pockety long; it soon appeared on the table, exposed to everyone’s eyes. It had pleased him, when he returned to the exotic car to find people standing around it wondering at the small town number plate. Then calmly getting in.

His car which he used two years of saving from his photos to get but it is taken later on.

I enjoyed this I have another novel a friend sent me by Johnson and am hoping to get my hands on a book that is coming out about his time in sheerness. It is a book of its time that short time of the divide German that in the west and east produced a number of great books looking at how the wall affected the personal lives of those who had been directly affected by it being built. This an easier work than anniversaries which is complex in parts this is a simple story of lovers torn apart as the chapter flip from one of the lover s to the others as they try to get by. that shows the wall as both physical but also an emotional war between the two young people. Have you read any Johnson.

The Jew Car by Franz Fühmann

The Jew Car by Franz  Fühmann

German short stories

Original title  Das Juden Auto

Translator  Isabel Fargo Cole

Source – personal copy

It is one of my favourite months German Lit month I always try and find a new writer or two to try and here is another new writer to me. Franz  Fühmann He was an East German writer but as shown in this book he was drawn in by the Nazis this book reflects his own circle as the start of him with the story of the Jew car and the end of the line grasping Socialism and the soviet ideals as the end of the nazis with the Nuremberg trials. He was a writer that wrote a lot for children but later life grew disillusion with the values of the East German government. He also translated Czech poems and literature he had a love for these writers so when the Prague spring happened he saw his views changed. He wrote a lot of letters to Christa wolf over the years and in the afterword, Isabel cole said he was working on a 1000 page novel that never saw the light of day.

A jew car , she spluttered, had appeared in the mountains, driving in the evening aling the lonely roads to snatch little girls and slaughter them and bake magic bread from their blood; it was a yellow car, all yellow, woth four jews inside, four swarthly, murderous jews with long knives, and all the knives were bloody, and blood was dripping from the running board, people had seen it as clear as day, and they’d slaughtered four girls so far, two from Witkowitz and two from Bohmisch-Krummaj they’d hung them by the feet and cut of their heads and drained the blood into vats , and we were piled on top of one another

Ithis part remind me of a similar story of hate used about witches in an episode of X files that had been also used in the war years.

I described this as short stories it is really a collection of Vignettes that could be described as a journey, it is that of the writer himself it starts when he is young and underlines the beginnings of the Nazis and the Anti-Jewish thoughts as the title story is the first story and it uses a tale of four Jewish men in a car as a scary tale for kids this is a classic piece of hate stories whether the people were Jews, Women, Witches, Black, Irish, etc the fact is as a young boy he is drawn to tell a tale of being chased by “The jews Car” . Then as he moves through school we see the growing influence of the Nazis as he is drawn in by a radio Drama of the Fuhrer as a soldier in world one his battle as a private in that war. That inspires him to join the Wehrmacht then he is sent to fight but he is bright with hope as he believes in what they are doing but as the stories move on our narrator sees the folly of the war and towards the end of the war sees the lines of each side coming close and he ends up on the soviet side of the end of the war. He is a POW as the trial happens.

I witnessed the founding of the German Democratic republic as a teaching assistant at an anti-facist school in Latvia – still a Soviet POW, but freer than before. I had come to the school in the autumn of 1947, and with the introductory courses on polticial econemey thr scales fell from my eyes: here was the answer to all the questions that drove me, and as I burrowed through the thick volummes of Karl Marx’s Capital, the stations of my life appeared, tangtibl;e as the desk where I sat, and my eyes now clearly, down the depths of time. The course lasted half a year, then I was asked whether I wanted to go home or stay on at the school as an assidtant. and I stayed.

The end story sees him go full circle in his views and see what he had done in the past !

This shows as he said in the leitmotif of the book “HOW deep does memory reach?” as I said the story has a circle feel to it as iot shows its writer go from the early years and his being drawn into Nazis views with the story of a blood-soaked car with four Jewish men with knives chasing kids.  To being a POW and discovering Marx Capital as this is happening there is the backdrop of the Nuremberg trials. I was reminded of the journey undertaken by the narrator was similar to those in the film Stalingrad which saw the characters loving being in the Wehrmacht then as they head to Stalingrad the cracks and true tale of what is happening to the country starts to dawn on them. As it sats in the full title of the book this is fourteen days of one mans life over two decades. It is one man’s vision of those years a personal journey that many people took and would have to reflect on or even just try and forget and that is being a Nazis. Like the silent trump supporters of today, post-war everyone would have avoided calling or admitting to being a Nazis but we know a lot more people were than ever admitted it. I read this collection in a day and enjoyed it and was gutted to find out his last book never saw the light of day this is a writer that lays open his life. Have you read this book or any others from the seagull books. this is a paperback reissue of one that came out a few years ago.

Daughters by Lucy Fricke

Daughters by Lucy Fricke

German fiction

original title – Töchter

Translator – Sinead Crowe

Source – review copy

I now come to the last of the three books that V&Q brought out as the English language debuts so I made it the first book of this year’s German lit month. This is the fourth novel by Lucy Fricke she has previously won the Bavarian book prize and was a writer in residence for the German academy in Rome.  She also started the festival Ham.Lit a live lit festival in Hamburg she lives in Berlin and this is her first novel to be translated into English.

When Martha was born, this grim council block was brand new. Back then, young famlies were moving in, Now, the parents who remianed were dying here. Most of their kids had escaped, some of them by studying, going abroad for a while and moving to berlin like Martha, I imagine, I’d never been here before, tet it all felt familar. I grew up on a main road in Hamburg, in a building just like this one, in a flat in which I hated every object. We’d never talked about it, only mentioning our childhoods in anecdotes we were unable to laugh at. It was as if we’d just fallen lut of the sky one day – or been chucked out, more like. Martha and I were twenty when we first met, by which point we’d already severed ourselves from pur backgrounds

They never talked much about there lives til this road trio as they where friends as adults only.

I left this to last as of the three it was the one that appealed least to me. But as I read it I discovered a funny book that reminds me of a book I read years ago but more of that later. At the heart of the book is the relationship between two women Martha and Betty they are in the forties and are about to take a road trip. The premise of the trip is to take Kurt the father of Martha who is dying and wants to End his life and wants to go to one of those euthanasia clinics in Switzerland. As Martha takes him she asks Betty to come with her it is Betty that narrates the story of this road trip. She has children but has had a conveyer belt of men in her life. This sets up the book and the themes of father’s daughter partners life and death all this as they travel with Kurt. He had chosen his last night at a special hotel but when a call from his past means he cancels his appointment with death and takes a trip to his first lover and his past. This also is the backdrop to the story of the two women with Marhta’s lack of having a child and the constant men in Betty’s life her search for a father figure in her life. They end the trip far from where they started having spent time In Italy to visit a grave of a lost father figure and then finally Greece.

The hotel had looked luxurious on the internet. Now, though, we were standing in a small dark lobby, the bar was closed, the pool dorty, the rooms not yet ready yet. Kurt disappeared off to the toiler as soon as we arrived. The facade was being renovated, the receptionist informed us. which meant a view of scaffolding instead of Lake Constance, and builder gawping in at Kurt when he opened his eyes for the very ast time.

Martha tried to explain ti the young man that her father would be spending his last – literaally last- night here, a night that was probably as important as one’s wedding night, maybe even more so. Had the receptionist ever thought about that? could he imagine it  had he ever given a moment’s thpught to anything in his entire life

The last night is a disaster when he arrives and the place isn’t as it seemed for his last night on earth

I said at the start this reminds me of a book I read a while ago. That was Tomorrow Pamplona which was one of the first Peirene books that are also a road novel but unlike this book, it was a male road trip of a man in middle age like the characters in this book that has reached the point in their lives where they need ti to escape their lives and the use of a road trip in both novels is the catalyst for them thinking of what they are doing in there lives. Martha helps Kurt but has struggled not being able to conceive and has troubles with her father in the past. Betty has children and is very funny her wit makes this book a delight it is sardonic. Also her lack of a father figure growing up which leads to a side trip to Italy to visit the trombonist the one person her late mother had that she really connects with she wants to visit his grave. As the last of what has been three of the best novels from Germany I have read in recent years these bods well for future books from V&Q. If you want a book that is part Wim Wenders road trip, part chick flick, and part sentimental movie all in one book this is the one that appeals to all.

Paula by Sandra Hoffmann

Paula by Sandra Hoffmann

German fiction

Original title – Paula

Translator – Katy Derbyshire

Source – review copy

As I work towards 100 books from Germany I will be featuring the other two books from the new publisher of German translations V and q here is the second of three books they brought out. The writer Sandra Hoffmann was born and still lives in Munich. She teaches creative writing. She writes for radio and her first novel what he will miss when he’s dead won a prize.  As this book did this won the Hans Fallada prizes.two years ago she was the writer in residence for the summer school for the British centre for literary translation two years ago.

Like my grandmother, I enjoy sitting by the window, and like my grandmother, I enjoy looking out at nature, I enter a state of peace that mekes me me wish she also got to experience moments like these. Sometimes, at least. I hear her sayiong: Can you see the squirrel? Can you see the yellow butterfly? And :Does that farmer have to make so much noise at this time of day? I hear her speaking her language,Her Swabian dialect, in which the sentence aboutthe farmer is Muos der um dia zeit no so n’ krach macna.”

I loved this as it remind me of my grandfather trhat loved nature as well .

This novella is told in the first-person narrative of Sandra Hoffman as a young woman and the time she spent with her grandmother of her. The big secret in the family is who was her mother’s father this is something Paula a devout catholic who has filled the house with the silence of these events. What we see is Sandra looking at photos she found after her gran’s death hidden in drawers as she tries to picture the women she knew with the woman much younger in the pictures alongside this is the everyday coming and goings of her youth her memories as she says she has had talking therapy and is maybe an unreliable narrator. I loved the touches of the times the 70s. Like when she translates Simon and Garfunkel lyrics for the song Boxer or remembering watching  Bonanza which reminds me of Sundays as a young child when it was shown here in the Uk. What we have here is a grandchild remembering a singular gran that had a secret that she never revealed like many of her generations it was a scar on her life having this child te love than in her teen years the usual hormonal struggles of the generations as they distance themselves.

My grandmother works as a cleaning lady in a big pharmaceutical company, so there are some days when she’s not at home, They, are good days because my mother is relaxed. Sometimes they’re even very good days. We wtalk to each other more. My grandmother doesn’t tell us much about  her work. Nothing much to say,she says. The most important thing is that she gets out of the house,sees other peeople whose names she never mentions, goes to a job where you have to loass through airlocks in protective clothing, where you’re deliberately silent because you’re deliberatelysilent because you’re to caught up in the protective clothes and your own thoughts

The silence and influence of her grandmother over the house is obvious here.

This is a great piece of autofiction broken memories of a relationship that at its heart of it is a void of this secret who was the Father Sandra own Grandfather the silence of the grandmother just falls off the page at times having lived with a step paren that was a silent man it is hard to fill this void as it always lingering. But the other side of this is those small everyday things we remember the memories of the little things her the jam pots she collected and her own mother as she makes things every winter. Then there are the everyday life events as the two once close as she is a child but over the years she grows apart and to dislike her part of the looking back and writing this a long time after she passed away is trying to fill in the void of her gran and the pictures she left trying to imagine what they all were about what her gran was like how she became this harden woman at the time. I often use the movie night book that Meike at Peirene uses for her novellas this is a perfect example I reread it today over a couple of hours. It walks the line between fiction and autobiography as she says she is an unreliable narrator.

At the Edge of the Night by Friedo Lampe

the book cover

At the Edge of the Night by Friedo Lampe

German fiction

Original title – Am Rande der Nacht

Translator – Simon Beattie

Source – personal copy

I have struggled to read so even this short novella took me a lot longer than normal. It is another book from Germany this is the first time it has been in English it came out in German. in 1933 just as the Nazis took over power and it was later banned and had piece cut when republished and wasn’t t to 1999 there was a full addition published. The book was mentioned is mentioned in Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder where the main character in the book has read the book and he says that the writer was born in the same year as the main character Dora Bruder.

The two girls were more patient and quiet. They were actually a bit scared: they did not really like rats. Horrible creatures. Pretty much the most trepulsive animals in the world. Especially those smoth, hairless tails,Ugh. And didn’t they go for people? Who had said recently thayt they got into bedrooms and -Brr-don’t think about it. We should go, really- but..it’s quite interesting, actually. And the boys would laugh and rag them, too, Scaredy cats.No…Fifi whispered into Luise’s ear: I’m going count down to thirty,real slow, and if they haven’t come, we’ll just go. They can say what they like. OK?.

THey wait fot he rats to run past them on the ground.

This is one of those books that is hard to describe Lampe was a fanof films we are told in the intro by the translator and the best wat to describe this is a series of little vignettes where we dive in and out of life around the Harbour on one september evening. Hans and Erich and two girls lay down around the rats as the run around them then we see the girls as they head off the tram as they stopped so drunks from boarding the same tram. An old man sits in a park that is how the story goes it is then a couple following to a steamer this is fragment at times and we have the sort of action like the camera drifting here from a steamer to a hypnotist a band  and there this is a a series of events I was remind of Doblin and Joyce of course as the events take place over one evening.

The foxtrot had come to an end, the dancers seperated, standing there in a moment of indecision. The band leader stepped towards the edge of where the bands sat and wearily looked over at them with caution. The faces of musicians glisten just as dull and indifferen. You could see the bass fiddle, dark and brown, the propped-up lid of the piano gleaming smoot and black

Even the band seems dark here this is a world on the edge of what would be madness.

I think I struggled with this as it was rich in a way I would describe it as eating extrememly stick toffee nice but hard work. It is like the films I love by the likes of Altman something like Short cuts or Paul Thomas Anderson’s  magnolia which like this drifts here and there there is also a keen eye in the way he describe little details here and there. There is also a noir feel to the book a feeling of sorrow and lament in the world we are shown DOcks and harbours in big toiwns tend to alwys have a dark belly that just lurks under the surface and that is what we feel here at times the tense and darkness that is just below everyones lives in the story.There is also a spectre of the Nazis not mentioned much but the broken world we see i the post world war one world and the catlyst in many ways for world war two. Lampe himself was injured and had a limb so he sat out  world war one and in world war two  he died weeks before the end of the war shot by mistake as Russian soldier thought he was a SS officer. Have you read this ?

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