Summer before the dark by Volker Weidermann

Summer before the dark by Volker Weidermann

German fiction

Original title – Ostende. 1936, Sommer der Freundschaft

Translator – Carol Brown Janeway

Source – Library book

When Lizze mentioned doing a second Pushkin Press week , the first book they had brought out in the last year was this one . I am a cover junkie at times and this remind me of those old Railway post in the UK from the same time , It turns out the post was a Belgian railways. The book is the second book from Volker Weidermann , He was literary editor at the German magazine Der spiegel .This is his first book to appear in English .

It’s summer up here by the sea , the gaily colored bathing huts glow in the sun. Stefan Zweig is sitting in a loggia on the fourth floor of a white house that faces onto the broad boulevard of Ostend, looking at the water. It’s one of his recurrent dreams, being here,writing,gazing out into the emptiness, into summer itself .Right above him, on the next floor up is his secretary, Lotte Altmann, who is also his lover, she’ll be coming down in a moment , bringing the typewriter, and he’ll dictate his buried candelabrum to her, returning repeatedly to the same sticking point , the place from which he cannot find a way forward. that’s how it’s been for some weeks now .

Perhaps his great friend Joseph Roth will have some advice .His friend ,whom he’s going to meet later in the bistro.

The two meet when Roth arrives in Ostend to talk .

The book focus on one summer just before the otbreak of world war Two. It focus on two writers , I wonder if the idea came from the photo at the end of the book that shows Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth sat together in 1936 in Ostend . The resort at this time was a hip hangout for the great writers of the day Arthur koestler , the other half of Irmgard Keun Joseph Roth girlfriend at the time . We see how both writers are coping with the struggles of the Nazis taking over Germany. The two writers are both at the top of their game but their lives are going different ways Roth is in a relationship that is destructive and as we all know after he only had three years after this . Zweig was working on his last work his only novel at the time . This shows a group of writers as ordinary people . But also maybe slowly waking to what was happening back home as their publishers where either going or changing .Rather like the book I read last year the Decision  about Thomas Mann at this time having to decide what way he was going to go, unlike him Zweig and Roth both Jewish writers were already doomed .

Nineteen thirty-six is a year of farewells and decisions for Stefan Zweig .His German publishing no longer publishes him, the German market is lost to him , along with Austria , his collection and his magnificent house – all of ir is now nothing but a wearying burden.Its not easy to jettison what one has built up over the years.An entire life.

The world is closing in and the Nazis are killing the Jewish writers world

This is a wonderfully craft novel about a time that has long gone a last summer before the darkness descended . Stefan Zweig is a household name in many was due to Pushkin Press . Roth is a writer I see growing every year since I started blogging Granta has been bringing his books out in very nice new additions. What Weidermann has done is weave a novel out of the bits he found from all those involved their letter ,diaries and interviews .The last chapter tell you what happened to the writer Roth sad decline, Zweig in Latin America but killing himself just six-year later Koestler was recovering from the Spanish civil war when he was there then went on to write his masterpiece Darkness at Noon . Keun never reach the heights ,  she was at before she meet Roth , she is another writer whose works have appear in English over the last ten year.This is a book that can be read in an evening as you settle into the art deco Ostend and behind the public face of these writers .

Have you read this book ?

 

The old king in his exile by Arno Gieger

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The old king in his exile by Arnoo Gieger

German Memoir

Original title – Der alte König in seinem Exil

Translator – Stefan Tobler

Source – review copy

When I meet the Swedish translators last year Nichola one of  translators , she also works for and other story and thought this book out this month would be one I would like.By the Austrian writer Arno Gieger a writer that won the first german book prize for one of his novels in 2005 . This is the memoir of the time he spent with father as his father is suffering from Alzheimers . this is the account of that time.

Because it was wartime, my father had to take early graduation exams in February 1944 and was conscripted ; a mere seventeen-year old grammar-school boy from a farming family, an unworthy altar boy with little life experience – neither child nor an adult , neither military nor civilian, as Bulgakov called such schoolboy soldiers.

He was transferred from the labour service to the Wehrmacht in the summer of 1944

Just as trhe war was turning against germany his father is sent into the army and to the eastern front the worst front to be sent too

The book starts when August is having to move in with his son Arno after struggling with the creeping on set of alzheimers. Intially all goes well he lets Arno take care of him with simple task such as dressing . But he sees his father grasp of language shrinking but he tries to discover a father who he hasn’t really known . He sets out gto try and connect with his father discover more that he knows about his father that he was a child soldier in the war, why does he carry a picture of him as a half-starved man in his passport.He also writes about the way the condition can make people reimagined their lives but also glimpse into his own family’s past the rural life his father grew up in is retold to him .The father does do those things we expect get loose disappear but these are mere side piece in this book no this is the story of father and son walking talking and rediscovering one another.

When i asked my father why he had married my mother , he said he had liked her a lot and wanted to give her a home. Here, too his great themes were present : home ,safety,security. They mattered to him . being in love is nice, he might have thought , but knowing where you belong is nicer still .

His father has a sense of belonging post war the image he carries is like a glimpse that he got through the war when so many didn’t

This is the story of a son discovering his father but also the story of his life his mother and brother from the early days of the farming life that his father lived in the russian front time and then his return and settling down marrying which later led to his mother living his father a situation he blamed his mother for his father;s present position . For me it remind me of what work I do and why I do it that its learning about the past to help the people I support so if someone talks about a tv  show that was on thirty yeas ago i know about it so I can chat about it because some days they don’t know what they did that morning but can remember in great detail an old tv show .the chance you get to rediscover someones past as that is what they are in they are moving back in time as we move forward and some times we have to take on the style and world of the past to get close to those we help. I can say I really enjoyed this book it was nice to see a refreshing look at Alzheimer’s for the bits that like Arno finds can be gems of someones past yes he runs off loses himself sometimes but other times he is so profound and a sort of poetic vision of the man comes of the pages.If you read one book about Alziheimers this is the one to read less dark than others .

From Germany to Germany by Gunter Grass

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From Germany to Germany by Gunter Grass

German Non fiction

Original title – Unterwegs von Deutschland nach Deutschland.

Translator – Krishna Winston

Source – Personal copy

Well I was late review my German reads for German lit month. I always try to include a Grass novel or as in this case a work of his non fiction . This came out a few years ago. But it was the clock turned back nature of this book Grass thoughts on 1990 a man who really didn’t like to keep a diary felt that the year after the wall fell down. The East German government fell in December 1989. Grass felt compelled to write his own thoughts on the events of the following year including the first free elections in east Germany.

I fear my planned trip to the GDR is going to take place during the let-down after the first successful revolutionary rush. But old power structures are proving durable, as might have been expected. The mass exodus continues. The opposition is weighed down with organizational problems. Maybe in June and august I’ll be sitting on Rugen or in the Elbe sandstone mountains writing about progress of the German-pPolish cemetery association.

We all remember those pictures of abandon Trabants all round Germany as people from the east came west.

The year follows not only the world of German politics Grass was an active voice in the spd the German socialist party. Happy as he is that Germany has become one again he worries that the rejoice could turn into something dark from the past of Germany that he remembers and that is nationalism. We also see him struggling to write his latest novel the call of the toad. A novel that at its heart is more about Grass a man than German he was born in Danzig a German in a part of the world that is Polish but not only is Grass German he is Kashubian by birth a nationality he says at some point is part way between being what is German and what is Polish so in some ways he still views German events through this part of his being.We see him meet many figures of the day like a trip to meet Vaclav Haval the czech writer like Grass himself a face of the times. Elsewhere we get glimpse into Grass personal life his wife Ute the time spent in the Algrave were we also see Grass talent as an artist with all his drawings in the books.

Finished Malte Laurids Brigge. The last third makes for disappointing reading: the precise observant and previously mentioned oddities drown in sentiment and in vagueness more typical of Rilke. The scenes set in Denmark are as strong as I remembered them: the loud dying of Old Brahe, or the mothers fear of needles.Remarkable how the book’s demand for a death of one’s own contrast with illness (cancer) of Ute’s mother, which will probably result in death.

I have a new translation of this Rilke work which I plan to review . It makes me think of how does a book change as you age ?

This didn’t come out to after Grass had died, I do wonder if he wanted it published maybe he left instructions after his death. I loved the personal and public mix of his life I mean at the time he was maybe one of the best known german figures and to have his views on this time one of the most significant in my life time. I was on germany a few years after this in 92 and 93 and remember the sense of hope. A sense I think which has now vanished some what. But I also remember a few people being worried as Grass was about the skeleton in the cupboard so to speak. Piece like this only give a small glimpse into a great writers life, he tackled the unification more in his later novel too far afield which follows two older German men around Berlin and is well worth reading .

The emigrants by W G Sebald

 

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The emigrants by W G Sebald

German Fiction

Original title -Die Ausgewanderten

Source – Personnel copy

Translator – Michael Hulse

Well another November is on us again and it is German Lit month and as I sit writing my first post of the month on Halloween as tomorrow I am in London giving a talk to the Swedish translators group. I decided to kick of this years German lit month with a great  reread from one of my favourite writers Max Sebald was maybe better known in the Uk at the time he wrote. But know 15 years after his death we are slowly seeing writers influenced by him , I am at the moment reading one such writer from Slovenia.

The years of the second world war, and the decades after , were a blinding, bad time for me, about which i could not say a thing even if i wanted to . In 1960, when I had to give up my practice and my patents, i severed  my last ties with what they call the real world.Since then, almost mu only companions have been plants and animals.

Dr Henry selwyn had to escape the world into nature to get through life in the end

The Emigrants was the second book by Sebald I read after I read rings of Saturn by in 1998 , I got the two earlier books by him in the weeks after I finished Rings Saturn. So it is nearly twenty years since I read this book and this second reading hit me more than the first one. The story is of four emigres from Europe . A doctor his story remind me of my own connection years ago to a man from the Baltic states my friend was from Latvia where as DR Selwyn in the story comes from Lithuania . Else where in the last of the four tales we see Max Ferber a painter Talk about his mother and her childhood but also along side this is his life in Manchester which touched my life again My grandfather was county architect for Salford in the  60’s and some of the modern blocks that my grandfather was involved with designing . So as max is describing his mothers pasts I connect with my own past in his present . Another story involves the narrator talking about the fate of his former school teacher that escaped before the war.

As I expected, I have remained in Manchester to this day, ferber continued. It is now twenty-two years since I arrived, he said , and with every year that passes a change of place seems less conceivable. Manchester has taken possession of me for good. I cannot leave, I do not want to leave, I must not. WEven the visits I have to make to London once or twice a year oppress and upset me

The north had soaked into Ferber holding and keeping him there .

I wondered if the germans have a word like Saudade that wonderful portuguese word that is a feeling of longing missing and memories of a lost past. There is a similar word Sehnsucht a word about longing but the saudade word is better her as it is about the loss a world this book these four are survivors of the holocaust in their own ways ans the four tales each reflect what was lost , the past that can never be this is what Sebald does so well in his book through his mix of prose and images to draw us as the reader deep into the world that is lost from the simple pictures of a class before the war and a wondering of how many were left . This remind me of when I met Dasa drndic the Croat writer and talked about her book trieste which in the italian version has pages that can be torn out  of the list of Italian Jewish victims of the holocaust and the effect is to make the book and the story unstable and this is what Sebald does with his pictures glimpse of a dead past. A world now dead remember and lamented the loss of a jewish europe wiped out by the war and spread through out the world.

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.

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