The Cold Centre by Inka Parei

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cold Centre by Inka Parei

German fiction

Original title –  Die Kältezentrale

Translator – Katy Derbyshire

Source – personal copy

I move on this german lit month to a new writer a writer to the blog. Inka Parei,  who won many years ago the Ingeborg Bachmann award one of Germany’s biggest prizes. She has not written many novels only three in a twenty-year career. She studied German, sociology, political science and sinology. In an interview, she was drawn to the location of this novel. She also remarked that after writing the book she hadn’t gathered how the book had related to her own family history and some of her only families coming from Eat to West.

At some point I’d have had an answer and I’d have called Martha. She wouldn’t have said anything or expected anything. In a neutral voice, I’d have informed her of what I’d found out. Her breath escaping at the other end of the line would have grown gentle, like it hasn’t been for a long time now. She’d asked me how I was feeling and then, almost in the same breath, how the last few years had been. We’d laughed because there was suddenly so much to tell, astounded at how many little things make up the world, and we’d have wondered how we could have possibly have left all the tiny things that make people happy out of our lives for so long.

As he heads to his past and the present Berlin to find Answers fro his ex Martha.

The book starts with a chance call to our narrator from his ex-wife who is dying of Cancer which sends him back to Berlin. But as he does the past comes back to haunt him he worked in the 80’s in the air colling part of a german newspaper plant the cold center of the title. this Czech built unit never really worked and need constant monitoring this is maybe a nod towards the old east Germany. There is an event that happened then when him and what would become his future and then ex-wife spent time in the back of one of the truck there that had come from Ukraine and may have been contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster that may have caused her cancer. Alongside this, he is haunted by an event with a colleague Hansmann who fell from the roof of the building to his death could he have stopped this happening? As he drifts from then to now we see him recreating those dark days in the cold center his workmates and the death that he never recover from. What was up with those trucks at the time ?

The truck was just north of Kiev at the time of the reactor accident, she continued. So you can assume it was contaminated. Think how Hansmann must have felt when he put two and two together. He can’t stay at home. He’s in constant trouble at work. Then he thinkls one of you’s being kind to him but it tuerns out the place to sleep he;s offered is really a health risk.

But didn’t others use the truck as well?

I’m not saying they meant to harm him.

Radowski was kind of guy who’d go right ahead and eat the lettuce they suddenly toog off the shelves after the accident.

And who was it made Hansmann realize?

Me.

The past and the trucks from Ukraine haunt him in the past  and what happened then !!

Her works have been described as like detective novels and this is maybe as we go into his past it is in pieces there is a blurring of then and now but also an undercurrent of the old East Germany from the broken never probably working cold center as a metaphor for the country as a whole. Then there is the death he saw which he seems to have not recovered from. Then we have the ghost of Chernobyl is that which gave his wife Martha cancer she has in the present in the past. He has a man that has been broken by the events around a death that has haunted him over many years but he also brings us into the dark heart of East berlin behind the wall. I really liked this book and hope to get her other books for forthcoming German lit months. Have you read her books at all?

And where were you , Adam by Heinrich Böll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And where were you, Adam by Heinrich Böll

German fiction

Original title – Wo warst du, Adam?

Translator – Leila Vennewitz

Source – personal  copy

I always try to squeeze a Heinrich Böll novel into my German lit month reading so this is the eighth book by him I have reviewed on the blog and follows on from the last book by him I reviewed which was the reissue of his debut novel the train was in time. This is his second novel and like his debut deals with world war two whereas, on the whole, his later works deal with post-war Germany and the aftermath of the war. This book deals with the war but also in a way how Boll as a catholic struggle at times with the war. It also captures the death of the Nazis and the german army falling apart.

Now there were only three times thirty-five men, a weary, dust-coated platon, with sore feet and sweating faces, led by a first lieutenant whose face plainly showed that he was fed to the teeth. As soon as he took command they j=knew what kind of man he was. All he had done was look at them and, tired as they were, and thristy, thiursty they could read it in his eyes: It’s a lot of shot,said his expression, “Just a lot of shit, but we can’t do a thing about it” and then came his voice, with studied indifference, contemptous of all regulation commands: let’s go

The war weary troops in the opening chapter.

The book is nine chapters that are very loosely connected they start with a colonel and his men facing defeat on the front the sense of loss being the worst thing that could happen even the password is Victory. As some of the men end up in hospital this is the next part of the book as the recovery in the hospital the first part from the view of a colonel as he relives the brighter times of women and sparkling wines. Then there are two character sergeant and a corporal who is working in the hospital and are dealing with Hungarians selling vegetables and then there is a brain-injured major the reminds me of the characters in fifty-first dates as he says the same word ever so often. Then we see a solider fall for a jews women this relationship between Private Feinhals and Ilona he falls in love with this teacher and then is sent to the front with his comrades in a furniture van they had got to take them to a battle in a village whilst this happens Ilona is sent to a concentration camp. Then we see the other characters story tied up as the horror and aftermath of the war

As he entered the patients room the captain said in a low, hollow tone:” Byelogorshe” Schmitz knew it was pointless to look at his watch; that rhythm was more precise than any watch could ever be, and while he sat on the edge of his bed, the medical history in his hands, almost lulled to sleep by that ever-recurring word, the tried to figure out how such a thythm could come about – what mechanism, what clockwork, in that appallingly patched up, sliced up skull, was releasing that monotonus litany?

The brain injured soldier is like the characters in fifty first dates as his life and the word he speaks is in a loop !!

This is a no barred view of the war. Boll served in the army and was injured a number of times so the time in the hospital so the scenes are all I imagined taken from his time in the war. It captures the effect of the war on the ordinary man and also the actions of the war on someone like Boll that was catholic this is captured in a scene at the concentration camp where a Jew sings perfectly a catholic song in Latin in the Camp choir leaving one of the soldiers on what race means. written six years after the war whereas his debut was written as the war was happening this is an early example of what is called Trümmerliteratur which Boll was one of the main members of the group which dealt with the German reaction to the war from those on the ground level. it shows love death and all those in between.

Air raid by Alexander Kluge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Air Raid by Alexander Kluge

German fiction

Original title – Der Luftangriff auf Halberstadt

Translator – Martin Chalmers

Source – personal copy

I have wanted to review a book from Kluge for a while he is one of those great German writers that hasn’t broken the English speaking market. He was a member of the influential writer’s group Gruppe 47 he was known for his short stories. In his fiction, he is known for using various styles and types of writing in his works. He has written 500 short stories and a number of longer works. On top of that, he is also one of the best-known filmmakers in Germany founding his own production company. He has made 57 films which in 2007 came out in a boxset for his 75th birthday he was part of the new german cinema movement.  a true polymath as he s also a philosopher who was born in the small German town of Halberstadt.

The Lenz family, who were staying in Marienbad at the time, had still not been informed. It was impossible, however, for the cinema manageress to get to a telephone. She circled the plot with the fuin of the cinema and from the courtyard of the neighbouring building managed to reach the cellar emergency exit. She had got hold of solders, who helped force there a way in with pickaxes.In the cellar corridor lay some six members of the matinee audience, the pipes of the cenrtal heating had been ruptured by explosions and poured a jet of hot water onto the dead.Frau Scharader wanted to establish some orderhere at least, placed the boiled and scattered body parts.

The opening part follows the manageress of the local cinema following the bombing,

As I said in the last line of the intro Alexander Klug was living in Halberstadt as a child when on April 8th 1945 it was bombed by several American bomber squadrons. This wasn’t a planned attack no the bombers where actually heading elsewhere when they were asked to change plans and it happened they dropped the bombs on Halberstadt what Kluge does here is using that event as a starting point and tries to build a  fuller picture of that day he starts with the cinema and then the local air raid defenses slowly he talks about the bombs dropped the formation of the bombers on that day. The day that wiped put 80% of the city he lived in viewed by Kluge as a teen. He assembles a collection of piece thoughts of those on both sides of the attack during and after this is a sort of 360 views of the event rather than a personal account of the day. When the decision to carpet bomb finally got through to the crews on the ground and in the air as shown here when the other target for that day was chosen Halberstadt.

( the unknown photographer) The man was apprehended by a military patrol in the neighbourhood of the Bismark Tower/spiegelsberge. He still had the camera in his hand, exposed films, unused films, photographic equipment were found in his jacket pockets, Close to the scene of the pffence, I.e.close to the spot where he last took photographs, are the entrances to the underground facillities which have been blasted out of the rock and in which armaments production is housed.

The leader of the patrol meant to prove the guilt of the unkown person of spy without more ado, and so asked him : What have you been photographing

The book has a collection of photos some one took on the day of the bombs landing and the damaged they have done.

I have been eyeing his books for a couple of years he was described by the pother great unsung German writer and critic Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote: “Among well-known German authors Kluge is the least well-known.” What was true then is even truer now, still more so outside his own country. Kluge has described his films as construction pieces. His work here is similar as the book builds up the broad picture of that particular day at its effect on those in the town from the cinema projectionist the air raiders and even the young Alexander himself. Have you read anything by Kluge what would you suggest next from him ?

The Marquise of O by Heinrich Von Kleist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marquise of O by Heinrich Kleist

German Literature

Original title – Die Marquise von O

Translator – Nicholas Jacobs

Source – review copy

Well I have only one before reviewed a book where it has two translations that was the double translations of Cre Na Cille that came out a few years ago well I have an updated translation of one of the greatest German writers works that of Heinrich Von Kleist a writer that influenced writers in particular Kafka he was describer in the encyclopedia Britannica as Kleist’s whole life was filled by a restless striving after ideal and illusory happiness, and this is largely reflected in his work. He was by far the most important North German dramatist of the Romantic movement, and no other of the Romanticists approaches him in the energy with which he expresses patriotic indignation. I have reviewed this a part of a collection a number of years ago but didn’t focus on this story.

In M -, An important town in Northern Italy, the widowed Marquise of O – A women of impeccable reputation and mother of well-brought up children, made it known through the newspapers that she had inexplicably found herself in a certain condition, that the father of the child she would bear should make himself known, and that out of regard for her family she was resolved to marry him. The woman who under the pressure ofirremeediable circumstances took such a strange step, risking universal derison with such fortitudewas the daughter of Colonel G

A sort of whose the father Jeremy Kyle style forthe time

The Marquis of O is a novella set during the Napoleonic wars. it starts with a startling piece from a newspaper THat in M a town in Northern Italy has found herself in a certain condition and she wants the father of the child to make himself known. She is the daughter of Colonel G and has arrived at his home in this state after her husband died some years earlier. The early part of the book follows the events leading to the Marquise ending up this way. which saw her home overrun by Russian soldiers and at the risk of being used by them she is saved by Count F who then saves her but later appears to have died and then return and he tries to gain the hand of the Marquise but in the meantime she has been cast out and is returning to her dead husbands estate.

THe Marquise came with her two children to the forecourt of the castle where shooting, now at its heaviest, was already lighting up the night, forcing her, out of her mind where she sould turn next, back into the burning building. Her she was unfortunate enough to meet a band of hostile riflemen just as she was intending to slip out by the back door. At the sightof her they suddenly fell silent and slung their weapons over their shoulders and took her with them whilst making abominable gestures.Tugged and pulled this way and that by hte terrifying pack fighting among themselves

Her fate seems doomed her when she ran into the gun men by her old house

This has many twists in the tale and like the best of Kafka there is a little of not knowing who is who here with no full names just Colonel G , count F and Marquise of O remind me of the way Kafka never used characters full names them there is the hint that the Marquise may have been raped not clearly in the book but there is a feeling that something is wrong with how the baby was conceived.. Will the count ever be able to make the Marquise his Countess ? The book leans on the lines that see the Count take the MArquise when she is very tired from the group of Russian soldier is this when they had relations? it isn’t said but implied. It is also a studied into how people react under stress Her father the Marquise, the Count each act differently.  I enjoyed this new translation I remember the story didn’t grab me much in the collection as I choose two other stories to describe in the collection I hope that Pushkin get some of the other Von Kleist works to translate especially An Earthquake in Chile and Michael Kohlhaas which where the two stories I liked in the other collection.

The Train was on time by Heinrich Böll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The train was on time by Heinrich  Böll

German fiction

Original title  – Der Zug war pünktlich

Translator – Lelia Vennewitz

Source – personnel copy

I brought this when we went on holiday to Northumberland in a small Waterstones. I have been a fan of these Penguin European writer series books that have come out the last couple of years. But even more, I am a fan of Böll so far in the time I have blogged I have cover six of his books for me he alongside Gunter grass was the voice of those early post-war years of German. Now, this takes it right back to the start of his writing career and his Debut novel which had been out of print for a number of years and was first published in English in 1956.

But the silence of those who said nothing, nothing at all, was terriible. It was  the silence of tose who knew they were all done for.

At times the train got so full they could hardly hold their cards. All three were drunk by now, but very clear in the head.Then the train would empty again, there were loud voices, resounding and unresounding. Railway station. The day wore on to afternoon from time to time they would pause for a snack, then go on playing, go on drinking. The schnapps was excellent.

This line got me the fact about being drunk but still clear in head about their situation.

This is a story of one mans train ride from Dortmund through Poland to the Black sea and what is now Ukraine. The 23 Andreas a thoughtful almost one may say a daydream is heading back to the eastern front on this five-day train journey to what is maybe his and his companion’s death. So he is joined on the train by some fellow soldiers. The first of his companions an unshaven solider called Willi that has discovered his wife had cheated him and is seeking solace in the drink then the Blonde that has a sexual disease these are the ordinary soldiers that was the reality of the German army. As the train slowly moves east they remember the horror of the war they have seen their lives before the war and the present. On the way this young daydreamer and his train stops and meets a Polish girl in a brothel in an overnight stop in Poland he falls for her and from then on he wants to be with Olina a musician is drawn into prostitution but also a member of the resistance. Makes him want to escape the fate that awaits him. The death he saw before he boards the train.

“It’s funny that you’re a German and I don’t hate you” she fell silent again, smiling, and he thought, it’s remarkable how quickly she’s surerendered. When she went to the piano she wanted to seduce me, and the first time she played I’m dancing with you into heaven , seventh heaven of love, it was still far from clear.while she was playing she cried…

“All Poland” she went on,” is a resistance movement. You people have no idea.No one suspects how big it is. There is hardly a single unpatriotic Pole.

Oliona and Andreas first meeting the sense of a spark between the two of them a connection.

written whilst he was a prisoner just after the war ended this is a story of the real face of war the horror of a man barely a man Andreas struck me as a young 24 a virgin that falls for Olina straight away his first real chance of love and last glimpse of freedom. His two main companions maybe reflect two faces of what to do in war the Blonde with his sex disease remind me of the character that had crabs on his eyebrows in Das Boot someone having too much careless sex. Then the unshaven companion the drunken remind me of the character Ron Livingstone played in the band of brothers  Lewis Nixon. that using drink to get by through the war. This is a tragedy will he die we don’t know but it is looming and the fact he has envisioned it before he boards the train means he is almost predestined to happen but there is the curveball of Olina which till they meet shows the power of love can happen on one man. But also his conversation with a priest is a nod to Böll religious belief at the time he was a devout Catholic but in later life left the church. This is about the fragility of nature the nature of manhood brotherhood and the simple worthlessness of war.

 

The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan

The storyteller by Pierre Jarawan

German/Lebanese fiction

Original title – Am Ende bleiben die Zedern

Translators – Sinead Crowe & Rachel McNicholl

Source – review copy

I have joined the Blog tour for this Novel as I loved the sound of it and I have reviewed a lot of books from World editions and am pleased to have another title from them to review. This book from the German Lebanese writer Pierre Jarawan who’s parents like his characters fled Lebanon when he was three years old and settled in German His father was Lebanese and his mother is German. He started out doing poetry slams and this was a play that later he expands out into a novel. It has since been translated into Dutch where it was also a big seller.

Meanwhile, history was being made in Lebanon. Beirut, once a dazzling beauty, rubbed its disfigured face and staggered out of the ruins. A city felt for its pulse. In neighbourhoods, people thumped the dust out of their clothes and wearily raised theirheads. Thge war was over, militiamen became citzens again, laying down their guns and taking uop shovels instead. Bullet holes were filled in. Facades painted, burned-out-cars removed from the pavements. Rubbkle cleareed away, the smoke disperser. The huge sheets hanging in the streets were takendown, as there were no longer any snipers whose view needed to be blocked. woman and children swept debrisoff balconies and removed borads from windows, while fathers carried mattresses back up to bedrooms from cellars thatr had served as bunkers.In short, the lebanon did what they’ve always dfone: they carried on

The country awakes from the turmoil of the civil war that tore it apart and ripped the heart out of the land.

This is a classic story that of a son going in search of a lost father. Samir decides he wants to find his long-lost father. He leaves the safety of his life in German. He has an old photo of his dad and the stories he remembered his father told him when he was a little boy that painted a vivid picture of Lebanon his father lived in. He tries to find out what happens to his father as he tries to find out what happens the characters from his father’s stories become real people as he finds out what happened when his father returns after twenty years he slowly builds a picture of his family and what happened to them. The father Brahim disappeared when he was eight and he told one last story and left. He returned to his homeland. The son has held his lost father close for all those years as he retraces his father’s steps after all those years you see in the past and the events in war-torn Beirut when his father had when he returned. The past and present grow close but will they ever meet again?

Father was quick to realise how important it was to learn German. After fleeing burning Berut in spring of 1983, the first refuge myu parents found in Germany was the secondary school’s sports hall in our town. The school hall in our town, The school had been shut down the previous year when routine inspections during the summer holidays had revealed excessive levels of asbestos in the air. But there were no other options, so the sports hall ended up asa refugee reception centre. Fathersoon managed to get hold of books so that he could teach himself this foreign language. At night, while others around him slept wrapped in blankets on the floor, he clickedon a ;ocket torch and studied German

His father got to German and quickly learned german as the slept in a codemened school hall.

This is a tale that has been told a number of times of over then years. A son on the hunt for a lost father or even parent for me the recent film Lion is a similar story top this a young boy loses his family and goes home all he has like Samir is the slimmest of memories about his father the old photo and his stories for Samir and in the film Lion it is the lie of the land around his home and the fact it was a train ride away from where Saroo end up in the book and film. This builds a picture of their parent’s bit by bit and this is the case here we see that Brahim stories had those friends and families around him as he told his baby son those bedtime stories but also planting a love for his homeland and also maybe like a magician weave a magical past and also leave a trail of breadcrumbs that his son follows twenty years later. Here are the other blogs on the tour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pine Islands by Marion Poschmann

The Pine Islands

The Pine islands by Marion Poschmann

German fiction

Original title – Die Kiefern Inseln

Translator – Jen Calleja

Source – personal copy

This was one of two books that hadn’t come out when the Longlist of the Man Booker was announced the publication date was brought forward for this book that was previously shortlisted for the German book prize (the German booker). It is the fourth novel by Marion Poschmann two of her other novels have been on German book prize lists. Marion studied German philology, philosophy, and Slavic studies. She then taught German as part of a German-Polish project for primary school children. Since then she has been a freelance writer living in Berlin. A member of German Pen. As part of writing this book, she spent Three months in Japan.

He exchanged some money and brought a travel guide and a couple of Japanese classics in English translation from a newsagent. The works of Basho, the tales of Genji, the pillow book. He had always assumed that, like him, everyone knew the Japanese classics of by heart, but standing in front of the shelf with the pocket books he now had to admt that he himself had at most watched only a couple of Japanese films during his lifetime and had never been able so much as to recite a haiku.

How he gets to discover Basho by chance at the airport and pass over the islands on the plane there.

Now, this is a classic take on the man in his mid-life crisis. Gilbert the man character has just discovered his wife is having an affair so he head of to Japan. He is a lecturer on Beard in cinema (could there be a less hipster lecturer title than his). He arrives at the airport and picks up a number of the classics of Japanese literature including the works of Basho especially his travel verse piece  Oku no Hosomich the long road to the north which follows his journey to the Pine island a book that was described as the soul of Japan. So as he tries to cope with his relationship with Mathilda a strange one he talks then doesn’t talk but then writes to her about the discovery of Basho but also how he wound up on a station to find Yasho who also has a book about suicide he is trying to jump in front of a train when he meets the Gilbert the two of them set of to rediscover themselves and try and find the world that Basho described ending up at Matsushima the pine island. This is maybe a tongue in cheek look at the genre of books that talk about Pilgrimage. 

Yosa Tamagotchi had been pised to thrpw himself in front of the train because he was afraid he wasn’t going to pass his exams. The bag contained a suicide note, carefully calligraphed and dated. He studied petrochemistry, and his marks were good, but maybe not good enough.Fearful of social exculsion he grew a beard, he knewno company would hir him in that state.If he were unsuccessful he could say that it was down to the beard, or should luck smile down on him and a firm took him on anywat there would be nothing straightforward than shaving it off.But his exam fear grew, paralysing him to such a degree that he was no longer capable of thinking.

Yosa is saved by meeting Gilbert at the Station but loive the comic touch of his beard and Gilbert talking about beards all the time.

The East has long been a subject in German literature Herman Hesse wrote about Indian culture and also wrote a book about discovery Journey to the east this isn’t in that league no this is more a look at the modern obsession with pilgrimage or even middle age men escaping their world and discovering themselves.  From Martin Sheen in The way doing the way of St James in Spain or the likes of even someone like Bill Bryson and his old friend doing the Appalachian Trail this book has the classic character of two leads one in search of what his life means Yosa the man Gilbert saves is this and another is  Gilbert a man that needs to take time out of his life. Add to that a book that makes you want to pick up one of the greats of Japanese literature Basho. Also reconnecting with the world around us is another thread in the book. Similar to books like rings of Saturn or A whole life the later more so than rings of Saturn. I enjoyed this I like books that see folks discovering themselves and having a book that means something to them I remember Herodotus histories in English patient meaning so much to Almasy or a book like Geert Mak book where he followed the route of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley like this book saw a world that is now gone. An interesting book that would passed me by except for the Man Booker.

The Giant Dwarfs by Gisela Elsner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Giant dwarfs by Gisela Elsner

German fiction

Original title – Die Riesenzwerge

Translator – Joel Carmichael

Source – personal copy

I pick another older book for my German lit month choice this is a prize-winning novel from Gisela Elsner was a member of the Gruppe 47 writers when she joined the group in 1958 alongside many of the great writers of Postwar Germany. I choose to get a copy of her book as she seems to have disappeared somewhat in the years since she died. She wrote a number of novels but her life was cut short as she took her own life. Her son is the German filmmaker Oskar Roehler he made a film that starred someone playing his mum in the early ’80s. The film Death to the hippies long lives the punks look at the time his mother and father were in Berlin this film came out a couple of years ago.

Myfather is a good eater. He dosen’t stand on ceremony. He sits down at the table and tucks the ends of his napkin behind his collar. He props his palms of his hands on the table, to the right and left of the knife and fork. He raises his behind  a little from chair. He leans across the table so that his napkin hangs down into his empty plate and he can see what is in the dishes. Then he lowers his behind onto the seat. then he pitches in. He serves himself with the seving fork, with the seving spoon, one forkful after another, one apoonful after another , until he has a great heap on his plate.

Lothar observes his father in the opening chaptewr as he gorges himself on food.

The Giant Drawf is a narrative told by a young boy called Lothar it is the view of his grotesque world. This is a slightly over the top world that is shown in the opening when he watches his father gorge himself on food. I was reminded of Homer Simpson and Bart at times in this early piece. There is him viewing the growing world of consumerism. As the book is told in a series of chapters that sees Lothar observing and discovering the world like a trip to the forest which gave him his first glimpse of sexual behaviours. This is a view of Germany at the time Lothar domestic life is like many the minor problems we all have like we see with his father who can lose his temper easily. He also has a strange observation of the doctor talking about Tapeworms which seems to go over the young Lothars head at the time.

“The same thing every morning!” my father calls out every morning. And as he hurries through the hallway, he stuffs is shirt into his trousers and buttons his clothes beginning at the bottom, first pushing the buttons on one side of his fly into the buttonholes on the other side as far up as his waistband, then putting its button into its hole, then pushing the shirt buttons into the buttonholes of theshirt from the bottom to the collar. And whenever he buttons, when he gets to the top button, the collar button, and my mother is pouring the coffee through the strainer into his mug, that button refuses to go into its buttonholes, and he cries, “The least a man can ask of a button is that it fit into the buttonhole!”

A whole chapter on the top button and how they try to sort it !! a satirical piece that has a wider meaning!

This is a clever book that has a feel of a world that has gone but also some observation that said it was written in the early sixties. She sees the early signs of consumerism in the way Lothar parents are. There is a grotesque slightly out nature to his view of the world that adds to the childlike sense of the narrative. Lothar reminds me of a number of child characters from Bart Simpson to the main character of the curious incident in the night the opening when he observes his dad eating remind me of many an episode of The Simpson’s then later there is a similar detatch nature to his observations that remind me of Christopher in that Novel. This is a book that has been out of print for a number of years from a writer that has been dead for over 25 years. It is a slice of its time and has nods to her fellow Gruppe 47 writers but also

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.

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

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