The decision by Britta Böhler

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Well this was the first book I was sent this year and I always like the way books seem to interlink  with books I have read or tried to read and this one is no different. I tried to rush through Magic mountain for German lit month but decide halfway through it needed a slower reading from me, so I put to one side for this years German lit month. But I had also tried to order from my library a book that collected together letters sent between Thomas Mann the main character in this book and his fellow writer Herman Hesse, I wish the library copy had turned up as I could looked up his letters around this time.I love the way books overlap this one even overlaps with one of the earliest books on the blog. Another thread of the book is how important Mann considered his book Joseph which was being published at this time this is his longest book and also one maybe least spoke about now in his cannon.

Hesse would probably lecture him because if the Korrodi letter. He can see it now, Hesse’s thin face would be even thinner than usual, there would be reproaches and exhortations, and perhaps even more than that. Lose another friend is that worth it ?

It’s all very well for Hesse to talk. When you’re not in the middle it’s difficult to stay out of things. Hesse hasn’t lived in Germany for decades; he became a swiss citizen long before the trouble in German started.His books are also published by Bermann ; he has german readers, but doesn’t live in the fatherland and doesn’t want to return.

The relationship between Mann and Hesse is shown here when in those three days he visits Hermann.

It’s 1936 and in switzerland the writer Thomas Mann has taken the decision to write and open letter in a swiss paper denouncing the Nazi regime and the actions. What follows in the book is the three days from him writing the letter and  it’s being published. The writer Britta Bohler a well-known Dutch lawyer has filled in the gaps in the story, as Mann’s diaries of the time mention very little of the time between the letter writing and being published.Mann confronts the ghosts of his past and fear of the future.One man well Mann struggling to choose exile other bowing down.

The memory of Germany is a nostalgic remembrance, a memory of times long gone. Times that don’t return. How did Proust say it ? “The really that I knew no longer existed.” No, he doesn’t want to be able to return to present-day Germany. He wants his fatherland to become again the country it once was. His homesickness is pain in time, not in space, and staying in Germany would not have changed that. He switches on the reading light and looks at the clock. He still has enough time to stretch his legs for half and hour before the evening meal; the radio broadcast can’t wait until after dinner.

I loved this passage as it sums up Mann’s thoughts in the book a struggle with Germany’s so to speak.

 

Mann wonders the knock on effect of the letter his publisher is Jewish and may be in trouble more because of the letter. He ponders what it is to be German, The thought of being German and not in Germany in fact against the German regime. He see how other people have dealt with the Nazis. The way Wagner has been embraced by the Nazis. we see Mann as not the bold writer we know but as a man on the edge, having to make The decision. I was reminded of one of the earlier books I read on the blog. Brecht at night  by Mati Unt which followed a fellow German writer Bertolt Brecht as he escaped the German regime. in his case via Finland to The US .In the book Britta has brought a time the Mann his self wrote very little about and filled three days in his life into a novel that shows the greater struggle between good and evil.As The open Letter from Thomas Mann to Korrodi about Germany and Exile writers is due to be published in feb 3 edition of the NZZ newspaper in Switzerland. A move that sees Mann become and exile himself.

Dutch literature

Original title – De besilissing

Translator – Jeannette K Ringold

 

 

You have me to love by Jaap Robben

Jaap robben

Well the first review of 2016 is one of the last books I read in 2015  Jaap robben first adult novel, he is well-known in Holland for his children’s poems and short stories. There is a video of Jaap talking in English about this book that his uk publishers World editions made, where he talks about what inspired the story. It was two events the first was a story of a father drowning after saving his son from drowning, the son come ashore they turn back only to find the father had now drowned after passing his son to help that appeared. The second is when Jaap was helping at an old people’s home and an old lady said what nice legs he had he said thank and again she said “you’ve lovely legs ” and have you a girlfriend. These two pieces made  the kernel that became the book  you have me to love .

I tried to shine the torch in the direction she was looking. Any second now, Dad would surface, coughing and choking, and here she was, ready to grab hold of him and haul him up onto the beach. Any second now. He would emerge from the water. He had to. Especially now that mum was here. We’d see his head above the waves, like a football floating towards us.” look ! look 0ver there ,” I’d shout, jumping onto mum’s back and catching him in the torch-light .

I was reminded in part with this passage of the Stevie smith poem drowning not waving .

Anyway into the book the book is set on a remote Scottish Island and follows the vents during and after a drowning of a man the man is father to Mikael, he is nine years old and watched his father just disappear in the sea as he tried to get hold of Mikael’s ball. Then there is the widow Dora that is left behind. Also on the island is Karl a fisherman unmarried and Augusta although dead plays a part in this story as Karl had a fling with her then there is the crew of the ship that takes everyone back to the mainland. The story is set in the weeks after the drowning happened when Dora and Mikael struggle with the guilt and also the added isolation this brings them. The second part of the book brings you back to the island a number of years later Karl has moved closer to Dora and Mikael has nearly grown into a man and looks very like his father at the same age.

It’s a little gull. Legs folded. Bones as thin as twigs, barely held together by a film of skin. Both his eyes are missing his skull is an empty walnut shell. His body creaks as I pick him up by the tips of his wings and spread them. Empty. A hollow cage of ribs. it’s as if he shrunk away to nothing so he can ft back into his egg.

It’s my fault. His mother has pecked him to death, and it’s my fault I should have never locked them up.

This one scene maybe echoes Dora’s and Mikael relationship after the father has gone in their isolation.

I leave it there it isn’t hard to put together what might happen later in the book, the video of  Jaap talking about the book reminded me of a scene in a film Smoke where one of the character recounts a story of a father lost in the artic who is found as he was in ice and seen by his son who is now the same age as the father when he died. Well the later part of this book is the mother looking at the son and seeing an echo of his late father. There is another horrific scene where is there is a mother and child Gull that Mikael has in his room were the mother gull kills the baby chick. The beauty of the book is setting it on a small isolated island means the grief and recovery from the grief is twist by the sheer isolation of the place. The book won the Dutch bookseller prize and is currently being made into a film. This was also my favourite cover of last year.

Dutch fiction

Original title – Birk

Translator – David Doherty

 

Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp

 

Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp

Dutch fiction

Original title – Ventoux

Translator – Paul Vincent

Source – review copy

 

L’enfer du Nord: Paris – Roubaix
La Cote d’Azur et Saint Tropez
Les Alpes et les Pyrennees
Derniere etape Champs-Elysees
Galibier et Tourmalet
En danseuse jusqu’au sommet
Pedaler en grand braquet
Sprint final a l’arrivee
Crevaison sur les paves
Le velo vite repare
Le peloton est regroupe
Camarades et amitie

 

Well what is a better choice than kraftwerks Tour de France , this band like the writer of this book are huge cycling fans .

Now Bert Wagendorp is a journalist that has worked on a number of cycling magazines and reported on cycling . He has also been the London Correspondent for the Dutch newspaper “De Volksrant ” .This book sold over a 100000 copies in Holland .The book has been made into a film in holland .Now today seems the best day for this book , I have saved it til the Tour de france was on and tomorrow the Tour starts to head uphill so to speak as the first mountain stages of this years tour . All this for the non cycling fans among you is the title of this book is among the most famous finishes for a stage in the Tour de France Miont Ventoux is a bare piece of rock with a road that goes up it .

In 1970 Eddy Merckx won his second tour de france . I was six , watching TV with my father  , and saw Merckx , the cycling marvel . “The cannibal ,” said my father . “So young and already so good . He’s going to sweep the board .No one can compete with him .

bart remember his first tour with one of its great champions winning it .

Ventoux follows two journeys up Mont Ventoux the first by six friends Five boys and a single girl in the summer of 1982 . This is the time of the great Dutch cyclist Joop Zoetemelk , the man who always seem to finish second in the tour . So as the six friends start by setting up camp then three of them set off up the huge mountain . But as they start to descend the mountain one of the three men a young poet and the most handsome of the group falls off the road and dies in an accident .Now thirty later Bart a man whose marriage has fallen apart , with his teen daughter has gathered the group of friends together to once again try to cycle the mountain but mainly to finally grasp what happened in the summer of 1982 . Laura the girl they were all in love with , David who Bart kept in touch with as the plans the trip , he starts to track the other two friends  down .The book is about how friendships can split and what happens if that summer like the one in 1982 , when you are on the verge of becoming men goes wrong where does that lead onto . One friend is on drugs charges .

Peter had something serene about him .He did not seem to belong in a floating brothel , which come to that applied to his father and mother too . They were more like an extravagant gallery-owning couple ,specialising in Russian art

Peter the poet and most attractive in the group had a history behind him .

Cycling is a metaphor in this book the climb is like that climb to adulthood , but there is a lot of mention of Raleigh and that team at this time was one of the dominate force of cycling and a Dutch review of this book shows me that the team had one 9 of 11 team time trials over this time in the tour .Like a team trial where the team does best with all the riders the loss of peter lead this team to crack and loose themselves to now find themselves together again a little larger and with a lot more baggage than first time . It’s a book about lost friends and lost friendships .A book for all those summers we had camping and luckily none of this happened to me . I loved the references to cycling and music at the time . This was just the time I first maybe knew of the tour Joop and his era were huge names . The dutch are great fans with the famous orange corner on the other grand old climb of the Tour Alp’d’Huez .

Letters to Poseidon by Cees Nooteboom

 

 

Letters to Poseidon by Cees Nooteboom

Dutch non fiction

Original title -Brieven aan Posiedon

Translator – Laura Watkinson

Source review copy

The hollow light is still on the fields
Where the winter has warmed
And the snows have drained away

And the hunter’s cry is still on the air
As the bullet flies home
And the heart that’s pierced with it

Still is racing
Still is racing all alone

The silver shoals of the light in the deep
Brush the glittering skin
Where the great, dark body writhes

And the trembling jaw
The unfathoming sounds of leviathan, bound
As his heart, though weakening

I choose Leviathon bound by Shearwater as my lyric for the book as it comes from an album that combines sea, birds  and myth in the songs source 

Cees Nooteboom is a  name often mentioned on this blog , I have interviewed him a number of years ago  and also the translator of this book  Laura watkinson .Well I have also  reviewed Cees books twice before in fact, so this is the third thread of his writing I’ll be reviewing as i have previously reviewed the novel In the dutch mountains  and the short story collection The foxes come at night  .So now I move onto a travel book of his , that is more than a travel book it is really a musing on life , art , history and the world we live in .

You are a god , and I am a man .That is however one looks at it , the state of affairs .But perhaps I might be permitted to ask you something  I have always wanted to know. What is a human being to the gods ? Do you despise us for being mortal ? or is the opposite the case ? Are you jealous because we are allowed to die ? Because your fate is , of course , immortality , even though we have no idea where you are now .

From Poseidon II , of course we never know the answer but we have to ask !

Letters to Poseidon is one of  those books that is very hard to pigeonhole as it is a collection of letters that Cees has written every year to a muse that of Poseidon (Greek god of the sea ) to protect his Menorcian home every time he leaves these are 23 slices of musings from the great Dutch writer  that are divided into a sections .A lot of the musings start from a conversation that he has with Poseidon that is about how the god has been viewed and represented in history .Also musings on items , events even nature .This is one of those books that is hard to describe as a whole as it is a mosaic of pieces rather like one of those photo mosaics with Poseidon being the big picture but lots little pictures on every subject under the sun making this picture up  .

At around midnight , here in a Germanic winter on the edge of the alps , I see him again , Orion , the blind hunter , the moon man of the mountains , Poseidon’s son , the most beautiful man there ever was , lured into the bed by the insatiable Eos , the drawn , who was tormented by unflagging lust as a punishment when Aphrodite caught her in bed with Ares , the god or war .I know Orion from winter nights in Amsterdam , when I see his shape above one of the canals .

from a piece called Orion , I know Orion as well he is one of the few constellations I can remember in the nights sky so have also seen him many a night as well .

Now I’ve been vague about the book and I don’t know why it isn’t a vague book , list a dam hard one to pass over its sheer brilliance fully .The nearest to it would be Sebalds work it has same feel of a mind at work musings become digression become little stories or thoughts even a mix of pictures like Sebald had .Leopardi would another writer that this book has reminded me of is Zibaldone by  Leopardi Nooteboom is exploring ideas the idea of sea and the nature of Poseidon , rather the same way Leopardi constantly muses of the way language evolved , Nooteboom exams how even now we view the god of the sea .Now this book yet again shows me Stu why I always highlight Cees Nooteboom as a potential Nobel winner as he has such vast skill , I really need to try his poetry next I think or hope his first novel which he mentioned in the interview as one to read published .I’m just sorry it took me a few months to review this book as it is one I feel most readers of this blog will get something from .

Have you read Cees Nooteboom ?

Gliding flight by Anne – Gine Goemans

 

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Gliding flight by Anne-Gine Goemans

Dutch fiction

Original title – Glijvlucht

Translator – Nancy Forest Filler

Source – review copy

“Growin’ Up”

I stood stone-like at midnight, suspended in my masquerade
I combed my hair till it was just right and commanded the night brigade
I was open to pain and crossed by the rain and I walked on a crooked crutch
I strolled all alone through a fallout zone and come out with my soul untouched
I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd, but when they said, “Sit down,” I stood up
Ooh… growin’ up
I choose Bruce Springsteen growing up of his Debut album , like Gieles has to in this book .

Well its always exciting when a new publisher of books in translation appears , what make World editions special is they aren’t new , just new to the uk as it is a new arm of the Dutch publisher De Geus .They had published this book a few years ago in Holland it won a prize for Youth literature , and is her second book to come out in dutch and her first to be translated to English .

I am like you training my geese for a project .I cannot run into details .It is secret and surprise for my mother .Like your rescue flying  , my project is also an action of rescue .As I already wrote , my geese do not excel in listening .They behave stupid sometimes .

Gieles writing to his hero Christian Moullec about trying to train his geese .

Now I have to admit I pick this first of the books from the launch of World editions as it appeal least to me and I am always one that believes in a challenge and it was also the longest of the launch books so .From the cover above you get a number of clues as to the nature of this book .The book follows a fourteen year old boy Gieles , now he lives next to a runway , in what is called a spotters camp .There is just him and his father , his fathers job is to keep the runway clear of Geese .But they also keep two geese themselves at home , which is Gieles dream to make them fly like one of the two heroes he has Christian Moullec the renowned french ornithologist , how has written books about using gliders to teach geese to fly (a similar idea and story inspired the film fly away home a few years ago ) .Add to this his mother is chasing saving the world in Africa , a best friend called Super Waling , whom is a historian and journalist , also like Gieles has his own problems .Also there is Gieles other hero Captain Scully , another link to geese he was the pilot that managed to land a plane in the Hudson river a number of years ago , after the plane got damaged after a goose flew into the engine .

Late the next morning Gieles was awakened by an inspiration .He was going to make  sacrifices .Tony’s mother might die of cancer , and his own mother might die of Africa , so it was time he sacrificed something , too .He looked around his room .The gosling was drinking water from a dish .He loved that little thing .She was way more than he could sacrifice , not on your life

Gieles reminds me of Adrian mole at times in the way he speaks .

Twisted is what I would call this book , many threads but also mainly linking ideas in a way .For me the main idea is loss and travel  Gieles has lost his mother but still yearns to be free of where he is ! Super Waling is an interesting character a fat chap that has lived around the town , but has seen history pass him by and strangely enough been in a plane crash .Gieles desire to fly the geese is another strong thread , the birds themselves seem to maybe symbolize the boy themselves , his two birds can’t fly , but could if shown how by Gieles , but also Gieles can’t fly and can’t help them with out the help of a hero ! I imagine for a teenage reader this is great stuff , even I admit it I got drawn in partly as it wasn’t to a dutch friend point out mid way through the book it was actually a YA novel in some ways .I do question that but I had same questioning with Mark Haddon’s book the curious incident in the night-time , in some ways that is the book I was reminded of Gieles is maybe seeing the world as a teen would but also has unusual loves and heroes for a boy his age rather like Christopher in the curious incident .. ., also Adrian mole that twisted teenage take on the world we all have has been caught so well here .We all had drives and dreams like Gieles but did we go as far as he does !

Have you read this book or any good YA in translation ?

 

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