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.

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.

Homage to Czerny by Gert Jonke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homage to Czerny by Gert Jonke

Austrian fiction

original title – Schule der Geläufigkeit.

Translator – Jean M Snook

I return to Austria with my next stop on German lit month and a writer I have featured before with his book the system of Vienna an inventive novel based around the tram stops in Vienna. An experimental writer Jonke. He studied many things history, philosophy, music theory and german studies but never complete any of his studies. He won most of the big literature prize in German including the Austrian state literature prize. In this book, he is said to have wanted to explore remembrance and the present.

Everything should be exactly as it was at last year’s party, answered the photographer’s sister. Whispering so that I wouldn’t understand, she consulted with her brother, who was passing by, after which he looked at me sternly, sizing me up, and with an expression that showed he was aware of the great responsibilty wieghing on him, hesaid in his most serious voiceas if he werer entusting me with managing the empty coffers of the city council. If you promise not to talk about it and not to give anything away, we can tell you something important, albeit confidential

The nioght has taken plannning and is run like a three at drama.

The book itself is two stories a novella book and a short story. I am focusing on the short story as it captures the feeling Jonke wanted and the is a remembrance in the present. It focuses on Anton he is a photograph and his sister Johanna they live in an elegant house with wonderful gardens they have decided the theme of this years garden party they have this year is the theme is that everyone has to do the same thing as the year before. They hired a painted Florian to create a cycle of painting that exactly copies the garden and then cover the garden with exact copies in pictures of the garden a cellist has to play his cello music on a piano. The guest is a mix of the high-class art and city officials which have a bizarre discussion about smoke in a part of the city between two officials who Jonke just refers to by their titles town planner and city manager  and then they have a musical pond, But how can you keep everything the same in the year that has passed it is the feeling of trying to hard are narrator fritz is a guest and he is maybe an unreliable narrator the second tale involves to brothers fritz again and his brother Otto not as talented as his brother he is a piano mover by trade I lived this comic observation Saki in style almost. They are stuck in an attic with a lot of pianos.

Several ladies and gentlemen who held high positions in the city administration had seated themselves on a corner of the terrace where there was a good view of the city lights at night, of course they were always thinking and talking about many and diverse problems of the municipality and , relaxed by the festive mood of the evening, they were exchangong their opinons on these matters much more freely than usual and in an informal manner.

A sort tongue in cheek look at the absurd nature of the city council and its officals is the case in the book!

Jonke was interested in using fiction like a musician and this is a piece that maybe shows how he used rhythms and phrases the title refers to the man called the godfather of modern piano teaching Carl Czerny Jonke tries to lift his style onto fiction. I am not a huge fan of classical music but the title of the second story refers to a piano work from Czerny. For me, it has feel of last year in Marienbad which sees a man return to Marienbad and see a woman he saw the year before but she had forgotten him. it is a book about what we can’t capture no matter what they do they can’t repeat the past and the more they try the more distant they go from the year before so to copy the garden in every detail is like capturing a photo it is a moment but the same moment a year later is different. this also clicked to another film scene that of the film Smoke and the picture that Auggie takes every day at the same time initially the other character flicks through them but he is told to look and yes its the same spot but the moment light day even on the same day a year apart is never the same a repeat is always slightly different. This is a thought-provoking work and I am pleased I still have two more works from Jonke on my shelves to review in forthcoming years, Have you read him ? what do you think to his style of writing?

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard

Austrian fiction

Original title – Beton

Translator –  David McLintock

Source – personal copy

It is German lit month and it wouldn’t be right for me not to review a Bernhard I have reviewed six works by him on the time on the blog and hosted a Bernhard reading month. I was pleased when Faber brought some new editions out last year and this year as I had still a few I need to get by him and to read. It has been thirty years since he passed away hence the five reissue from Faber of Concrete, Extinction, woodcutters, The losers and Wittgenstein’s nephew I have linked to the ones I have reviewed by him.So here is the first of their two from Faber I hadn’t read I hope to get to the other Faber nook Extinction before the month runs out but let’s see how I get on.

Everybody suffers, my dear little brother, but you despise life, That’s your misfortune, That;s why you’re ill, that’s why you’re dying. And you soon will die if you don’t change, she said. I could hear it clearly now, more clearly than when the words were uttered in that cold, unfeeling manner of her. My sister the clairvoyant- absurd! she’s probably right though, that it would be a good thing to get away from Peiskam for a while but I’ve no guarntee of being able to start my work anywhere else, let alon get on with it.

His sister points out some things to Rudolf about himself.

As ever we have Rudolf our narrator at the heart of the Bernhard book as he is suffering for his art he is a writer about classical music but has had a bad bout of writer’s block. We also have another piece of Bernhard writing that is Music he has a man that is set on writing a piece about the composer he is working on a piece around Mendelssohn Bartholdy has taken him a ten ear to get the perfect tart to this work. Then he has a sister that he has let into his private world in the house he has inherited from his parents this is another mirroring of Bernhard’s own life in the book. Rudolf lives in the outreaches of Austria this is the same Area the Bernhard himself lived on his farm .near there on Ohlsdorf in Upper Austria. Rudolf’s sister was successful and a person that was at the heart of Viennese society this is, of course, a prime candidate for what is a Bernhard Alter ego to hate.  Rudolf also recounts when he takes a holiday to try and get this book finished the year earlier when he went to the same place in Mallorca and met a young widow whose husband had recently died but a year later he discovers she took her life. This reflects Bernhard’s own life that was full of losing those close to you.

As a result of the prednisolone my resistance is virtualy nil. When once I’ve caughta cold it takes me weeks to throw it off. And so there’s nothing I dread so much as catching a cold. Even a slight draught is enough to make me take to my bed for weeks, and so at Peiskam I live most of the time in fear of catching cold. This fear almost verges on madness and is probably one of the reasons why I find it so hard to begin any protracted intellectual work

Bernhard himself suffered himself with a lung condition so one imagines this fear is his own fear infact it was what eventually leasd to his death.

 

Well, this is yet another Bernhard book that is full of his bile for his homeland and the upper echelons of it especially those like Rudolf’s sister that get into those her parts of Viennese society. There are even echos to other books mention of knowing Wittgenstein’s nephew at one part which is, of course, another Bernhard book. Music in the loser has a failed musician here it is a failed musicologist. All these characters are a reflection of Bernhard himself now with Handke winning the Nobel we could turn and say if Bernhard hadn’t had such bad Health would he had been the winner imagine the bile of him winning the Nobel I loved his prize-winning speeches book my prizes. So another German lit month and I am now at book seven from Thomas Bernhard I have three more on my shelves and a couple I could buy so I think I could be doing him for a couple more German lit months in fact maybe even another Thomas Bernhard week?

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 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.

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