The tobacconist by Robert Seethaler

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The tobacconist by Robert Seethaler

Austrian fiction

Original title -Der Trafikant

Translator – Chartlotte Collins

Source – Library

Well last year on the booker longlist one of my favourite books was the first book by the Austrian writer Robert Sethaler to be published in English A whole life a tale of one mans life through the second world war and how it effect his rural life. I saw at the time I reviewed it that he had written a couple of earlier books and this one in particular had caught my eye then so when it came out last month it was a sure thing for this years  German lit month and nicely connects with the last book I reviewed as I mention Freud and here Freud is a character in this book.

Franz stepped over to the window and cautiously touched the J of JEWLOVER with his finger.The graffiti seemed to have been applied with a coarse brush, and had a horrible feel to it – dry and crusted at the edges, still sticky and damp where it was thicker.It also exuded a disgusting smell,rancid and sickly-sweet,but slightly sour as well.

“What is this?” he asked quietly.

“Blood!” yelled Otto Trsnyek . “Pig’s blood” daubed there by our dear neighbour Rosshuber himself!”

“I’d like to see you prove it ” said the master butcher calmly

Early on you see hate bubble over on the street and shop Franz works at .

This is a story of one boys journey to manhood in a way. Franz is seventeen and his mother has had a heap of trouble they were comfortable but a change in the life means Franz has to go to the city to make his way in the world and this is a job with a friend of the family that owns a tobacconist in Vienna. But this 1937 and it is just as the Nazi are ion the rise so Franz spends his days working in the shop and his breaks reading but as the world starts to change. Franz also falls for an older woman Anzeka  whom he has his first sexual awakening. He gets his advice from one of his customers Sigmund Freud the old man calls in for cigars gives romantic advice and also opens the young mans eyes to what is happening around him leading to him making a stand a small stand but a stand in the face of tyrany.

Franz decided to implement the professors second proposed solution to the problem and forget Anezka . He tried very hard, but when, after more than three weeks, the prints of her small hands still burned his buttocks, and her name kept flashing up in ghostly fashion between  every second line of the newspaper, and when finally the contours of first her puckered top lip, then her face, and lastly her body materialized in the grain of the floorboards as he was wiping up the drips left by kommerzialrat Ruskovertz’s dachshund, he abandoned the forgetting idea.

Franz tries to follow one of Professor Freud’s ideas to get over his girl.

Like the book |A whole life this is a small glimpses at the bigger picture and how one man is effected by the war but also by the growing darkness in the world he sees and  I think today of all days we can connect to that as today we have seen a new leader with right-wing views taking the lead in a new country so lets hope people take notice of Franz story and see the wider picture when like him he sees the world in the papers he read darkening. This is a wonderful look at a country boys journey to being a man in Vienna and all that entails opening his eyes wide. Very much in the German Bildungsroman tradition of boys becoming men. I hope that his other novels reach us soon he is a new voice and an interesting writer bring rural voices to the reader.

 

The empress and the cake by Linda Stift

 

The empress and the cake by linda Stift

Austrian fiction

Original title – Stierhunger

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy

My fourth german lit month book is one from one of my favourite publishers Peirene and also one that in recent years provide a number of great german reads and this latest book from Austria is another one of what Meike the founder of the press calls a two-hour journey in words. Linda stift studied German Philology and slavic studies then took a job as an editor after that she won a writing competition for a magazine in Vienna. Then she started to write novels her first came out in 2005 and has since written three novels this is her second book she has also won a number  of prizes for her work.

The shop assistant cut a marbled Gugelhupf into two halves and packaged these in boxes like the one on her head. Three euros each, please, ladies I paid my share and took the box. I was now in possession of half a gugelhupf I had no idea what I was going to do with; I’d hardly touched sweet things for years. I tried to say goodbye to the strange woman, annoyed by the pointless purchase I’d been coerced into,but she ignored my attempts to leave .

The first meeting and a slice of cake gives a glimpse into a past that is about to be reborn.

Now what happens when a young woman sat in a cafe innocently accepts a slice of marble cake of a woman sat by her that in her mind reminds her of a lost Austrian royal . Well in this strange fairy tale she takes the cake from her bt what we don’t know at first is the cost of the cake for her. She has spent many year clear of an eating disorder that this small cake will unlock but also at the same time she is drawn into a mad world of the Frau Hohenembs getting invite after invite to join her in her old apartment building. Then she steals a syringe used by the empress for her drug use.Pretending to be the empress in a competition. Where will this journey end ?

I was learning a new vomiting technique and was eating by colours. I started with chemical sweets such as bright-green gummy frogs or pink foam bacon bits or claret so-called laces and snakes. These took time to mix with the mush of food that followed, which meant that my vomiting could be monitored.I would puke until I’d arrived at this tough, lurid mass, so I could be sure I’d got everything out.

horrific lines but many young woman and men suffer from this condition and we need to talk about it sometimes .

This is a sort of odd take on the Alice story eat one slice of cake then be sick as at one point she says releasing multi colours. This is a story of addiction , illness and madness from two sides that of the older controlling Hohenembs and the younger women  who is drawn by temptation under the spell of the older woman and her servant. And like Alice a number of tasks have to be done along the way by the young woman to escape both the older woman and the monster from her past the bulimia she is now gripped again by As the bizarre epigraph points too “I can eat as much as I’d like to vomit ”  by Max liebermann taken in another context to that which he said after jewish art was banned in Germany . So the city of Freud has brought us again to the woman of the city like those that crossed his doorway they have there problems but in this tale there is no Freud to talk to them no this is more a Kafka or in my mind I was reminded of the twisted journey of Blaugast in Paul Leppins novel of the same name a twisted journey like this one of the characters in this book. A look at what it is to suffer with an eating disorder it is a subject rarely written about and not in such a surreal way as this book that feels like a trip into madness.

 

Wittgenstein’s Nephew by Thomas Bernhard

 

 

 

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Wittgenstein’s nephew by Thomas Bernhard

Austrian fiction

Original title – Wittgensteins Neffe

Translator – David Mclintock

Source – Personal copy

Well if the last book was from a Nobel winning Austrian writer , this is from the Austrian writer that didn’t win the nobel . As many of you know I always have a soft spot for Bernhard having reviewed five of his books in the past. With new books being translated in recent years I need to catch up and review a few more from him so hopefully this is the first of two this month by him I will be reviewing. This is maybe the most personal book by him I have read.

A sick person who returns home always feels like an intruder in an area where he no longer has any business to be. It is a well-known pattern the world over : a sick person goes away, and once he is gone the healthy move in and take over the place he formerly occupied, yet instead of dying , as he was meant to do, he suddenly returns, wishing to resume and repossess his former place.The healthy are incensed, since the reappearance of this person whom they had already written off forces them back into their previous confines, and this is the last thing they want.

PAul tries to go back but isn’t want like Tomas himself when he returns sometimes .

The book is the story of a real life friendship between Thomas Bernhard and a relative (not a nephew as in the title but still a close relation to) Ludwig Wittgenstein Paul Wittgenstein. The two men meet at a musical concert through a mutual friend and find the share a taste in music that leads to them spend hours at a time listening to ,music in one another’s company. What they also share is illness Thomas has lung problems which means he often ends up in the hospital on the Hermann Pavilion and Paul has a deep mental illness , not fully mentioned but to me some form of Bi polar with associate personality disorder and he frequently spends time in the Ludwig Pavilion in the same hospital and the two spend time there . One such is maybe near the end of Paul’s life and the description from Tomas of his friend fading is touching and scary at the same time . He feels for Paul once rich but this generous soul had fallen on hard times and like many in his position those once all around him have known disappeared but Thomas remains and they still talk music and meet even at times when Paul jokes or for real I can’t tell says he will be a better writer one day than Thomas !

Where business was concerned the Wittgenstein’s always thought in millions, and it was quite natrual that Paul, their Black sheep, should think also in milions when it came to publishing his memoirs. I’ll write about three hundred pages , he said and there’ll be no problem about finding a publisher.

Paul dreams of being a writer and in his head it is easy , Thomas has other thoughts about this !

Well  this a book of chance and loss a chance meeting brought to men together who have lost a lot in there lives but see in one another maybe someone much worse of than themselves . As ever there is a sense that Thomas Bernhard isn’t the happiest soul but in Paul together this unhappy man finds happiness in the company of a mad man a very Bernhard thing to happen I feel this two lost souls sit in a room alone not talking for hour listening to music in a shared moment of calming what for both are stormy lives. I said at the start this is maybe his most personal book and also maybe cross the line between fiction and non fiction into what I was discussing the other day is called in Slovenia Beautiful Prose , just perfect writing.

 

Women as lovers by Elfriede Jelinek

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Women as lovers by Elfriede Jelinek

Austrian fiction

Original title – Die Liebhaberinnen

Translator – Martin Chalmer

Source – Library book

I carry on with my second german lit month book and another big hitter of German lit .When Elfriede jelinek won the Nobel prize her writing was described as difficult and hard. I at the time didn’t read her books so now eleven years after her winning the Nobel prize I decide to try her but not with the best known of her book the piano teacher I choose this an earlier book by her and I am pleased I choose this book as it wasn’t challenging or hard to read in fact if anything it was very entertaining.

The example of Paula is from the country. Until now country life has held her in check – just like her sisters erika and renate, who are married. One can already write both off, it is as if they were not in the world at all. It’s different with Paula, she is the youngest and still properly in the world .she is 15 years old.

Paula is now ready to find the world and a man her family seems

Women as lover is the story of two factory girls and their lives. The two Brigitte and Paula are of an age where they are wanting to find that last lover the one to be married to and the story follows both of them in this action with each chapter in turn telling the story of each girls progression. There paths go two ways one meets a businessman a man on the upward path of life but he also motivates Brigitte to become a better women herself even thou they aren’t initially attracted he isn’t really her type. Then Paula she meets and falls head over heels for a man of similar standing as her self a forest worker Erich ,he is handsome compared to Heinz so Paula goes feet first into married. But as the story evolves it has twist initially you feel for Brigitte struggling to meet her new mans standards but getting there and what initially seems a perfect match turns very sour as Erich isn’t all he seems.

The wedding of Heinz and Brigitte is very moving and solemn

The wedding of Erich and Paula is very moving and solemn

Brigitte is very happy

paula is very happy

Brigitte has made it

Paula has made it

Brigitte is pregnant and will soon be able to hold her child in her arms.

Paula already has a baby. She has already been holding it in her arms for a while.But today the baby must stay at home.

Heinz is now master in the house, as he says good humouredly

Erich is now master in the house, as he cannot formulate, but as others whisper to him

This Call and Response style of writing as the pair marry and their paths split off in different directions.

 

I loved the style of Jelinek writing at points she use almost a call and response style of writing as shown above when the two girls lives are told in parallel . This book also made me wonder if Anita Raja the women who is now thought to be Elena ferrante , her self a translator of German Lit into Italian had worked on this book as it seems although totally different in many ways the initial idea of two female friends and the life beginning is may the same core idea as the Naples  quartet? also the way the two characters lives drift in two directions is also similar to the ferrante books characters. The book also shows how fragile some female lives can be and how married can sometimes be like a prison sentence for some and on the flipside of the coin for other can be the chance to blossom and grow.

 

 

The emigrants by W G Sebald

 

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The emigrants by W G Sebald

German Fiction

Original title -Die Ausgewanderten

Source – Personnel copy

Translator – Michael Hulse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decompression by Juli Zeh

Juli Zeh

Well here we go I’m trying to break new ground with my reviewing style, with a book that in some ways sums up what  about reading fiction in translation is about for me. that is discovery of books I wouldn’t maybe read if they were in English as much as I agree with the women in translation project and am all for more books by women getting translated, I can never draw myself away from the lit I grew up with which is Burroughs, Kerouac , Burgess and well on the whole male writers, So Juli Zeh isn’t a writer I would usually be drawn too but it is german lit month, I had tried an earlier book by her and failed after a few pages. But the synopsis of this one appeal to me.I was suprised to enjoy this more than I expected too.

As for me, I’m keeping my mouth shut. I’m not talking about literature, I’m not talking about dying. We’re both making an effort. This is going to be a lovely vacation. I won’t provoke him, and he won’t let himself be provoked. armistice

From Jola’s diary on the first day there …

The book is about a take on the classic  love triangle. We have  Jola, she is a beautiful soap star, but with a yearning for more than that entails. She has gone with her Husband Theo to Lanzararote to learn to scuba dive (hence the title of the book ) for her new film about a famous Model come underwater photograph. Thus step in Scuba instructor and third in the ;love triangle of this novel Sven he has been paid a great deal to bring the attractive Jola up to speed on her diving.What follows is a love affair but also given the dangers of being underwater a lot can happen.Will these two break Sven’s peaceful world.?

The love triangle is perhaps one of the oldest stories in fiction and in the world in general. From wuthering heights , Doctor Zhivago and through to even Harry potter a love triangle makes a good plot line.But what lends it strength is the characters that make up the three sides so who do we have here Spolit brat Jola, stunning an actress.But also rather like the lead characters in the Peter Stamm novel from earlier in the month given all the success there is something missing at the heart of this woman.

We don’t have to be on vacation. The old man could get to work on writing a book about the island. I can train for Lotte. That’s the beauty of being in the arts. You can call everything work, and then you can realize it’s shit without being disappointed.

Jola again from her diary she is quite shallow really.

Then we have Sven the classic Laid back drop out yes he studied Law but he then left all that behind to move to the sun and teach diving. One can imagine a number of Characters like this. I loved the bit where he googled the couple, that was maybe one of the pieces that gave this such a modern feel.

Three hundred and eighty-four thousand hits on Google. That was a shock. Even though I didn’t know exactly why it frightened me . In the background, a software program was uploading data from my dive computer. If Antje appeared in the doorway. I could click on the other screen in a flash. I didn’t feel like explaining what I was doing and why. Googling clients wasn’t really my style.

I loved this so now .

Last is the triangle is  Husband Theo , for me I kept thinking Arthur Miller for some reason, I don’t know why but I got that juxtaposed position of his Marriage to Marilyn  Monroe  with Theo’s and Jola’s . He  is in the middle of a huge bout of writers block and has been lashing out at his wife. Maybe drawing Jola into the Arms of Sven whom she has tried to lead astray.She is scared of him as the firrst quote suggests.

As soon as she was finished installing the navigations devices, Jola jumped onto land, pulled Theo off the bench, and sang. “Sailing, Sailing, over the bounding main,” in his face. He lurched into motion , grumbling , a burned down cigarette.

Theo a broken man lashing out at times.

This is a classic tale given a warm setting and almost  like putting a pan of water on boil we wait for the screen to start bubbling and boiling as the three  main characters  start cooking.Juli Zeh has mixed the love triangle  genre and given it the pacing you would expect from a thriller when reading it. In Sven the main narrator she has a laid back character capturing his life falling apart by the arrival of these two. I watch the film version of inherent vice and felt Sven was rather like Doc the lead character in that drawn into a world and situations he didnt’ quite want to be in .

German Literature

Decopression bY Juli Zeh

Translator John Cullen.

Nicotine by Gregor Hens

Nicotine by Gregor Hens

German Non-fiction

Original title – Nikotin

Translator Jen Calleja

Source – review copy

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Now you’re underneath the stairs
And you’re givin’ back some glares
To the people who you met
And it’s your first cigarette.

Neil young mentions that first cigarette in his song Sugar mountain.

Well after Gregor kindly choose five German books of short length last week, I finally get to his book. Gregor Hens is German writer and translator. He has translated books by the Likes of Jonathan Lethem , Rawi Hage and Will Self’s Umbrella, he lives in Berlin . Will Self also did a wonderful forward for this book about his relationship with cigarettes and smoking which inspired my post here .I so pleased that Fitzcarraldo decide to translate this book this is what small press do so well be brave and publish books like this.

I’ve smoked well over a hundred thousand cigarettes in my life and each of those cigarettes meant something to me. I even enjoyed a few of them. I’ve smoked ok, great and terrible cigarettes. I’ve smoked dry moist, aromatic and almost sweet cigarettes, I’ve smoked hastily and other times slowly and with pleasure. I’ve scrounged , stolen and smuggled cigarettes.

I like Gregor have smoke all sort from French, German, Russian and British cigarettes in my time as a smoker.

Well Nicotine was written by Gregor two years after he stopped smoking himself . This book  is an autopsy of a smoker , bu not a dead one .A retrospective of a smokers life, the how, when and where. But h also he expands it out to the wider concept of trying to stop smoking as a person but also the way it has sprung up to a whole raft of stop smoking ideas . The book follows him from his first cigarette ,in fact  even before back to  his family journeys in a car with his family of smokers. Through the packets of cigarettes he has brought in the past. The rituals of smoking that every smoker has. Cigarettes and culture from Twain talking of always trying to give up. Italo Svevo. even to Smoke one of my favourite films. This is a look back at being a smoker.

So why the last cigarette? Why should I smoke it? Why should I enjoy it like Cosini? I’ve already shown how strong I am! If I’m able to renounce a lifetime of any kind of smoking pleasure. Every possible cigarette, if I’ve decided this am sure of it, why not this one too? Why, when I ‘ve already come to terms with this resolution long ago, do i open the rubbish bin in the kitchen and retrieve the half-empty packet that had been thrown away a few minutes ago?

That moment you finally let go, I can’t remember the last one but the days leading up and not feeling well.

I think it is easy to say I connected with this as like Gregor I am now an Ex smoker, not quite two years but ten months is the longest I have ever stopped. I even feel now like Gregor does in the book I can look back at the autopsy of my smoking life from those first cigarettes, to like Gregor packets in fact one of the ones he mentions a few times in the book Peer Export , which is a german brand which has jumbo packet which was smoked by the step father of my ex German girlfriend. This is maybe the first of a new genre the ex smoker works. With smoking becoming a more and more anti social habit, I feel we will see more and more of books like this of writers tackling kicking the habit and their journeys.So if you have ever given a bad habit up or just like well written non fiction this is your book. This is a journey to the heart of nicotine through a blacken lung back up to the clear light of day.

Have you a favourite book involving smoking ?

The Flounder by Günter Grass

The Flounder by Günter Grass

German Literature

Original title – Der Butt

Translator – Ralph Manheim

Source – personnel copy

I wish I was a fisherman
tumbling on the sea
far away from dry land
and its bitter memories
casting out my sweet line
with abandonment and love
no ceiling bearing down on me
save the starry sky above
with Light in my head
and you in my arms

I wish I was the brakeman
on a hurtling, fevered train
crashing headlong into the heartland
like a cannon in the rain
with the beating of the sleepers
and the burning of the coal
counting the towns flashing by
in a night that’s full of soul
with Light in my head
and you in my arms

Fisherman blues is one of those songs that evoke a bygone age .

I have long been a fan of Gunter grass and have reviewed him twice before her with Cat and Mouse , From the diary of a snail , I was sad to see his passing earlier this year as when I reviewed Siegfried Lenz earlier in the month Grass was one of three or four big German writers who were break out  and widely translated, he was gruppe 47 those writers trying to but a spin on the new Germany. He is best known for Tin drum, but as a writer this book from the mid 1970’s sure a change in style and direction for him.

The third beast

Iisebill put on more salt, before the impregnation there was a shoulder of mutton with string beans and pears, the season being early October. Still at table, still her mouth full, she asked “should we go to be right away, or do you want to tell me how the story began ?”

The opening lines of the book were pick as the best opening lines in German literature in a poll in Germany .

The book is set in nine chapters and follow the pregnancy of Iisbill the fisherman’s wife. But the book is historic tour of German folk history and women in general as their part in the world.. This is summed in little side tales of history food and women. The book follows The area of germany Grass was from that northern part just by and including at various times parts of Poland, Add to that a talking fish descriptions of food being made and we have one strange yet unique book.Hard to describe other than it has nine chapters and a couple await their child while we hear about the world they live in to that point from every angle in a way .

Delay

A pinch or redemer salt

another delay when my question- which

century are we playing mow ? – was answered

Kitchenwise: when the price of the pepper fell …

 

Nine times she sneezed over the bowl

where lay the hare giblets in their broth

she refused to remember

that I was he kitchen boy.

Darkly she gazed at the fly in the beer

and wanted( no more delay)

to be rid of me no matter what

I choose a poem that echoed somewhat the opening lines of placing salt on the food .

I said it marked a change in Grass style it was the first book he wrote that wasn’t influenced or involved the second world war as its main subject matter. You also see maybe for the first time his love of Grimm and the fairytales the story evolved out of the Grimm story The fisherman and his wife , he would later use Grimm to form the third part of his memoir a dictionary of his life an Homage to the one Grimm did in their day. I seemed to have described little of what is in the book that is because it one of those books that is more a collection of small almost one would say flash piece some a paragraph others a tens of pages ranging from Tales , memoir , history , poems , the story of Iisebill and her husband , the talking flounder and even  food described .The talking fish tells of his life from stone age years to the 70’s when he has to face a feminists panel. This is a book that has divide people for its view of women through history. I feel it was a book of its day so to speak and maybe looking back at it 40 years on it can seem out step with feminism, but that is not for me to say fully. For me it was a writer trying a new style of writing in this book he tried similar things later on in books like My century where he used a patchwork of hundred stories to describe the 20th century. For me it is sad that Grass is read less than he was twenty years ago I know writers come in and out fashion , but from what I gather his last work was a piece on refugees so maybe he was more up to date than it seemed. Grass was never afraid to speak his mind and campaigned for the german SPD party for many years in fact the idea for this book came when he was on the road with Willy Brandt. So as we see another great German chancellor Helmut schmidt died a book that was published in his time as chancellor seems a fitting book.This is my new favourite Grass till I start soon on his first two volumes of Memoir Peeling the onion and the box ready for the Grimm book when it gets translated.

have you a favourite Grass

 

5 short German Novellas chosen by Gregor Hens

I  decide to ask the German writer Translator and Critic Gregor hens , whose new book Nicotine is out this week and will be reviewed here in due course his favourite German novels he wrote back .
I couldn´t give you a list of my favourite German books, but here´s a list of books that have two qualities in common, both of which I value highly: They are extremely unsettling and they are short. Best wishes – Gregor’

1. Heinrich von Kleist: Michael Kohlhaas
Kafka claims to have read it more than ten times. The powerful and radical story of a vigilante horsetrader, set in 16th-century Saxony, was the basis for E. L. Doctorow´s modern classic Ragtime.I reviewed Von Kleist  here Kohlhaas was one of the stories in that collection

2. Thomas Bernhard: Ja / Yes
The self-absorbed master of the tragicomical at his best… the title, Yes, is in anwer to the question whether the protagonist, a Persian woman, intends to kill herself. I’ve not reviewed this book by Bernhad but here is a lot Bernhard post on the blog

 

 

3. Marcus Braun: Delhi and Peter Rosei: Wer war Edgar Allen? This is a tie. Two amazing books whose plots I remember only hazily, possibly because copious amount of alcohol and heroin are consumed by their wandering, disoriented protagonists.Two titles yet to reach us in english

 

 

4. Michael Kumpfmüller: Durst / Thurst
Heart-wrenching, raw and yet subtle story of a woman who leaves her small children to die in a hot apartment. If you think you understand human behaviour – read this and think again.Michael has had another book glory of life translated My review here 

5. Angelika Klüssendorf: Das Mädchen / The Girl
Brutally straight-forward, unsentimental story of a girl who escapes from an East-German childhood of parental neglect and tyranny. Beautifully written. Should have won the German book prize for which it was short-listed.Another book to reach us .

Thanks Greogr I do hope the ones yet to be translated get translated The girl looks great and was sortlisted for German book prize .Gregors book Nicotine is out this week from Fitzcarraldo 

A Minute’s Silence by Siegried Lenz

9781906598440

A Minute’s silence by Siegried Lenz

German fiction

Original title –  Schweigeminute

Translator – Anthea Bell

Source – personnel copy

What will you do when the war is over, tender comrade
When we lay down our weary guns
When we return home to our wives and families
And look into the eyes of our sons
What will you say of the bond we had, tender comrade
Will you say that we were brave
As the shells fell all around us
Or that we wept and cried for our mothers
And cursed our fathers
For forgetting that all men are brothers

Will you say that we were heroes
Or that fear of dying among strangers
Tore our innocence and false shame away
And from that moment on deep in my heart I knew
That I would only give my life for love

I choose tender comrade a song about forbidden love

I move on to another great German writer Siegfried Lenz is maybe less well-known in English the Boll and Grass . I won this Siegfried Lenz  as well in a German lit month competition .He was also in Group 47 , which was a group of writers that was brought together to promote the new democratic west germany after the war Gunter grass was also a member of it .He won most of the big prize in germany including the Goethe prize .He died last year this was a book he wrote this novella in his later life.

“Here sit we down in tears and grief ” sang our school choir at the beginning of the hour of remembrance. Then Herr Block, the principal, went over to the rostrum, which was surrounded by wreaths. He walked slowly, hardly glancing at the crowded school hall, and stopped in front of Stella’s photograph on its wooden easel. He straightened up or seemed to straighten up then bowed very low.

The opening as they have the memorial service at the school for Stella .

A minute’s silence is told on two timelines the present is a memorial service for an English teacher Stella in the crowd is one of her Pupils Christian .But Christian was more than a pupil the second timeline is the building of the relationship between Stella and Christian , from her starting to teach him Orwell in class to the pair draw closer together whilst meeting in secret at school they finally start meeting out of the school as Christian meets Stella at her father’s house her father makes his living by finding stones in the sea . Just before she is due to take a boat trip with her friends and spend time away from Christian.this is where on the boat something happens to Stella .

“A stone fisher can always tell where to go ” I said “My father knows whole stone-fields and artificial reefs built a hundred years ago, and he goes searching for those. He carries the sea chart showing the richest sources of big blocks around in his head ”

I’d like to see those stone fields sometime said Stella.

A stone fisher is a job I hadn’t heard of till this book what a truly unique job fishing for stones .

This is a great novella a romance doomed but end before it was doomed two young people joined together even thou one is a teacher and the other is pupil the years between them although not said isn’t many she had just started teaching.He is great at describing the relationship blossoming between the two , but also the world things like Stella’s father talking about his job scrapping stones from the sea bed. I must admit Anthea bell did a wonderful job on this book it is so poetic and delicate i forgot it was a translation, which is why she is still one of my favourite translators .The tale of two lovers told through the younger christians eyes as he tries in the minute’s silence to remember miss Stella Peterson his teacher and oh his lover as well .Is Short yet lingering in the reader’s mind I will be reading more books from him.This is the perfect Novella doesn’t get bogged down in too much history glimpse of the romance and the present give you enough .

Have you read Siegfried Lenz ?

 

 

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