What book in translation would I give away ? Thomas Bernhard welcome to second Thomas bernhard reading week in July


Well I’ve been struggling finding time to blog or even get in a routine for my blogging of late .But I feel a project and a goal of trying to get my revie pile in order or less by then ,will help this and what better than on World book day to launch a second Thomas Bernhard reading week for the first week august this year it is two years since I did the first Thomas Bernhard reading week and with the books still available in paperback and Kindle both faber Finds and Vintage reissues . Of course there is the much lauded Bernhard letters with his publisher Siegfrieed Unseld to be published in English . I am tempt to improve my german just for the 22 voll collection of his works from his German publisher . I have a number of post here about him  including five books under review and a piece from Andrej Nikoladis about his love of Bernhard .I will sort a new badge for the reading week as I’m trying to do a similar one , but for today I will use the warhol inspired one of two years ago .Which book in translation would you hive away inspired to run a second Thomas Bernhard week for me it would be his Woodcutters .I feel this one would be the best introduction to his work .


The Loser by Thomas Bernhard

Thoams Bernhard the loser Faber Finds

The Loser by Thomas Bernhard

Austrian fiction

Original title – Der Untergeher

Translator – Jack Dawson

Source – personnel copy on Kindle

Well I couldn’t take part in German Lit month and not review  a book by Thomas Bernhard could I ? I had read this for Thomas Bernhard week I did earlier this year but held it back for German lit month .I have mention quite a bit about Thomas  Bernhard and his life in my previous reviews and pieces all found here .This is the Fifth book by him I have read and review on the blog  .

The teacher’s child ruined my Steinway in the shortest period imaginable, I wasn’t pained by this fact, on the contrary, I observed this cretinous destruction of my piano with perverse pleasure. Wertheimer, as he always said, had gone into the human sciences, I had begun my deterioration process. Without my music, which from one day to the next I could no longer tolerate, I deteriorated, without practical music, theoretical music from the very first moment had only a catastrophic effect on me. From one moment to the next I hated my piano, my own, couldn’t bear to hear myself play again; I no longer wanted to paw at my instrument.

Bernhard, Thomas (2013-02-21). The Loser (Kindle Locations 65-70). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

Now The loser isn’t very different to the other books I have read by Thomas Bernhard .It is told in the form of a monologue a recollection of two mens life and the event before ,during and after a meeting with the world-famous pianist Glenn Gould .We never get told are Narrators Name as he recounts how he and his friend Wertheimer they are both studying Piano at Salzburg .They are invited to see Gould play the Goldberg variations and are to say the least blown away bu this mans talent ,more than any one they know or have seen play .This revelation brings the two men to the edge and we see how for a long time after they try to discover a new way as they now see the music they loved isn’t worth as much .The narrator left music to become a philosopher  .The other Wertheimer is drawn into a dark spin of suicide and a life falling apart .

If I hadn’t met Glenn Gould, I probably wouldn’t have given up the piano and I would have become a piano virtuoso and perhaps even one of the best piano virtuosos in the world, I thought in the inn. When we meet the very best, we have to give up, I thought. Strangely enough I met Glenn on Monk’s Mountain, my childhood mountain.

Bernhard, Thomas (2013-02-21). The Loser (Kindle Locations 97-99). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

Well as you see this has all of the traits you would expect from a Thomas Bernhard Novel a narrator ,art in this case classical music ,life’s falling apart .Now what makes this stand out a bit is the inclusion of Glenn Gould ,he is a real figure and his life could almost read like a Bernhard novel .I must admit I am not a huge Classical fan but among the few Albums I do have is Glenn Gould Goldberg Variations which I got after seeing the film thirty short films about Glenn Gould in the nineties .

I advise if you haven’t seen it try to next time it is on tv or on stream somewhere .This book is less bile filed than say the woodcutter is similar in style the monologue is very like the woodcutter in the way it recounts past events .But this book is more about loss ,loss of a dream ,loss of direction .The German title is actually a word that means more than loser meaning one that goes under ,almost like in the Stevie smith poem these character are in a sea of music and are drowning after seeing Gould  and this book is them waving at us .

Have you listened to Glenn Gould ?

My prizes an accounting by Thomas Bernhard

my prizes Thomas Bernhard

My Prizes an accounting by Thomas Bernhard

Austrian non fiction

Original title Meine Presie

Translator Carol Brown Janeway

Source personnel copy

Well I am running late these days I was meant to have posted this last week but I’ve had a lot on at home and not been able to thinking to write posts .But I’ve decide to just sit today and try to write a post about this short work by The great Thomas Bernhard .The book is made up of nine pen sketches of events or reasoning’s about the events surround the nine major prizes he won during his writing career .Now as one imagines there is a lot in here for such a small book .

I picked the best-known gentleman’s outfitter with the descriptive name Sir Anthony , if I remember correctly it was nine forty – five when I went into Sir Anthony’s salon ,the award ceremony for the grillparzer prize was at eleven ,so I had plenty of time .I had intended to buy myself the best pure-wool suit in anthracite ,even if it was off the peg ,with matching socks ,a tie ,and an arrow shirt in fine cloth striped blue and grey .

If only getting all this was so easy .

My prize starts at the first prize he won the Grillprazer prize .We see how he describe thinking two hours before the show maybe a suit might be required to attend so he rushes to buy a suit for the event visits a well-known shop but actually a simple task is harder that it first seems  .Elsewhere we maybe gather some real insight into why he hates the arts in Austria so much for when he wins a later prize the Austrian state prize for literature ,we gain an insight that he had asked for money at an earlier date and been turned down by them .I could easily pick bits up from each of the pen sketches of the prize-winning but that for me would spoil the joy of you as a reader discovering this little gem and in turn supporting a small publisher as it is published by Noting hill editions a specialist in non fiction .We also get three of his speeches for winning city Bremen prize ,Austrian state prize and the largest prize he won the Georg Buchner prize which is a German language prize .Needless to say reading between the lines in these we can see a lot of bile and also just about that wry humour .

Honoured ministers ,honoured guests ,

There is nothing to praise ,nothing to damm ,nothing to accuse ,but much that is absurd ,when one thinks about death .

We go through life impressed ,unimpressed ,we cross the scene ,everything is interchangeable ,we have been schooled more or less effectively in a state where everything is ,mere props but it is all in error

the opening words of his Austrian state winning prize .

Well this happen to sync  nicely with another book I was reading at the same ,that I had  been sent by Pushkin press called the parrots by the Italian Flippo Bologna ,  that follows three writers in the build up to a big book prize that they are up for, so it was quite interesting comparing the fiction  story of writers up for prizes and the factual version of these accounts .I feel thou short  this book ,we do get a lot of clues to what made Bernhard the man he was ,yes he hate prizes ,but needed the money to carry on living as a writer .So he was caught in a catch 22 situation ,in not really like the whole prize system but having to take part to make a living .His often frank words a refreshing we all see the prize system from the outside and I have been lucky to have been to three prize nights ,have spoken to writers but to get Bernhard’s insight into this is amazing he really is a writer that doesn’t .But we do see other parts giving so money he won to a charity .A shock as well he did really like one of the prizes ,now I won’t say which but he did go to Hamburg to see it given out .

Do you like writers writing about the prize process ?

Thomas Bernhard in Person

Well in the run up to Thomas Bernhard week I decide to watch a couple of things on You tube .I always love to place and see the writer as a person .So with my basic schoolboy German I watch these .First is a documentary with Bernhard talking about why he writes .

The next piece was a staging of Letter Bernhard had written over the years to his German Publisher Siegfried Unseld .I beleive these are in process of being translated into in english .

The German paper Die Zeit had this to say about this book


»Great cinema, a publisher and his pugnacious author write one another. And themselves. Correspondence as Fight Club.« Florian Illies, Die Zeit


Andrej Nikoladis on Thomas Bernhard

Author on Author Montenegrin author, Andrej Nikolaidis, talks of his love for the Austrian writer, Thomas Bernhard.


The first book by Thomas Bernhard that I ever read was “Der Untergeher” – ‘The Loser’. That was in the early nineties, when war was raging across what was once Yugoslavia, and very soon after the forced migration of my family from Sarajevo to the relative safety of Montenegro, where I still live to this day.

At that time, Montenegro was a troubled place of unprecedented hyperinflation. The central bank would regularly print new batches of notes worth 100 billion dinars, with which you could only pay for a coffee in one of the many bars that were crammed with men dressed in the uniforms of irregular soldiers; those who had just come back from the war in Bosnia and those who were on their way there. And this was despite the fact that the Hague Tribunal for War Crimes repeatedly insisted that Montenegro and Serbia did not participate in the war in Bosnia and Herzgovina!

The average wage in Montenegro at that time was 3 German Marks, which today would probably be the equivalent of about £1.50. I just want to illustrate that in those days I didn’t even have enough money to join a library, let alone buy a book. I cannot even remember how I came by a copy of ‘The Loser’, but whoever lent it to me didn’t get it back. ‘The Loser’ still sits on my bookshelf today, together with the other translations of Berhnard that have been published in Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro or Serbia.

Bernhard writes about society in collapse: society rotten with dishonesty, corruption and deep-rooted lies. Montenegro at that time was just such a society. The narrator of the story is caught up in a fundamental battle with that society, just like I have been in conflict with Montenegrin society since the day I arrived here. In the end, Bernhard’s narrator understands that his conflict with society is an externalization of an inner conflict: that his true enemy with whom he must fight to the death, is in fact his own existence. And that is what I understood, too.

‘The Loser‘ remains to this day, my favourite of Bernhard’s books, more so even than ‘The Cellar’ (Der Keller), in which I believe the final part (from the line ‘One day three of four years ago…’ to ‘That is all,’) to be the finest piece of prose ever written. Those final five pages of ‘The Cellar’ seem to me to be definitive evidence that it is possible to write dark, existential prose with poetic beauty.

In Bernhard’s opus, I have never found a reference to Paul Celan (although it is possible that I overlooked it), and yet I believe that in one fundamental way, Bernhard’s work is a prose response to Celan’s famous poem ‘Fugue of Death’ (‘Todesfuge’). We are reminded by the rhythm of Celan’s poem, just as the title itself states, of the ‘Art of Fugue’ by J. S. Bach, to which Bernhard’s prose also owes it rhythm. I believe it would not be unfair to say that without Bach there would not be Bernhard.

Celan’s poem searches for the roots of the Holocaust, what was it in the German culture that allowed the possibility of that indescribable horror?

“There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes who writes
when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
he writes it and walks from the house and the stars all start flashing he whistles his dogs to draw near
whistles his Jews to appear starts us scooping a grave out of sand
he commands us to play for the dance…”
(translated by Jerome Rothenberg)

What does a man write from his home? Philosophical essays? Prose pieces? Notes? To which tune do the Jews dance in their sandy graves?

Line by line, page by page, Bernhard digs down to the very last notes of the great composer, to the most subtle combinations of colour of the great artist, to the last punctuation point of the great writer, while posing the same question to his countrymen: Austria – how was this possible? Only to arrive at the most terrible of conclusions: it is still possible.

The last years of Celan’s life read very much like something from Bernhard’s prose. Celan’s illness, his frequent stays in hospitals (which reminds us of ‘Wittegnstein’s Nephew – “Wittgensteins Neffe, Eine Freundschaft”). His visit to Heidegger, from whom he expected so much and received so little (in line with Bernhard’s principle that ‘’one should write comedy as tragedy and tragedy strictly as comedy’’).

Paul Celan ended his life with suicide, like many of Bernhard’s characters (in ‘The Loser’, ‘Yes’, ‘Concrete’, etc.). He threw himself into the Seine on April 20th, 1970, and his body was retrieved from the river ten days later.


Andrej Nikoladis ,is published by Istros books in the uk I have reviewed The coming by Him here ,He has a new book due out from Istros later this year The son a sort of follow up to his last book his profile is here on Istros books and you can order his books here as well .Many thanks to Andrej for this He wote it over a weekend for me and Susan from istros translated it too english for me and Andrej approved this translation .


June 2023


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