A whole life by Robert Seethaler

A Whole life by Robert Seethaler

Austrian fiction

Original title – Ein ganzes Leben

Translator – Charlotte Collins

Source – Library book

Every year on the Old IFFP and now on the first man booker there is a book on the list that I hadn’t heard of and a writer that is new to me and this was this years book. Robert Seethaler is an austrian writer, the german wiki page says he has sight problems so went to a school for the blind. Then drama school , he is an actor as well as a scriptwriter. He has also written five novels this is his fifth novel.His first to be translated . I am pleased to see his fourth novel The tobacconist is in the pipeline to be translated.

 In 1910 a school was built in the village, and every morning, after tending to the livestock, little Egger sat with the other children, in a classroom that stank of fresh tar, learning reading, writing and arithmetic. He learned slowly and as if against a hidden inner resistance, but over time a kind of meaning began to crystallize out of the chaos of dots and dashes on the school blackboard until at last he was able to read books without pictures, which awoke in him ideas and also certain anxieties about the worlds beyond the valley.

I was reminded of the Herzog actor Bruno S a man who never is in time with the world either .

I must admit I am so pleased this was on the longlist as it may have passed me by maybe until,a german lit month. This book is the story of one mans life Andreas Egger a man who arrives and then spend the rest of his life in one small mountain valley. This is the early 20th century and the world Andreas is living in is slowly giving way to the modern world as we see through his eyes bit by bit his life but the world he lives in getting to grips with the modern world. From his arrival to work on his uncles farm where he first met the woman he loves over time Marie but this is a love that will never be.So as Andreas First build cable cars, then help electricity then the war take him away from the farm and the valley he always come back to the world he is meant to be in. As much as he tried to escape .

That was in the late fifties. It was only much later, in the summer of 1969, that Egger had a second encounter with the television – which in most households by then already constituted the central focus and primary purpose of the evening family gathering – that made a profound impression on him, albeit in an entirely different way. This time he was sitting with almost a hundred and fifty other villages in the assembly room of the new parish hall, watching two young americans walk on the moon for the first time.

A world no gone without tv or wanting to see a tv Eggger is really a man out of time in his valley .

I must admit I loved this book  it is a really pretty gem. I was reminded of  one of my favourite books Stones in a landslide Andreas life and the way he lives in the valley that is sort of out of time with the world around them remind me of the world in Stones in a landslide. I also pictured this in a way as being a lost script for a Werner  Herzog film on the other hand Andreas is a simple man like most of the classic roles in the 70’s Herzog films, a man who has the world against him in the way like the classic Bruno S films  Herzog made . A beautiful world of the valley is like quicksand slowly killing the man but not just the man but also his spirit is slowly dragged into the ground of the valley.As for man booker I feel the simple sparse nature of the narrative that as the Irish times review saaid remind that review of Stoner as for me I felt this is a better book than Stoner which I may be the one person that felt stoner was like a  afternoon film of one mans life. No egger is a character you believe in he is like a man in the background of Heidi brought to the fore.

Have you read this book ?

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Journey into the past by Stefan Zweig

journey into the past

Journey into the past by Stefan Zweig

Austrian fiction

Original title –  Widerstand der Wirklichkeit

Translator – Anthea Bell

Source – Personnel copy

I couldn’t do two weeks about Pushkin press without at least once reviewing or mentioning Stefan Zweig ,as he is the writer most associated with them in my mind anyway .I have perviously reviewed his books Letter to an Unknown women   and although not published by Pushkin press the post office girl .I have also read Amok for this fortnight .In my mind Zweig is a true one-off writer that thanks to Pushkin we have gotten to read in English .At the height of his fame in the 1920’s and 1930’s he was one of the best known writers in the world .This is one of a number of books by Stefan Zweig that is published by Pushkin press .

“There you are !” He went to meet her with arms outstretched , almost flung wide.”There you are ” he repeated , his voice climbing the scale from surprise to delight ever more clearly ,while his tender glance lingered on her beloved form “I was almost afraid you wouldn’t come !”

“Do you really have so little faith in me ? ”

Ludwig arrives and meets the woman in the opening lines

So too the Journey into the past was only discovered in the seventies and published in the Germany .Ludwig is German engineer and in love with a women whom happens to be married ,but he is sent for a short trip to Mexico to work on opening a mine ,but whilst he is doing this the first world war breaks out leaving him stranded in Mexico .We see him recalling the past as he returns to see if his love is still there what has happened to her .As he travels back to his homeland the memories of their  past  as they await meeting again on the station . The narrative drifts through time past and present mingle .

They left the station , but no sooner were they out of the door than stormy noise met their ears , drums rattling , the shrill sound of pipes – it was a patriotic demonstration of veterans  associations and students in support of the Fatherland .Like a wall on the move ,marching in ranks four abreast ,flags flying ,men in military garb were goose stepping along ,feet thudding heavily on the ground .

The early signs of the Nazis and Ludwig and the woman leave the station .

Well this was a book that supposedly Zweig had worked and reworked this novella for over twenty years ,you can see how it has been cut and edited at just 81 pages it actually feels more like a 300 page novel than a short novella .Zweig has left fact bare and concentrated on the feeling ,memories and broken love  and dreams .Ludwig was a different character than I had previously encountered in Zweig works as in the previous book I have read he has mainly used female characters .I loved the sense of lose and longing we got from Ludwig a man caught by time ,the woman isn’t named we know she is married to a councillor so is maybe an older muse for the young Ludwig whom is in his mid twenties .You also see the changing times and how Zweig worked more recent times into the narrative like the fact when Ludwig arrives back there is a nazi parade taking place almost a small signpost to the future events that drew Austria into the second world war .If you love a tale of lost dreams and loves and longing this is one that you will love .

Have you read Zweig ,if so which is you favourite book ?

The Confusions of young Törless by Robert Musil

the confusions of young Törless

The Confusions of young Törless by Robert Musil

Austrian fiction

Translator Mike Mitchell

Orginal title – Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß

Source – review copy

I have read Musil many years ago I was lucky to buy cheap copies of his huge epic the man without qualities .So had this one on my list of books to try especially as this year sees it’s a hundred year since the start of world war one .Robert Musil  is an Austrian writer ,he went to military school from 12- 17 ,after that went to study engineering then drifted into studying Philosophy and through that decide to write The confusion of young  Törless was his Debut novel .He did serve in the first world war and went on after the war to write his epic The man without qualities .

The closely woven veil of Frau Törless – the lady of around forty – concealed sad eyes , slightly reddened from crying .For now she had to say goodbye  .And it was hard for her to have to abandon her only child for so long to strangers ,unable to watch over her darling and protect him herself .

We see young Törless leaving effect on his mother .

Törless is a young boy when the book opens we see him with his parents waiting for the train to take him to Military school .We see him at first upset ,but then settle in and make friends at the school .But him and his two friends Beineberg and Reiting see a fellow cadet Basini steal from them ,they then decide to judge this boy themselves and descend into a a violent retribution on him .Basini is in love with Törless thou .Törless feels sorry for him in the end and tells him to own up to what he had done .Elsewhere we see Törless have a sexual awakening with a local women ( well lady of the night ) ,also his parents and how they have affect his view of the world from their own view of the world .

Beineberg continued his line of thought ” I think that for the moment we’ll keep him to ourselves – and punish him ourselves .For he has to be punished , for his arrogance if for nothing else .At most the school authorities would expel him and write a long letter to his uncle

The moment the boys take the law into their own hands .

Well this is a new translation pof the book from Oxford world classics and I can see why they have chosen now to do it the book was written in 1906 . But the events attitudes and views seen in the book can actually explain the events of the next forty years in both Austria and Germany .In fact the attitudes at times remind me of some of the fall out that had surround the Dreyfus affair ,which had been a scandal all over Europe when it happened in 1894 and was strangely finally sorted in 1906 around the time Musil had finished this book ,like that true life affair it showed a dark underbelly in certain people and certain classes of people at the time and that is Fascism  and racism .The views and attitudes shown in the book show why Austria and Germany descend into first into world war One the feeling of over bearing superiority  ,then as a knock on effect will lead to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis .A wonderful time to reissue this book. The book embodies part of what Golding showed in the Lord of the Flies how easily young men can divide and sub divided and make many violent acts  .Musil denied that the book was autobiographical mainly due to the heavy sexual content in it ,but one wonders how much else was from  what he saw and experienced at the time ?

Have you a favourite read that shows the build up to World war One ?

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