The lost honour of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll

The lost Honour of Katharina Blum  or how violence develops and where it can lead  by Heinrich Böll

Original title – Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder: Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann

German fiction

Translator – Leila Vennewitz

Source – personnel copy

A couple of years ago I review the German Nobel laureate Heinrich Böll best known book billiards at half past nine .Böll  he refused to join the Hitler youth as a boy took an apprenticeship as a bookseller before becoming a full-time writer aged thirty .He was chairman of German PEN for a long time and then he chaired International PEN .He won the nobel prize in 1972 and passed away in 1985 .His book were mostly reissued in english a couple of years ago by Melville house .

Inquires into Blum’s activities during the four days in question progressed nicely enough at first ,and it was only when attempts were made to gather information about that sunday that they were brought up short

On the Wednesday afternoon Blorna personally paid Katharina Blum two full weeks wages at 280 marks per week ,one for the current week , the other for week to come

The reportage style of Böll writing in this book

 

The lost Honour of Katharina Blum ,follows Katharine Blum ,she gets drawn into a tabloid sensation after meeting a man at a party who it turns out is a bank robber  and she becomes the target of the newspaper “der zeitung “( this is thinly veiled version of the German paper der bild a sort of German  version of the sun ) .She is called a whore ,a communist sympathizer as she sees her private life torn apart by the paper and gets hate mail just for knowing one man . this leads her agreeing to do an interview with someone from the paper and now a couple of hours later she is at a police station giving this statement to the  police about recent events in her life  .What happened during that interview ? We see the story of her recent life unfurl .

Seven anonymous postcards , handwritten with “crude ” sexual propositions that in one way or another all included the words “communist bitch”

Four more anonymous postcards containing insulting political remarks but no sexual propostions .These marks ranged from “Red agitator ” to “Kremlin stooge ”

The fall out of what of Katharina Blum life in the papers .

 

The style of this book is like a police report or a bit of reportage we get a detached feel on the events in Katharina’s life and what lead to her agreeing to the interview and how she meet the man ,whom dragged her into the presses eyes .Amazing this book to say it was written in the 1974 before the modern scandals and rise of the modern celebs that have been caught in the media spotlight  ,Katharine blum reminds me of many people who have been in the  UK papers over the last few years people who have  gotten  caught up in a big story by chance  or accident , like the landlord of a recent victim of a killer  who saws his life invade by the papers by just being her landlord or the woman that hid her child .Katharine story is a bit more than theres in the end but we see how far some can be pushed by the tabloids and the prying eyes .For a book that is nearly thirty years old I would say the themes and style of Böll writing is still relevant today as much as ever .He captures what it is to have your life fall apart it seems .A small work that packs a punch above its weight .

Have you read Böll ?

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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 ?

Midsummer Night by Uwe Timm

Midsummer night uwe timm

Midsummer Night by Uwe Timm

German Literature

Original title – Johannishacht

Translator – Peter Tegel

Uwe Timm is a name better known in German than English ,he is highly regard as one of the leading German writers of recent times .I had read him years ago with the invention of curried sausage ,so when a couple of years ago I was in LRB and saw this I decide to by it for a German lit month and this time round I ‘m reviewing it .Uwe Timm father died during world war to on the eastern front .He went on to study philosophy and German Literature in both Munich and Paris .He then went on to become a writer and has been a writer in residence .His last novel in German released this year had been long-listed  for the German book prize (the German equivalent of the booker )

A magazine editor asked me if I would be interested in writing something about potatoes : the Peru – Prussian connection .Potatoes and the German mentality .And of course personal potatoes preferences recipes .Fried potato affairs .He laughed .” You’re interested in stories about everyday things aren’t you .eleve to twelve pages , you can spread it out ”

The bizarre article request that takes our narrator to Unified Berlin .

Midsummer night follows a journey to write a piece about potatoes for a newspaper .This article happens to be at the same times  as there  plans to wrap the Reichstag by the conceptual artist Christo  .Our narrator discovers an east German has written a book about potatoes and the nutrition to be eaten .So our narrator heads into the night of Berlin and comes across a worker on a sex line ,arms dealers ,a designer and a drunk wedding party .He is also search for what his later uncles last words meant .So as over three days he sees all the city of Berlin has to offer .We see the melting pot that is Berlin post the wall falling this is 1996 and Bulgarian ,Poles ,old east Germans all mingle together as wee see the dark and light side of city life but also a large chunk of humour .

“They’re after me .”

“who ?”

“A gang of arms dealers .”There was a silence at the other end of the line I heard a faint astonished snort from Kubin , at any rate I decided the snort was astonished .”it sounds crazy ,I know “I said , “I’ve gotten involved in a really insane business ”

“Hogwash ,”  he said .”You’ve boiled over with your potatoes ”

The insane days and nights lead to this incident in the book .

 

Now this is a book you don’t expect from Germany a comic novel ,Our narrator is a writer with writer’s block that has taken this bizarre article to try to kick-start his writing of a new novel .We get the city at its maddest Middsummer has always been connect with people going slightly mad and we see some drawn into a bizarre world .This isn’t the berlin of Alexander platz or Even Wender Wings of desire ( der himmell über Berlin) .But it is the berlin of the follow-up film to Wenders  wings of desire ,faraway so close which is roughly set in the right time and like this book we follow a hapless chap round post communist unified Berlin fall in with arm dealers as well .Also the film has the same comic touches in this book are similar the woody Allen, like  people being caught in strange situations .This book could have been a film by Allen if he had been touring Europe as he seemed to have in recent years at the time the wall fell he would have made a film similar to this .It’s safe to say I hope you all root this lost gem of German Literature out as the book its self and its writer Uwe Timm need a wider audience in English .

Have you read Uwe Timm ?

I was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia

Pushkin_JackMortimer

I was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia

Austrian Fiction

Original title Ich was Jack Mortimer

Translator – Ignat Avsey

Source – Library copy

glm_iii

Well on of the best things about Pushkin press and one of the reasons I choose to do a fortnight dedicated to their books is perfectly shown by this Novel originally published in 1933 ,we finally got to read it in English due to this translation .Alexander Lernet-Holenia was born in 1897 in Vienna ,he fought on the eastern fron in world war One and then in the inter war years became a writer ,he was a protege of the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke .He was first called up as he was still a reservist lieutenant and fought in the invasion of Poland but became wary of the Nazis and in 1941 wrote a book called the Blue Hour describe as the only Austrian resistance novel .He spent war trying to avoid combat and prison but after the war he grew to be a well Known figure in Austrian culture .

During that evening and the next morning .Spooner found out from the doormen in Allergasse and from the head waiter of the nearby Cafe Attache ,but in particular from a commissonare who used to sit either on the street corner or in a bar opposite ,under a sign with two white horses that the girl was called Marisabelle Von Raschitz .

Spooner tries to find the girl he gave a ride to in his cab .

The book follows Viennese Taxi driver Fredinad Spooner ,as over course of one November he gets drawn into a strange and dark world .He has a girlfriend, but he  has fallen for a girl he gave  a ride too and tries to find her and to try to catch her eye he drawn into a dark world as a few days late he picks up a ride that ends up dead in his cab this ride turns out to be the Jack Mortimer of the title .Spooner sees he has a hotel room reserved and thus he decides to  assumes the identity of this man ,with out even know who he really is .and because he Spooner is nervous of what may happen when the body is discovered in his cab .But who was Jack Mortimer and why is he in Vienna ? and why is he dead ?

He took the dead man’s belongings out of his pockets and put them out on the table .They ,too ,were wet to some extent ,and only the passport ,wallet and the letters ,which had been in the breast pocket ,had stayed almost dry

He opened the passport

And what did he find Spooner in this collection from the dead man in his cab

 

I Loved this book the feel is like a mix of what I love best of the Austrian fiction of the time a sort psychological tale of what drives people a sort Freudian look at Spooner why he does what he does    and the best of Noir america, the sort of  adventure when a unexpected door opens  by the finding of the body and how it draws Spooner into a darker world around him .I wasn’t surprised to find out it had also been film twice .In fact one of the main things I left the book with was a feel for a film I saw many years ago in fact I blame mention of Patricia Highsmith (some one I not read enough off )and a film by the German director Wim Wenders called American friend a version of the  Highsmith Book Ripley’s game and that sees the characters drawn into a dark world the darker side of Hamburg in that case .Another triumph from Pushkin press I hope to go back and try other books by this writer as I like his style that seems more american than his fellow writers at the time .

Have you read this writer ?

What gems from Pushkin press have you found ?

 

Bunker by Andrea Maria Schenkel

Bunker - Andrea Maria Schenkel cover

Bunker by Andrea Maria Schenkel

German Crime fiction

Original title – Bunker

Translator – Anthea Bell

Source – Personnel copy

glm_iii

Andrea Maria Schenkel is probably the best known German crime writer ,translated into English .her first novel murder farm was published in German in 2006 and has since been made into a radio drama ,she has used well-known German crime  case to base her books partly on but this book is a truly fictitious crime .she has won a number of prizes for her books .She currently lives in New York .

I still have to get the Keys .They’re in the bedroom , on the bed .Back into the bunker .Damn the paraffin lamps have burnt out ,even thou I had two for each room in it .Funny ,I thought those things lasted longer .What a waste ,six lamps in three rooms .

The opening lines and why the need for lamps and to be in the bunker ?

Bunker is the tale of a kidnapping the title refers to where the woman who has been kidnapped .Monica is  being held by a kidnapper  .The book unfolds in an unusual narrative style where as opposed to a beginning middle and end to the story we see all three of these parts happen at once so the event leading up to the kidnapping of Monica ,the time she spent with the kidnapper and the rescue of her are all told in changing chapters .Monica doesn’t initially know why she has been kidnap or who could have done this to her see gets small glimpse into what has happen who the kidnapper is and maybe even why she was taken .What has happened in her past  to cause this to happen ?

I lie there on my stomach , the cold cement floor under me .A musty cellar smell .I feel awful .My arms and legs are scratched .My grazes are burning .My head aches he dragged me down to the cellar by my hair .Every root of it hurts .My mouth is dry my tongue feels thick and swollen ,glutinous saliva sticking my mouth up .

Monica describing her situation just after the kidnapping .

 

I really fell for Schenkel unusual narrative style in the book it remind me of the way we sometimes see crimes unfold on Tv Crime dramas especially something like CSI were the crime is shown how the crime was done and how the victim and criminal were dealt with even why the crime was done and not always in the order they happened .The setting was caught so well the room Monica was held in and the conditions she found herself in ,made my skin creep at times .I will be going back to the other books schenkel have written to find if this style she writes in is carried on in her other books .As ever Bell has done a great job on the translation .I am actually not a huge crime fiction fan but this book has gone to the top of my list of all time favourites .

Have you a favourite translated crime novel ?

 

Mrs Sartoris by Elke Schmitter

mrs sartoris

Mrs Sartoris by Elke Schmitter

German fiction 

Original title – Frau sartoris 

Translator – Carol Brown Janeway 

source – personnel copy

glm_iii

Elke schmitter is a German writer from Krefeld ,she studied philosophy at Munich university and then became a journalist before becoming a full-time writer in 1994 . This was her début novel .I choose this book because I had visit Krefeld ,it was a chance buy in the works (a uk shop that sells unwanted stock cheap ) and may I say a gem of a find for 50p!

Without hesitation I was immediately ready to attribute all of Ernst’s annoying characteristics – including his ridiculous name – to his father .For example ,Imri was always proper and took her self seriously ,as was the expression back then , but Ernst displays of pedantry must have come from Heinz-Gunther 

Ernst wasn’t an easy husband to have for Margaret 

Mr sartoris is a first person narrative told by Margaret Sartoris ,her life is told by her from her lost love for a rich landowner called Philip that she feel in love with one summer .The break of this relationship caused her to have a mental breakdown and end up in a hospital that happened when she was 18 ,we capture her later when she is married to Ernst a veteran from the war but a man who has no real passion as she is now in her forties she finally meets another man that makes her feel the passion she had felt in her youth with Philip so she begins an affair with a man .Along side this plot there is a plot about a car crash the two finally meet at the end but you have to find the book to see what happens .

When I got to the hotel for the first time ,I could hardly breathe .It was a mild summer day ,with no wind  .I had my hair cut , and glad it wasn’t raining .I was wearing  doe brown suede pumps and a wine two piece I had brought a few days before …

Margaret waiting for her first meeting with Michael the man .

Well I don’t read many books about love and affairs ,I am not a huge fan of romantic fiction but this book is slightly darker than that it is easy to view this from my description as simple chic lit but now Magaret jumps of the page as a damage soul that is having an affair to try to finally grasp what she had once lost .The cover quote says a modern-day Madame Bovary but it is a far more German take on that story ,that sense of duty that I feel is very common in German society is deep in the story her relationship to Ernst is far from perfect but she makes in work out of duty to him  and the daughter so this affair is a real test of her as a person .But she wants the passion she is finding in the arms of the other man .I feel sorry this one is a book that has dropped of the radar and hope this review makes a couple of you root it out as it is well written with a real sense of tension as she builds Margaret’s life and her story to the climax in more ways than one .Another book that if not for Lizzy and Caroline push to make more women writers read this German lit month may have gone unread .

Have you a favourite book about affairs ?

 

The taste of apple seeds by Katharina Hagena

the taste of apple seeds

The taste of apple seeds by Katharina Hagena

German literature

Original title –  Der Geschmack von Apfelkernen.

Translator Jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy

glm_iii

Katharina Hagena studied English and German at Marbach , Freiburg and London ,after getting her degrees ,she spent two years working at the James Joyce centre at Zürich ,this lead to her first two books which are non fiction and relate to Joyce’s work .This is her first novel .she currently lives in Hamburg .

I was intoxicated by the aroma in the entrance hall : it still smelled of apples and old stone , and my great-grandmothers carved dower chest still stood by the wall .on either side of it were the oak chairs adorned with the family coat of arms : a heart divided by a saw .My mother and Aunt Inga’s heels clacked against the floor ,sand crunched beneath the leather soles .

such a feast for the reader in her words sums up the farm-house so well .

I feel awful it took me so long to get to this book I read it earlier in the year but I loved it so much I felt it need the chance of German lit month to get every one to know about it .The story follows Iris and her growing up ,a grandfather with a secret in  his past during the second world war and her grandmother ,now in her twenties her grandmother has died she is having to return to the house where she spent her summers and to the memories of those summers ,so she decides to spend the summer there and choose what to do with the farm-house remember her family the smells of summers gone by and her mother and also her  aunt a pair that were so close  growing up .A journey through iris growing up ,and having friends and falling in love for the first time  families and how three generations got on in post war Germany chuck in a handful of interesting side characters some that always wore black the odd secret her and there you have a stunning book .

An apple

Or , rather the remains of an apple .The flesh at the blossom end was missing ; the top half with its stalk lay in two pieces by his shoe .Lexow stood still , his breathing was rapid and fitful . there was a rustling in the tree .

The trees played a huge part in Iris memories .

I loved the nature of this book rural Germany a happy on the whole family a young girl finding herself in the world ,I don’t read many female writers mainly as it seems to be male writers on whole that get translated more so Lizzy and Caroline saying we had to read two weeks of female writing means I have read a few more female German writers recently  .Given Katharina hagena history and previous work I had to try to link it some how to Joyce and I can in the sense of place she capture that so well like in Joyce the smell of liver cooking is memory for me that lingered long after I read Ulysses ,this had the scent and taste of apples and apple  trees  the clean smell of there blossom in my mouth for weeks after I had put the book down.Also as ever I have to say Jamie has shown why he is one of the best young translators from German around as with his work on peirene you are hard pushed to find fault with it  .I’m pleased to see this visual book has had a film made and just released in Germany and by the look of the trailer they have caught what I visualized in the book .

Do you have a smell you have attached to a book you have read ?

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