The old king in his exile by Arno Gieger

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The old king in his exile by Arnoo Gieger

German Memoir

Original title – Der alte König in seinem Exil

Translator – Stefan Tobler

Source – review copy

When I meet the Swedish translators last year Nichola one of  translators , she also works for and other story and thought this book out this month would be one I would like.By the Austrian writer Arno Gieger a writer that won the first german book prize for one of his novels in 2005 . This is the memoir of the time he spent with father as his father is suffering from Alzheimers . this is the account of that time.

Because it was wartime, my father had to take early graduation exams in February 1944 and was conscripted ; a mere seventeen-year old grammar-school boy from a farming family, an unworthy altar boy with little life experience – neither child nor an adult , neither military nor civilian, as Bulgakov called such schoolboy soldiers.

He was transferred from the labour service to the Wehrmacht in the summer of 1944

Just as trhe war was turning against germany his father is sent into the army and to the eastern front the worst front to be sent too

The book starts when August is having to move in with his son Arno after struggling with the creeping on set of alzheimers. Intially all goes well he lets Arno take care of him with simple task such as dressing . But he sees his father grasp of language shrinking but he tries to discover a father who he hasn’t really known . He sets out gto try and connect with his father discover more that he knows about his father that he was a child soldier in the war, why does he carry a picture of him as a half-starved man in his passport.He also writes about the way the condition can make people reimagined their lives but also glimpse into his own family’s past the rural life his father grew up in is retold to him .The father does do those things we expect get loose disappear but these are mere side piece in this book no this is the story of father and son walking talking and rediscovering one another.

When i asked my father why he had married my mother , he said he had liked her a lot and wanted to give her a home. Here, too his great themes were present : home ,safety,security. They mattered to him . being in love is nice, he might have thought , but knowing where you belong is nicer still .

His father has a sense of belonging post war the image he carries is like a glimpse that he got through the war when so many didn’t

This is the story of a son discovering his father but also the story of his life his mother and brother from the early days of the farming life that his father lived in the russian front time and then his return and settling down marrying which later led to his mother living his father a situation he blamed his mother for his father;s present position . For me it remind me of what work I do and why I do it that its learning about the past to help the people I support so if someone talks about a tv  show that was on thirty yeas ago i know about it so I can chat about it because some days they don’t know what they did that morning but can remember in great detail an old tv show .the chance you get to rediscover someones past as that is what they are in they are moving back in time as we move forward and some times we have to take on the style and world of the past to get close to those we help. I can say I really enjoyed this book it was nice to see a refreshing look at Alzheimer’s for the bits that like Arno finds can be gems of someones past yes he runs off loses himself sometimes but other times he is so profound and a sort of poetic vision of the man comes of the pages.If you read one book about Alziheimers this is the one to read less dark than others .

From Germany to Germany by Gunter Grass

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From Germany to Germany by Gunter Grass

German Non fiction

Original title – Unterwegs von Deutschland nach Deutschland.

Translator – Krishna Winston

Source – Personal copy

Well I was late review my German reads for German lit month. I always try to include a Grass novel or as in this case a work of his non fiction . This came out a few years ago. But it was the clock turned back nature of this book Grass thoughts on 1990 a man who really didn’t like to keep a diary felt that the year after the wall fell down. The East German government fell in December 1989. Grass felt compelled to write his own thoughts on the events of the following year including the first free elections in east Germany.

I fear my planned trip to the GDR is going to take place during the let-down after the first successful revolutionary rush. But old power structures are proving durable, as might have been expected. The mass exodus continues. The opposition is weighed down with organizational problems. Maybe in June and august I’ll be sitting on Rugen or in the Elbe sandstone mountains writing about progress of the German-pPolish cemetery association.

We all remember those pictures of abandon Trabants all round Germany as people from the east came west.

The year follows not only the world of German politics Grass was an active voice in the spd the German socialist party. Happy as he is that Germany has become one again he worries that the rejoice could turn into something dark from the past of Germany that he remembers and that is nationalism. We also see him struggling to write his latest novel the call of the toad. A novel that at its heart is more about Grass a man than German he was born in Danzig a German in a part of the world that is Polish but not only is Grass German he is Kashubian by birth a nationality he says at some point is part way between being what is German and what is Polish so in some ways he still views German events through this part of his being.We see him meet many figures of the day like a trip to meet Vaclav Haval the czech writer like Grass himself a face of the times. Elsewhere we get glimpse into Grass personal life his wife Ute the time spent in the Algrave were we also see Grass talent as an artist with all his drawings in the books.

Finished Malte Laurids Brigge. The last third makes for disappointing reading: the precise observant and previously mentioned oddities drown in sentiment and in vagueness more typical of Rilke. The scenes set in Denmark are as strong as I remembered them: the loud dying of Old Brahe, or the mothers fear of needles.Remarkable how the book’s demand for a death of one’s own contrast with illness (cancer) of Ute’s mother, which will probably result in death.

I have a new translation of this Rilke work which I plan to review . It makes me think of how does a book change as you age ?

This didn’t come out to after Grass had died, I do wonder if he wanted it published maybe he left instructions after his death. I loved the personal and public mix of his life I mean at the time he was maybe one of the best known german figures and to have his views on this time one of the most significant in my life time. I was on germany a few years after this in 92 and 93 and remember the sense of hope. A sense I think which has now vanished some what. But I also remember a few people being worried as Grass was about the skeleton in the cupboard so to speak. Piece like this only give a small glimpse into a great writers life, he tackled the unification more in his later novel too far afield which follows two older German men around Berlin and is well worth reading .

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.

 

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