The capital by Robert Menasse

The Capital

 

The Capital by Robert Menasse

Austrian  fiction

Original title – Dia Hauptstad

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source -review copy

Robert Menasseis an Austrian writer. He studied German studies, philosophy and political science then after that he lectured in Brazil. He published his first novel just as he left Brazil. Since returning to Europe he has written a number of books which have He have recurring theme loneliness and alienation. What he also sees as the growing antisemitism in the German-speaking world.  He has been translated into twenty languages this book won the German book prize and is considered the first book to look at Brussels as the capital of Europe. Menasse moved to Brussels in 2010 so he could be part of a man-made world that is the EU.  I reviewing this as part of Blog tour tomorrow is David 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fenia Xenopoulou hd started off in the Directorate-General for competition. The commissionor, a Spaniard, had been clueless. But each commissioneris as good as theor office and she had stood out as an outstanding element of a perfectly functioning office. She got divorced. She had neither the time nor inclination to have a man sitting in her Brussels apartment every second- or later every third or fourth- weekend, or to visit him in Athens and listen to him gossip about athenisan sociey and puff on cigarettes like a caricature of a noveau riche. She had married a star lawyer and ended up throwing a provincial solicitor out of her aprtment!

Fenia is a high flyer after the her first post but then this jobs tests her.

The Captial starts with a Pig on the loose in the city as part of a protest about exporting pigs to China. A greek eurocrat Fenia Xenaopoulou’s is given a new job in the dread directorate-general for Culture is ask to do a celebration for 50th anniversary of the EU an idea. She spends time thinking of what to do and comes up with the idea of Auschwitz . Elsewhere we see David an elderly man move into a nursing home he is a Holocaust survivor who last saw his parents on a train to Poland. An economist Professor Ehart is in Brussels from Vienna trying to sell his Utopian view of the way Europe should move forward. Elsewhere we see an inspector and a Polish hitman circle each other. The is so brilliant piece of observation like when Fenia is given the job and one by one the other people around the table in the group to decide the big part leave with just her left to sort it out. Then a piece that said every Austrian politician says the love the book “a man without qualities”. I could see Thomas Bernhard laughing at this quote.

But I’d like to run through it with you, minister. The personal questions, suchas your favourite boo.

What do you suggest?

It’s a traditional in Austria for politicians to ment the man without qualties. You can’t really opt for a lesser work. And living authors are stictly taboo. People don’t want living authors.

Alright then, Let’s be good Austrians. The man without qualties.Kreisky loved that book as far as I recall.

And sinowat, Kilima and Gusenbauer.

Only socialists ?

I was remind of that desert island with David Cameron that seemed as thou it was done by comittee to appeal to a certain type of people.

We stand 40 odd days away from pulling the plug on us being in Europe. This isn’t a book by a Euroskeptic writer no this is a book about the madness that is the city and the world of the Eu, yes it is a huge monster but at its heart is the principles it was born in that is a greater Europe and yes Auschwitz is a mad choice to celebrate it there but in a way Menasse choice of there is at the heart of what his book is about and that is the divergent route we now face as people in Europe that is moving forward together or get caught up in a far-right xenophobia anti-semetic view of Europe we see it in every country and Maybe yes in looking back at what happened in the Holocaust in this tongue  in cheek way is an eye-opening way. Brussels is the capital of chaos in a way from pigs on the lose bizarrely pigs in  Europe is a recurring theme in the book. This takes satire and the nonsense that follows it in a place like the EU and uses it well I was remind of the pig in the English film A private function which like this also had a celebration at its heart and a pig being kept the secret then on the loose. Another tale of how twisted bureaucracy can get. Read David’s  and the other reviews this week for this book coming out.

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Sometimes I lie and Sometimes I don’t by Nadja Spiegel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I lie and Sometimes I don’t by Nadja Spiegel

Austrian short stories

Original title –  Manchmal lüge ich und Manchmal nicht

Translator Rachel McNholl

Source – personal copy

So today I move to a rising star of Austrian fiction Nadja Spiegel. She has won a number of prize for her prose, spoken word and poetry. This was her debut collection and came about when she went to Dublin for the first Irish European literature night for Austria where both the publisher and her translator discovered he flash fiction prose style. As her translator puts it her style is like that described by the Irish writer Eilis Ni Dhuibhne it is more poetic than the novel, more suggestive, dealing more in metaphor and symbolism. Ni Dhuibhne believes natural short story writers combine the sensibilities of poets with those of novelist, and I believe that this is very true of Nadja Spiegel.

She said she knew it would end. She said Lets just run away. Then she said nothing. That was on the Monday. We said nothinfor so long that I couldn’t tell where my body ended and hers begin.

She said she knew how it would end, when it would end. I have a few images of her, nothing else , just the memory of her smell:

Caedamon and seasame

I was remond of Maggie smith talking about the bed of Lentils see remembered in her romance with a grocer like Malika’s family spice shop.

there are twenty short stories in this collection some are from a mere few pages to longer other stretches to ten pages. But they are all that many call flash fiction. Where we have a quick flash into life. The narrators, on the whole, are female voices young woman that find themselves in tough places. But in others we see a narrator talk about falling for the new girl a plain girl  Malika she has a romance with a popular girl Linda the girls family own a spice shop a short romance and an ending that remind me of Alan Benett’s talking voices. Another told by a third voice about a boy younger than here Elias and another girl Lisa younger than Elias a tale of a budding romance or was it as the last line of this story is also the title of this collection sometimes I lie and sometimes I don’t. An inner view of modern Austria through female eyes. A glimpse into the lives of late teens and early twenty-year-olds worlds.

In school on Monday a girl throws her water bottle up in the air and catches it with one hand, takes a bite out of an apple and sens a squrt of juice flying. The girl is pretty, Lisa is her name, and she has a boyfriend by the name of Elias. The thing about names is : there’s one more letter in Elias, an e more than there is in Lisa, and the girl laughs and sweeps back her hair, and is Elias is the extension of Lisa and lisa is there within Elias.

Elias is not the kind of guy who falls in love, he only loves, for instance.

Elias has fallen in love with me says Lisa, and sometimes Lisa’s right and sometime’s she’s not.

I’m happy for you both.I say

and sometimes I lie and sometimes I don’t

The story of a romance in the story Lisa Elias and me also has the colllections title as it’s last line .

The stories are vibrant short bites that left me as a reader at times wanting more the problem with flash fiction is they can be too tempting at times they are like a Thorntons selection box once you open you well I just have to have a couple at a time and this is the case here I read the collection in an evening like a voyeur of this modern Austrian lives glimpse behind the curtains of the lives from people in ruts to budding romances. All told with a bittersweet and humourist view of the world. Nadja hasn’t quite the bitter view of Bernhard of her homeland but she fits nicely with the likes of Linda Sift where she also showed how to get by in another view of modern Austria  and even Jelinek in romances starting I reviewed woman as lovers and there is a similar detached nature to the world in that book that flows in these stories as we just get the merest glimpse of there worlds. A new voice and an interesting short collection from an interesting writer. Have you a favorite European short story writer?

The Giant Dwarfs by Gisela Elsner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Giant dwarfs by Gisela Elsner

German fiction

Original title – Die Riesenzwerge

Translator – Joel Carmichael

Source – personal copy

I pick another older book for my German lit month choice this is a prize-winning novel from Gisela Elsner was a member of the Gruppe 47 writers when she joined the group in 1958 alongside many of the great writers of Postwar Germany. I choose to get a copy of her book as she seems to have disappeared somewhat in the years since she died. She wrote a number of novels but her life was cut short as she took her own life. Her son is the German filmmaker Oskar Roehler he made a film that starred someone playing his mum in the early ’80s. The film Death to the hippies long lives the punks look at the time his mother and father were in Berlin this film came out a couple of years ago.

Myfather is a good eater. He dosen’t stand on ceremony. He sits down at the table and tucks the ends of his napkin behind his collar. He props his palms of his hands on the table, to the right and left of the knife and fork. He raises his behind  a little from chair. He leans across the table so that his napkin hangs down into his empty plate and he can see what is in the dishes. Then he lowers his behind onto the seat. then he pitches in. He serves himself with the seving fork, with the seving spoon, one forkful after another, one apoonful after another , until he has a great heap on his plate.

Lothar observes his father in the opening chaptewr as he gorges himself on food.

The Giant Drawf is a narrative told by a young boy called Lothar it is the view of his grotesque world. This is a slightly over the top world that is shown in the opening when he watches his father gorge himself on food. I was reminded of Homer Simpson and Bart at times in this early piece. There is him viewing the growing world of consumerism. As the book is told in a series of chapters that sees Lothar observing and discovering the world like a trip to the forest which gave him his first glimpse of sexual behaviours. This is a view of Germany at the time Lothar domestic life is like many the minor problems we all have like we see with his father who can lose his temper easily. He also has a strange observation of the doctor talking about Tapeworms which seems to go over the young Lothars head at the time.

“The same thing every morning!” my father calls out every morning. And as he hurries through the hallway, he stuffs is shirt into his trousers and buttons his clothes beginning at the bottom, first pushing the buttons on one side of his fly into the buttonholes on the other side as far up as his waistband, then putting its button into its hole, then pushing the shirt buttons into the buttonholes of theshirt from the bottom to the collar. And whenever he buttons, when he gets to the top button, the collar button, and my mother is pouring the coffee through the strainer into his mug, that button refuses to go into its buttonholes, and he cries, “The least a man can ask of a button is that it fit into the buttonhole!”

A whole chapter on the top button and how they try to sort it !! a satirical piece that has a wider meaning!

This is a clever book that has a feel of a world that has gone but also some observation that said it was written in the early sixties. She sees the early signs of consumerism in the way Lothar parents are. There is a grotesque slightly out nature to his view of the world that adds to the childlike sense of the narrative. Lothar reminds me of a number of child characters from Bart Simpson to the main character of the curious incident in the night the opening when he observes his dad eating remind me of many an episode of The Simpson’s then later there is a similar detatch nature to his observations that remind me of Christopher in that Novel. This is a book that has been out of print for a number of years from a writer that has been dead for over 25 years. It is a slice of its time and has nods to her fellow Gruppe 47 writers but also

River by Esther Kinsky

River by Esther Kinsky

German fiction

Original title –  Am Fluss

Translator – Iain Galbraith

Source – review copy

I have reread this for German lit month as I read it late last year and never reviewed it and had wanted to but as time flew this year I picked it up last week. Esther Kinsky is a German writer and translator she had lived in London for a number of years with her late husband the German to English translator Martin Chalmers. In her work as a translator of English books into German she had worked on books by John Clare his journey from Esse. That follows Clare walk in the countryside of 1841.  she also translated Iain Sinclair’s book which he followed in Clare’s footsteps and she has also done works by Henry David Thoreau of the books she has translated this three jumped out at me as they seem to connect to this wonderful novel.

The king stretched out his hands and the ravens gather around him. Several settled on his arms, shoulders and hands, briefly flapping their wings, lifting again and flying a short distance, then returning. Perhaps each bird wanted to touch him art least once, or perhaps they had no choice. Thus encirclircled by birds, he began to make gentle swinging and circling movements with his arms, as if they were haunted by a memory of wings

The King in the opening chapter see saw one evening a strange figure .

This is one of thos novels that have no real plot it is a meandering work just like the rivers our narrator tells us about. She is a German that has ended in our capital. She has then drift to Hackney and spends her time wandering the marsh-river area around the river Lea the book and many strands all come from these meandering walks the memories of her past and time in her childhood on the Oder and the single visit of her father but then the other people she meets eccentric character like the King a Man in a headdress that  I was never sure was just an imaged person a sort of modern take on the Crow King especially when she said he opened his arms and the ravens drifted around him. Or was this just an eccentric dress like a beefeater that wanders the river paths of the Lea? Then she meets orthodox Jews and other people that have ended up in this multicultural area like people from Former Yugoslavia leads to another digression to the rivers there many views of the rivers both in Europe and America she had seen over the years form a sort of memory of her life and also flow like a river as you read it.

What were my memories of rivers, now that I lived on an island whose thoughts were turned seawards, where rivers looked shallow and pretty, noticable only when they frayed into flats, or cut deep channels as they flowed out to sea ? Sometimes I dreamed of rivers I had known, rivers that cleaved their wat through plains and towns, rivers kept at bay by flood defences, or which rippled through the bright countryside. I remembered ferries and bridges and endless searching in unfamilar terrain for ways to cross a foreign river . I spent my younger years by a river that appeared to me in dreams when I ran a fever.

The river of my childhood was the Rhine. The chugging of barges

I remeber a few evening by the Rhine in my early twenties a much broader and buiser river than ours in the Uk in a way.

Now anyone that follows this blog knows that this is the sort of book I am a fan of those that can not be put in a pigeonhole. I pointed out that she had translated John Clare the peasant  poet and his walk of 1841 which was redone by Iain Sinclair another great writer around London and this is another grea\t view of that city from an outsiders eyes like Sebald she views the places she sees differently and drifts through time and place this is another book that would be great to map out the places mentioned on a google map guide like someone did with Sebald’s rings of Saturn if I ever have a spare week or two I may even try this myself as it made me think of the times I used to walk along the river Dane in Congleton growing up then past Alnwick castle with my first dog as I meet a whole host of people as Alnwick was always full of tourists and finally to the still canal waters of here my home and those cold mornings with my old pal Winston this is what great fictions do when a reader connects and that draws you into the tale.

The end of a Mission by Heinrich Böll

 

Image result for the end of a mission heinrich

The end of a mission by Heinrich Böll

German literature

Original title – Ende einer Dienstfahrt

Translator – Lelia Vennewitz

Source – personal copy

It has become a tradition in a way to review a Heinrich Böll for German lit month. I have reviewed five of his book before.I have a few more on my tbr pile and with Penguin putting his debut novel out. It has been over thirty years since Böll died so it nice see he is getting new attention as for me he alongside Gunter Grass was the voices of post-war West Germany. This book came in 1966a mid-career book by this writer.

The evidence of the elderly Inspector Kirffel was short and to the point. He said that the scene of the crime was known to all local inhabitants for miles around as “Kupper’s tree” ; although there was no tree anywhere in the vicinity and never had been – not even in his childhood had he ever seen a tree there – he  chose to use the name because it appeared on the regional maps. Herr hermes, the teacher from Kireskirchen who was such an expert on local lore, had explained the name this way; some generations ago a tree had probably soodthere , and someone called Krupper had either hanged himself or been hanged from it .

The place the jeep was found was a place named after a tree that may have been there at some point !!

This is maybe the most german novel by Böll I have read. The book is set around a trial in a small county court in an otherwise sleepy town and the trail of a father and son Johann Gruhl and his son Georg. The trail of these two came about as the son stole an Army Jeep near the end of his conscription in the army he takes it to his fathers and the Jeep is burned out.the jeep was found near a local landmark which is highlighted a number of times in the book.  The book follows the trial the son was sent out in the jeep in a meaningless exercise to get a certain mileage on the jeep was ask to drive around but end up at his father who was in trouble with some huge outstanding bills in the family Cabinet maker business. The Jeep got burnt was this malicious or an act of art or being anti-military! The trail is held by a local judge known for being a bit of a pushover. The judge is just on the verge of retirement. So over the course of the books, we see witness setting the events first one way and then another to discover what really happened this is a comic book that also highlights the absurd nature of the state and the army at times when a system becomes inflexible. The book follows the inner working of a trail and the madness of it sometimes.

Upset and nervpous as he was, Dr Stolfuss (he had also known Gruhl senior from childhood and had always had a soft spot for him – a few weeks before the incident he had even employed him to restore a valuable Empire chest of drawers which had finally, after a lengthy inheirtence dispute with his cousin Lisdeth, sister of Agnes Hall, come into his possesion. In paying Gruhl he had in fact, if not demostrably. put himself in the wrong because, knowing that Gruhl was being snowed under with seizure orders, he had sliiped him his money privately)

Another witness and another odd tale and tonuge in cheek at time

This is different to the other books I have read by him but is an interesting comic work into the absurd nature of the state, justice system and the way being draft in the army can change the family business. The absurd jeep ride by the son it is all tongue in cheek at times but also shows the bureaucratic process and justice system at its most absurd as the two men are set to the fact the Judge. This is the sort of novel that would struggle to get out now as it is cerebral and also comic also it subject matter of a small country trail around a stolen burnt out jeep isn’t the most exciting but that is what sets this apart as it is stunning read by one of the great writers of his time. I enjoy the fact the way he takes apart the inner workings and shows the madness the state can sometimes have. Have you a favorite Böll

The tiding of the trees by Wolfgang Hilbig

The tiding of trees by Wolfgang Hilbig

German fiction

Original title – Die Weber, alte abdeckeri, Die kunde von baumen

Translator – Isabel Fargo Cole

Source – personal copy

Well, it is German lit month and I start with a new writer and new press for this blog I have actually read two books by Wolfgang Hilbig but hadn’t reviewed the earlier book which I hope to bring later in the month. But this is the last of his books to appear on Two line press. Wolfgang Hilbig grew up in East Germany he was initially a poet after giving up his job as a stoker. He wrote a number of works till in 1985 he got a visa and traveled to West Germany and wrote his first novel. His works look on life as a writer in the former GDR and the politics of the time. He won many prizes and wrote twenty books.

What do I know now , said Waller, of the preplexities that came over me as I tried to write my first stories? right here I falter: back then I’d never have dared to put it that way! that act of story-wrting consisted in an ongoing routine of crossing out words that had found their way to paper with no effort on my part. I seemed to have set them down in some kind of madness – I found whole lines, whole passages filled with words what could have arisen in no other way, all I couldaccept was the branching frame work of the conjunctions – and suddenly it was as though someone, not I , had shone a lamp on them: my words, if I could still read them at all, were the falest conceivable way to express what I actually wanted to name

The openiong lines show Waller isn’t really writing at times and also the sense that he could only writer freeier later on in his career.

This novella is narrated by a shift worker called Waller. He is a man similar to the writer himself he is in his twenties as the book is written this is 1961. The Berlin wall has cut of the east german. The writer lives in the city of V with his mother on Cherry Tree Avenue where the tree has disappeared and in their place is a dump and the Garbagemen that he sees working that dump. He is writing a report and also trying to write about the disappearance of the trees. But he seems to get caught in a cycle of start with the city of w and living on cherry tree avenue but never writes any further as thou he is blocked from writing more in his mind and wanting to tell who the open pit min turn a wood into a pit and when that was used into a dump and the dump is manned by these barely human garbagemen shifting through the trash of the locals. Will Waller ever finish his writing!

How long ago, I asker myself, had I last been in that area? many years must have passed, and the terrain had changed utterly. The ash had grown into an extensice plain, leveled, but in contrast to earlier times impossible to survey: it was covered in dense brush, strange weeds that stood yards tall, and nothing led through that tangle but narrow paths forming a bewildering labyrinth. I had no idea what that jungle of  plants consisted of : dry, tough grass, burdock, reedd… things whose yellow flowers caught the eye at a certain time of year, scrubby mugwort, dingy goldenrod, thickets that thrived better on barren ground than in fertile soil..

The local area has been changed beyond his memories of the place and now is a barren jungle of weeds a metaphor for the GDR maybe !!

There is a real darkness and sense of the world the narrator is living in the black air around him the ash that at a point he wipes of the page he is writing these mysterious figures all add to an air of a world where all is not what it seems. A world where the ground has been ripped apart I have seen the open cast pits when I lived in the northeast in the 90s, in fact, my father repaired the huge dragliners so I got to see very close an open cast from the bottom and the effect it had on the landscape but the difference here was after it was filled it was filled with water and became an area where nature flourished here we see the scars opened and the filled with rubbish and the people that live on the tip sorting the rubbish all this from the local area. This is a commentary on the way the GDR ruing parts of East Germany after the Berlin Wall was closed and ravage the land for Coal. The Huge machines that dug open the land like the Blue wonder . Then when they left the government turned it into a tip and the home waller knew when young on Cherry tree avenue is no more the cherry trees are gone. A desolate world captured in a wonderfully poetic work of despair and hopelessness wonderfully captured from one of the best writers of the later 20th century in German.

 

 

 

Anthea Bell RIP

Anthea Bell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today the translation community got the sad news that one of the best-known Translators of the last fifty years had passed away. Anthea Bell is a name readily known too. She had translated a lot of the books I read pre-blog so was a translator. She was best known for her work on the Asterix series. She said in an interview “It’s all about finding the tone of voice in the original. You have to be quite Free”. Klaus Flugge said of Anthea -” Anthea has a talent that not every translator has for catching the mood of a book. Some are a bit more wooden and some try to take too many liberties. She has a knack of hitting the right style and atmosphere,” I was a huge fan of she had featured in a dozen review of her translations over that last eight years of the blog. I had picked my three favorites from the blog.

A minutes silence by Siegfried Lenz – One of the Gruppe 47 writers that post-war set alight German Literature. This is the tale of a doomed romance between a teacher and Pupil.

The glory of life by Michael  Kumpfmüller – The book tells the story of Kafka’s final days as he falls for a younger woman first on the Baltic coast then through Berlin.

Journey into the Past by Stefan Zweig – the tale of Ludwig and his love for a married woman was a novella that Zweig worked on for y=twweig translations were simply stunning works of translation. I also enjoyed here Sebald Translation.

Have you a favorite Bell translation?

One clear ice-cold January morning at the beginning of the twenty first century by Roland Schimmelpfennig

 

One clear ice-cold January morning at the beginning of the twenty-first century by Roland Schimmelpfennig

German fiction

Original title – An einem klaren, eiskalten Januarmorgen zu Beginn des 21. Jahrhunderts

Translator – Jamie Bulloch

Source – review copy

Well, I decide to via of the MBI list and this is one book I have been dying to read since it arrived at Winstons towers earlier this year. It is based around Berlin which for me has always been a city that has given me as a reader rich pickings. Roland Schimmelpfennig is best known as a playwright in Germany. Where he has developed a unique style where the actors interact with the public and his stories often have surreal or fantasy elements to them. One clear ice cold… is his debut novel.

Then he saw the wolf was standing in front of the sign at the side of the snowy motorway, seven metres in front of him, no more

A wolf Tomasz thought, that looks like a wolf, ot’s probably a large dog, who would let their dog roam around here, or is it rerally a wolf?

He took a photo of the animal in front of the sign in the driving snow.The flash in the darkness.

A moment later the wolf had vanished.

Tomasz takes his later to be famous picture of the wolf where he hasn’t beenin a century and a half.

One clear ice-cold January morning .. starts with a snowy day and a wolf is seen for the first time in more than 160 years. A Polish Man Tomasz is stuck on the motorway between Warsaw and Berlin heading back to Berlin to be with his girlfriend Agnieszka. He is a hard-working man in construction that is trying to keep him and his girlfriend together. When he looks out to the hard shoulder and glimpse the Wolf and manages to do what no-one else has so far and that takes a photo. Which he later sells as he struggles to get by and keep his girl with him. Then we have a boy and girl that are on the run and initially befriended by an older man who was a failed teacher but later drawn into just getting by on the streets Of Berlin but occasionally get some help. A woman burns her mothers diaries. A Romanian Chilean man also trying to get by in the Modern Berlin.

The girls mother did nothing. It wasn’t the first time the girl had failed to come home.

But that evening a woman from the police was at her front door and then the missing person announcement was issued.

Yes she and her daughterhad quarrelled.

The policewoman was also from the village. She knew the two children, she knew the boys family and she knew the girls mother two

A boy and girl elope to the city but will the dream of Love and everything live on.

The book is told in a series of small stories as we jump in and out of the characters lives. This is the outsider’s view of Berlin like the Wolf wandering west it shows the struggles of the Modern immigrants to the city. Also like many children in the past the boy and girl seem to disappear onto the streets. Like many the classic tales of Berlin this like Berlin Alexanderplatz shows the underbelly of the city. I was remind of Wim Wenders angels wandering the city especially in the second film he made in the city Faraway so close a film which  like this  book shows, the unified city but also the cracks for those just getting by and like Cassiel and Daniel we jump in and out of many peoples lives as we see how all those that had been touched by the wolf whether seeing it or its tracks as they also headed to Berlin.Detached voices at times the Boy, the girl the older man all give a sense of a wider story of the modern city and the people who are drawn to it. The book is out this Thursday to try it have you a favourite Berlin-based book of Film.

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin new translation

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin

German fiction

Original title – Berlin Alexanderplatz

Translator – Michael Hofmann

Source – review copy

This is the first time in the seven years I have been blogging I am reviewing a book for the second time. I reviewed Berlin Alexanderplatz. But that was the first translation by Eugene Jolas, which had cut some of the original out and was inspired by Jolas fondness for Joyce. So when I heard Hofmann a translator, I admire was doing a new translation I was looking forward to it so to get sent a review copy was a treat. Alfred Doblin studied medicine in the years before world war one which meant he got to avoid the war. But the war had an impact on his views he wrote from 1915, but this book was the one that raised him to a national and international standing when it came out and is considered a masterpiece of German modernism.

Our hero has been successfully brought to Berlin. He has sworn to mend his ways, ad we wonder wheter we shouldn’t simply stop here.An ending her would be optimistic and straightforward, an ending seems to be at hand, and the whole thing wouuld have the advantage of brevity.

But Franz Biberkopf is not just abyone, I have not summned him for my own amusment, but for his heavy, true and iluminating fate to be experienced.

Franz Biberkopf has been burnt, now he stands there in berlin, feet apart and merry, and when he says he wants to be respectable, we believe this to be the case.

You willsee how for several weeks he succeeds. But that’s just a period of respite

The opening of chater two captures well his life cycle of Franz Biberkopf

 

So the approach Hofmann took was to make the book seem more like its German version where it is a wonderful mix of the world around the main character in the book. Franz Biberkopf. We meet Biberkopf as he is released after surviving a sentence for manslaughter. He has determined to try and go on the straight and narrow. He initially is drawn into a story told by a Jewish man who takes him to a rabbis house. But he manages to get out of what is a strange situation and ends up selling things we see him going through a number of different trades. Alongside this, we see the city around him as each small chapter is made up of a what happens to Franz but also the city around him.As he meets woman after woman. He also has a scene in a slaughterhouse where he sees how the meats that are sold are made. He tries to stay on the straight and narrow but he is a man drawn to the darker side of the town, But when he meets a man called Rheinhold a friend at first but later attacks Franz he has to head down the path of crime and gangs.As he gets involved more with the Pums gang.Franz is a man drawn by fate and maybe a liking for the darker easier side of life as he sees it.

Since Christmas is icumen in, Franz makes a switch into seasonal products, for a few mornings and afternoons it is shoelaces, first on his own, then with one Otto Luders, luders been out of work for two years, his wife takes in washing. Fat lina brought him along one day, he’s her uncle. For a few eeks in summer he was the Rudersdorf peppermint man with swizzle sticj and uniform. He and Franz wandered through the strets together, go inside the houses, ring doorbells and meet up afterwards

Franz is slipping down and getting in with the wrong sorts as the book goes on .

This manages to capture the world of Doblin book so much clearer than the Jolas did. we see a world this is different to Joyce’s modernism of an internal voice. No this is the world without filters Doblin tries to capture every detail to give the reader a full picture of the Berlin of the time the smells sounds and feeling of the place jump of the page. Franz Bibeerkopf is the dark side of the Isherwood World of Berlin, this is a man that has been to prison and tries to go straight but is drawn in by the wrong people as he spends his nights in Bierkellers and with women of a certain type. If John Dos Passos, Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski had a bastard child it would be Doblin this is like Dos Passos modernism a way of capturing the wider world and the personal struggle at the same time. Franz is like a character from A Waits song or a Bukowski novel a loser but trying to be more than he wants to be. I still say watching the Fassbinder series is worth it I watch it after reading the book the first time and am midway through a rewatching of it. As my next review is the 800th on the blog I pleased to meet a new version of a book I loved first time around.

Have you read either translation of the Book?

 

Confession of a murderer by Joseph Roth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confession of a Murderer by Joesph Roth

Austrian Fiction

Original title – Beichte eines Mörder

Translator – Desmond L Vesey

Source – Personal copy

I was out the other day and called into Chesterfield Oxfam as I do most weeks just see what had come in and saw this on the shelf it caught my eye as it wasn’t a Roth Novella that I wasn’t overly aware off. I got home and looked it up and seen it was last in print in 2002. It was published first in Holland in 1936 at the time he was living in Paris and the drink had started to pay the toll on him. This is also the time covered in the novel about Roth summer before the dark .

“Well goodbye,” Said the prince to me .”Work hard.” He held out his hand . But then he drew it back and said “wait!” and walked over to the writing desk .He pulled open a drawer and took out of it a heavy gold snuffbox. “Here ,” he said, ” Take this as a memento.God be with you !” He forgot to give me his hand.I never even thanked him. I simply took the box, bowed and left the house.

The giving of the Snuff box , he also meets his half brother in this encounter as a young man.

The novella follows a man telling his life story over the course of one evening in a Paris restaurant. Golubchik the man telling his life is a Russian emigre. He tells of his early life as the son of a forester, but there was an open family secret that he was actually the son of the local Prince a man who crosses his path a few times during his life. This leads to one of the main moments in the book where as a young adult he returns to his home and visits the Prince to confront him, the prince now an old man doesn’t remember his father initially but then admits he was his illegitimate son and gives him a gold snuff box. At this point, we meet the other main character in the book Jeno Lakatos a clever devilish young man that help Golubchik sell his snuff-box but in doing so they gather the prince has a drawer full of these snuff boxes to give to people!! The two then spend war years around Europe Golubchik a writer and spy working for his half-brother the young prince Golubchik also becomes involved with women with extravagant taste whom he later sees with his now nemesis Lakatos leading to an act when he captures a man in her room.

So I arrived in Paris. I need not tell you what Paris meant to me , to Golubchik, the spy who despised himself, to the false Krapotkin, the lover of Luteta.It cost me an immense effort not  to believe that my passport was false and to forget that my vile task of watching refugees, who were a so-called menace to the state, was my own.

The end of the book sees him spying in Paris

This is an interesting story that is set all around Europe and in a way follows the fall of the Austro Hungarian empire through the narrator’s eyes. Then there is his story of the bastard son of land gentry, I loved the revelation of the drawer full of snuff boxes to give as gifts, I wondered how many Golubchiks were out there. The book has a lovely pacing as we slowly watch his story unfold over the course of the evening in this Left bank restaurant. A man trying to prove his worth and place in the world in Golubchik. Then another man he is very manipulative and them being involved with the same woman cannot be anything other than trouble.

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