Insane by Rainald Goetz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insane by Rainald Goetz

German fiction

Original title – Irre

Translator -Adrian Nathan West

Source – review copy

I read this last month but it has taken me to now to talk Insane by Rainald Goetz. He was considered a breakout writer when he wrote this book in 1983. The book is based on he experiences as a doctor in an asylum in the early 1980’s. I took time as this book in some sense is dated in its view of treatments. But in others show the same problems people tackle today in Mental Health. I work within a ward for people with learning disabilities, but also have a number of mental health issues. So the world he described is an older view of the world I work in. Another inventive German writer like Jorg fauser I read a few years ago.

I recognized nothing

Let loose from the madhouse, each day in the evening. I would walk to the tunnels of the U-Bahn, not bothering to look around. Had I even caught the scent of spring? Still rattled from the journey. I made my way to my room, and nothing was as it had been before I stepped oblivous  among the beer cans, bottles , newspapers and bits of clothing in the floor, qyesting aimlessly.

He even is distracted in the opening lines of the book.

We follow the first year in his new workplace of Dr Raspe after qualifying as a psychiatrist. As he gets stuck into the day to day world of the asylum his eyes are open to how bad the system is the range of patients the attitude of his fellow psychiatrist all start to chip away at the young man as he sees the people trying to solve the patients failing in a way. The practices in this book are long gone. We don’t chemically cosh people like they did twenty years ago and the scenes of electroconvulsive is rarely used these days. We see Raspe falling apart piece by piece as he spends his nights and weekend with his punk friends and his days getting more disillusioned with his world. A view of a world gone but also important to remember what happened to drive out Raspe.

All the work of these last few weeks, all the dedication reduced to a couple of keywords, medicines, dosages: numbers from one end to the next. It’s true that there is nothing objectively graspable abput what we do save for the prescription of medicines, the constant attempt to establish the correct dosage. At the same time, Our real work vanishes behind these objective data, the conversation, the empathy, everything that for me constitues the indispensable accompanimentof medical theray.

I loved this description of writing and notes, Ive seen it go from one extreme to the other in my years in care.

Thou the world in this book is long gone the problem of what happens with people that have mental health issues is the same now as it was then. How we treat people is different .But there are new problems due to lack of funding and maybe also a lack of any concrete way ahead. but that is above my grade. In the book, it captures a time that has long gone but also5the day to day struggles of staff looking after people with people with mental health issues.Also the struggle of the patients.  You get a sense of how intense Goetze was as a person when you see him reading at this time in the video at the bottom which shows him reading at a piece at the Bachmann prize giving at which in the middle of which he cut his head open.. A punk gesture to his intense nature and also a nod to those he treated.

 

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Behind the station by Arno Camenisch

 

 

Behind the station by Arno Camenisch

Swiss fiction

Original title – Hinter dem Bahnhof

Translator – Donal Mclaughlin

Source – personal copy

I feature the first book in the trilogy Arno Camenisch wrote The alp earlier this month. I had ordered this book first but when it arrived and I saw that it was the second book I decided to order the Alp. Which is the book he got more acclaim for? Though this book style wise is similar in tone to the other book.The third part of the book has also been translated into English. But I haven’t got a copy yet.

My Grandfather has seven and a half fingers. On his left hand he has five fingers. on his right hand, he has the thumb, the index finger and half a middle finger> Thats two and half fingers that are missing, he took off at the big band saw. He wears his wedding ring on the left ring finger. Nonno coughs and says, bot, don’t come to close to the band saw on me, or do you want your fingers pff. Nonno is the master of the band saw.

This echoed a [passage in the alp about missing fingers and maybe the harsh nature of life.

Like the Alp, this is a book set in a small alpine village of forty or so people. It is told from the point of view of a young boy. Who lives there with his brother and observes the world they live in. like in the earlier book” the alp “, this is a gritty view of alpine life for those less well off. A tale of village life growing up without any real hope in your heart. Also although through child’s eyes you see the tough nature of the world of his parents and even more so of his grandparents.Especially with the grandfather’s illness, a real feeling of hope is failing as the chief patriarch. This is tough as the narrator is only five years old elsewhere we see him and brother get into a number of scraps the brother falls the two get stuck in one part. A bleak internal look at the alpine life devoid of hope in many ways but also full of the wonderful quaint ways of village life.

We’ll have to spend the night in the chair lift and will miss Scaccia pensieri on tv tonight, my brother says, and mother will have to flush the rice and beetroot down the toilet. The last of the Chupa chups have also gone when we hear my father calling, the helicopter’s on its way. My brother looks at me. Behind the blue panes in his ski glasses, his eyes look like those of a fish. I don’t beleive it, I say , my father’s bored and joking for sure, there are no HelioKopter round here. My brother says, Maybe the heliokopter really is coming and it’ll throw us down rucksacks with new Chupa Chups and salami and cucumber sandwiches so we don’t get hungry during the night.

Somthung child like in this pasage but also harsh realism of the diet of the poor alpine people.

Like in the first part of the trilogy the names of the characters are just Family names so brother, father, mother aunt, uncle etc. The only people that we do see k=named are Italian immigrants that work the land. This is a very baron view of the world told from the internal thoughts of our nameless narrator. if Peter from the Hiedi stories had a novella written by Thomas Bernhard this would be near it there is a bitter undertow of hopelessness the village is like in the alp with the similar characters a place caught out of time with the surrounding world and our narrator even thou young could even have been like a Dickens child character for the way he viewed the world. There is a similar bleak nature to the likes of the young Oliver or even more so Pip as they both share a bleak world the world of the village of Oberlander is similar to that of Pips Marshland home.

Tumult By Hans Magnus Enzensberger

 

Tumult by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

German Memoir

Original title – Tumult

Translator – Mike Mitchell

I had a novel from Hans Magnus on my TBR pile, I vaguely remembered his name from when I lived in Germany in the early 1990’s. He is one of the most well regarded German man of letters. He is a poet, Championing Journalist, Translator and has been the editor of thGermanan book series Die Andere Bibliothek a sort of German version the Folio society. So as I say this caught my eye as it is a collection of pieces, he wrote in the sixties a time when he travelled the world at various conferences on literature.

That is the only part of his speech where you feel itmeans something to him personally. After a pause he abandons himself once more to his meandering associations, talks about anything andeverything in a way that sounds almost muddled and gossipy. Later on , a couple of fairly senior officals tell me they are very concerned about his garrulousness. The bos they say is incapble of keeping a secret to himself especially when it’s a case of real or presumed success.

Kruschev was removed a year after this as leader.

The first piece of the four long prose pieces that he wrote in the sixties. This first piece is a trip to Russia at the height of the cold war when Kruschev was the leader a man seen as one that could heal the wounds. He was a guest of the Soviet authorities.The first part is the time he spent with all the other writers.Later in the trip, he was the Lone German writer to be invited to spend time with the leader at his holiday home.Was he observes how the leader interacts with people? At a later conference, he would meet his with a relative of a Soviet writer.This meeting is recounted in his diary entries of the time. The later piece deal with a later trip to Cuba and again meeting fellow writers. The pieces I enjoyed is were he looked back on the people he meets and said what had happened to them. This is a time when writers were still considered kings among men and their words are important.

Yvegeny Yevtushenko’s also there. He’s the star of the congress. Surrounded by photographers. For Soviet conditions there’s something of Hollywood about his appearence. To my surprise, he immediately recalls our meeting in Leningrad. He even remembers our rock and roll evening outside the offical programmes.

I have the misfortune to be compared to him in some newpapers – and it seems as if the reverse is also true.Its the cliche of the angry young man. Yet a phenomenon such as Yevtushenko is only conceivable in Russia

A poet as a hero and he was one of the voice to fise under Kruschev thaw . This also echos Urgesic view of the writer in the Soviet era.

He meets a lot of the most well-known writers of the time. I was reminded of the words of the Croat writer Dubravka Urgesic in her book Thank you for not reading. About how the Soviet era put writers on a pedestal. a time now passed. He observes how a man that was on the verge of sending the world into Madness Kruschev was as a real person as he observed him.We see the world through Hans Magnus eyes but actually, learn very little of the man himself other than his views of the times he lived in the years before the Cuban missile crisis, the Paris riots. The writers he meet like Nelly Sachs whom he was the executor of her will.(a writer mentioned in Mireille Gansal memoir she translated her.) This is one for all world lit fans with an eye to history and a love of German Lit.

 

Isle of the dead by Gerhard Meier

 

Isle of the dead by Gerhard Meier

Swiss fiction

Original title – Toteninsel

Translator – Burton Pike

Source – personal copy

I said at the start of German lit month the new job has given me a little extra money to buy some second-hand copies for this year’s challenge. I got this book last year. But finally read it again, last week. As Gerhard Meir belongs with writers like Bernhard and Walser writers that need a couple of readings. Meier is by trade a designer and it wasn’t till he was ill and in his forties, he took up writing.He got a lot of recognition when Peter Handke shared his Franz Kafka prize money with him. He lived in a small village and avoided the limelight.

“I like to walk through this part of town,- Do you see a;; those things over there? Discarded parts from building the railroad, presumably. And through them the sky, at times bare, overcast, putting on its stars:Firefly-lights abouve the field full of parts.I like walking through it. And if I were a photographer, Bindschadle, these iron bones would be sold commercially so people could decorate their walls with them.

I loved this description as the bones of an industral past how often I walk [past these in Chesterfield!

This is a short novella of hundred pages. It follows two old guys Baur, now he is the talker of the two. Bindschadler is the quiet one, although I sense he has just got used to speaking when it is worth it and letting Baur fill the gaps. The two have been friends since they were in the army at a young age. The two wander along the river and talk the things that matter to the pair of them like art, writing and writers. The way the hometown has changed over the years .But as they talk the events and time they talk about drift and they seem caught in a past that has gone and like the title of the book which is a famous picture of an island that is rather unclear and has a number of different versions also is the cover is homage to the picture of the Isle of the dead . They are maybe an isle of a dead world in the words.

“Thus Bindschadler, one could say that Bartok’s music brings groves of plane trees to ballet dancing, bringing in what’s around them, while prayer moves mountains or wakes the dead, even when their bones lie neatly ordered in the eartg, which according to the usual opinon, is the right place for them,” Baur said

We followed the path accross the Dnnern meadow. Antonioni’s tennis scene from Blow-up came to mind, which was mimed without a tennis ball; saw the green of the court, which in the ligh from the searchlights appeared especially green

Bones agian a rcurring theme at times also the falk of music and film here.

If Samuel Beckett had ever been asked to an episode of last of the summer wine this would have been how it would have turned out. The Isle of the dead is considered a masterpiece of Swiss modernist fiction and has echoes of the like of Bernhard in the way he viewed the art world. Joyce as they walk he use the places around them as a metaphor for a changing world. This is a slow meandering book the talk is beautiful from the two full of subtle details like a macro lens on the lives the details they give away are so defined in the conversations between the two. The way two objects or animals get a symbiotic relationship the shared past of these two is like the intertwining of the branches of two great trees that is keeping them together but also from falling over.

The Clown by Heinrich Böll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Clown by Heinrich Böll

German fiction

Original title –  Ansichten eines Clowns

Translator – Lelia Venneewitz

Source – personal copy

I think it is a tradition to have a book from Heinrich Böll for German lit month. Having featured him three times before on German lit month on the blog. I have long been a fan of his works. This book is one I have wanted to put on the blog as the themes in the book are at the heart of what drove Heinrich as a writer and that was post-war Germany, the Catholic church, families and being a German male in post-war Germany. I fear he is slipping away from view, for many as a writer. I know there was some reissues. But that was a few years ago, luckily his books can be found fairly cheaply second hand.

I thought of Marie: of her voice and her breast, her hands and her hair, her movements and everything we had done with each other. Also of Zupfner, whom she wanted to marry. We had known each other quite well as boys- so well that when we met again as grown men we didn’t quite know whether to use first names of not – either way we felt embarrassed, and we never got over this embarrassment no matter how often we met.I couldn’t understand how Marie could have gone over to him of all people, but perhaps I never “Understood” Marie.

Hans looking back but also thinking what went wrong woith Marie.

The clown of the title is one Hans Schnier a 27-year-old. He makes his living as a clown around Germany. He is from a rich protestant family.But was sent to a Catholic school. Where he meets and lived with Marie for five years.She was a Catholic girl , they never married but spent many years ago . til she was drawn back towards the church and want Hans to join her.They were meant to go to an event at the hotel but Hans had to perform the night they were due to go to the Catholic even.  he got back to the hotel and in the morning she is gone, five years down the drain and the love of his life has gone with a man called Zupfner. We are told this in retrospective as the book opens with Hans after Marie has left lamenting her leaving him. He also has family problems as he confronts his father over there childhood, the family position after the war and its effect on him and his brother.

Even in the bathtub I missed Marie. She had sometimes read aloud to me as I lay in the tub, from the bed, once fro the old testament the whole story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, another time the was od the Maccabees, and now and again from mThomas Woolfe’s Look homeward ,Angel. Here I was, lying completely deserted in this stupid terra cotta bathtub,  the bathroom was done in black tiles, but the tub, soapdish, shower handle and toilet seat were terra cotta. I missed Marie’s voice. Come to think of it, she couldn’t read the Bible with Supfner without feeling like a traitor or a whore.

Later he laments her but also has a wicked dig at the man she is with and his catholic religion.

At the heart of this is a lot of issues that were close to Boll. How Germany moved forward after the war.As Hans tried to break free of the family by being a clown.  How the church influenced people especially the Catholic church, his hometown of Koln is a very Catholic town. He must have also seen the effect of the church on Ireland a place. He visited many times as seen when I reviewed his, an  Irish Journals, a few years ago.You can even stay in his Irish cottage if you are a writer.Marriage is another thing that is touched on in the book. Hans and Marie lived together for five years, but Marie always viewed it as living in sin. This has echoes of works from Graham Greene, a book like the end of the affair.Which touched similar subjects, to this book was another novel that examined Catholic church.

Apostoloff by Sibylle Lewitscharoff

 

Apostoloff by Sibylle Lewitsaroff

German fiction

Original Title – Apostoloff

Translator – Katy Derbyshire

Source – Personal copy

I was sent a German edition of one of Sibylle other books.When it was on the German book prize list, I only got a few pages in before hold my hands up and admit it was maybe too much for me. Since then I have wanted to try that book, Blumenberg. But when I saw this at a price I could afford I went for this first.Is one of the most successful German writers of recent years. Born to a Bulgarian doctor and German woman.She grew up a socialist. Spent time in France and Argentina. She is known for being outspoken at times.

Alexander Ivailo Tabakoff married a woman with Hollywood qualties, a cross between Marylin Monroe and the alleged murderess Vera Bruhne, albeit with the flaw of a broad Swabian accent,marking her out for those in the know as a child of East Stuttgart. This origin, and the thick ankles from which she suffered all her life, prevented Lilo Wehrle from trying her luck in Hollywood.Instead she married a very promising Bulgarian and gave birth to his son. We can barely remember that sone,Only that he died of meningitis at the age of six.There were nasty rumours that he had died of exhaustion because his parents, ragingly in love with him and raginly ambitous, had sucked the very life out of him, The subsquent birth was an unfortunate one, at any rat,and did not make up for the damage – a daughter .

A son was first then the two sisters maybe explains there relationships to there father.

Now, this is a simple story on the surface a pair of sisters are returning to there fathers homeland Bulgaria in a convoy of cars with their father’s body as he had chosen to be frozen back in his homeland. The sisters are being driven by Rumen Apostoloff. The two sisters are very different One is polite well spoken older sister.The younger sister is outspoken and caustic at times. This is a tale of two sisters remembering their father who took his own life at a young age. The book is about fathers, visiting the homeland that they don’t really k part coming of age and also has a lot of dark humour in it now.AS the driver tries to open there eyes that only see the grey dark side of the country and its post-soviet world. A story of a father and his daughters coming home but maybe finding a home.

As so often, the bulgarian have constricted a huge theory around a single detail, in this case a complicated murder theory – the king had gone to Berlin in civilian clothing rather than in uniform, wanting to demonstrate at first hand his political tactic of keeping his soldiers out of the war as far as possible, Hitler , they say had received him in a black mood and dismissed him in just as black a mood,that may well be the case but it’s not enough for a murder, And the Bulgarians are all too eager to forget how highly Hitler regarder Boris.

A view at anglo Bulgarian german relations in the war and the allaince they had .

I can see why I wanted to try her books. She has been on the German book prize list and is described as a writer that is very unique this book mix so many things it is in part travel book, part memoir, part coming of age and comic at times. But the main themes of the book are fatherhood how his living in Germany affected his life. It is worth noting, he was also a doctor like Sibylle’s  own father. Then there is Bulgaria as a character in the book.As seen through three peoples eyes the sisters both don’t really get their fathers homeland but their driver draws them in. But even after his funeral. They decided to go with Apolostoff to the Black sea coast. He has spoken so highly about. This is the story of a man Rumen trying to get two sisters to open there eyes to the place they are Bulgaria but maybe also learn more about their father. An intriguing if difficult book another from Seagull books.

 

The Alp by Arno Camenisch

 

 

 

The Alp by Arno Camenisch

Swiss fiction

original title – Sez Ner

Translator – Donal McLaughlin

Source – personal copy

Another new name for the blog. As I searched for books for this years German Lit month. Dalkey Archive has published a number of the leading Swiss writers over the last few years. This book is one of a number from that series I have bought over the last year or so. Arno Camenisch burst on to the scene when this book came out in both German and Rhaeto- Romanic. It was the first of a trilogy he wrote about rural Swiss life.

The farmhand has eight fingers, five on his left hand, and three on his right. His right he keeps mostly in his pocket, or resting on his thigh beneath the table.When he lies in the grass outside the hut, next to the pigpen, fast asleep with hos boots off and his socks off as well, the swineherd counts his toes.The farmhand sleeps in the afternoons as, by night, he’s out and about.He vanishes when everyone’s gone to bed, come back at some point during the night.

Thje loss of fingersshows the tough nature of the work these four men do.

When I took a picture of this book on twitter I called it the Anti Heidi. As for me, it portrays the Swiss rural community like it is, in many ways similar to the rural world of England.And that is a hard life for many of the people who work the land. The story is told by four unnamed characters they are the Dairyman, his farmhand, a cow herder and swine herd. What we see is the hardness of there lives the days they live milking herding animals. The jokes shared like if one hadn’t a dog he’d be a swineherd man.This is all told as we see tourist making the most of the Alps and the rich farmers. They read about a glorious past and another has just a fork to eat with. The tying of milk stools to their waist to sit on whilst milking is an ancient scene at times there world seems old-fashioned it is only when the modern world breaks in we see when the book is set.

The day-trippers wash off their walking boots in the fountain outside the hut.They take their shoes off, and their sweaty socks. The day-trippers sit at the edge of the fountain with their feet in the basin, The diop their dirty soles of their shoes in the water, use their finger to dig the dirt out of the sole. Thanks a lot,they say when the swineherd brings them a cup of milk, no worries,don’t mention it,, the swineherd says.That’s for the dirt in the fountain he thinks to himself.

The fountain they use t wash and drink from is used by trippers to clean their boots and socks …

There is a feeling that places change and sometimes people in that world don’t change. These four characters seem like flies caught in the amber of their time. Their lives are unchanging but shrinking as the modern world automates farming the feeling is these four men may be the last of the generation but there is also a deep sorrow in Camenisch portrayal of their world.Alongside a black humour that one only ever finds in these tightly knitted worlds of farm hands, miners, fishermen or shipyard workers. Those doing a day work that can see the funny side of the darkest parts of lives. I lived for many years in the northeast of England,  worked with a group of old people. The characters here reminded me in many ways of the way these four characters talked. An eye-opening view of alpine life. The real Heidi character in the modern world.

Three days by Thomas Bernhard

 

Three days by Thomas Bernhard

Austrian Memoir

Original title – Drei Tage

Translator – Laura Lindgren

Source – personal copy

I featured another Austrian writer the other day, I mentioned Thomas Bernhard. I said he was my favourite Austrian writer. I have reviewed six of his books over the time this blog has been running.For me, he is a writer that challenged us as readers and also challenged the conventions of his days.So when I went online to look for something to read this time around by him this book caught my eye.

In a very simple sentences a landscape is built; in a few words in Pavese’s diary, a passage by Lermontov, of course Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, basically all Russians..

Apart from Valery the French nevr interested me at all .. Valery Monsieur teste – is a book so throughly thumbed, i have to buy it again and agian; it always pored over, frayed, in tatters..

Henry James – a constant fight.It is bitter enmity.. always reeling..

Mostly you feel ridiculous up against these people, which means you mustn;t work..

But little by little you gain command, over even the very great.. and you can subdue them..

You can rise above Virginia Woolf or Forster, and then I have to write

Bernhard compares his place to other writers and his complex sentences .

The book is the words spoken over three days of filming a documentary by Ferry Radax a fellow Austrian. Radax had first worked on a script for Bernhard’s Gargoyle novel.But the project fell through and what he was asked to do was a film about the man himself. What Radax choose to do is to place his fellow Austrian on a bench for three days for an hour or so a day. What follows in the books is what was said by Bernhard on the first day it is the simple piece about his books his childhood, where he said it was a repetition of musical works, although none classical. On the second day, he opens up calling himself a story destroyer. When he saw a story appearing in his prose,  he had to annihilate it in his works.Then on the third day, he turns to the sadness in his life and also in his works.

To me, there is no place lovelier than Vienna and the Melancholia I have and always have had in the city..

It’s the people there I have known for two decades who are melancholia..

It’s the streets of Vienna. It is the atomsphere of this city, of the city studying, natrually.

It’s sentences, always the same, that people there say to me, probably the same that I say to these people, a wonderful precondition for melancholia.

You sit in a park somewhere, hours long; in a cafe, hours long – melancholia

The city like himself has a sadness maybe as the Prtugeese would say Saudade !!

Now, this is mainly a book for the true Bernhard fan in a way. As it is a mix of pictures and text over a hundred pages. But with only a third of them having text. What we do get is an insight into the man and in that maybe what made his characters. There is a sense of sadness in his words and also a sense of bitterness that we often see in his characters. Bernhard is still an enigma. Especially when you watch three days as Radax used a lot of odd screen angles, blackout and text on the screen. I was reminded of the lines by Ian Bannen character says when he ran out of things to say he just spoke the truth. This is what happens with Bernhard as the days go by we find out more about him. I especially love the line when he calls himself a story destroyer as that is maybe what he was a writer that challenged a reader.

The system of Vienna by GertJonke

The system of Vienna by Gert Jonke

Austrian fiction

Original title – Himmelstraße – Erdbrustplatz oder Das System von Wien

Translator – Vincent King

Source – Personal copy

I always look to find new writers for German Lit month. Thomas Bernhard is one of my favourite writers. So I decided to look for another Austrian writer. I found the writer Gert Jonke and brought this Novella. LIke Bernhard Jonke won most of the Major prizes in German literature.He started off studying German studies at University. Then worked in radio dramas.Before writing novels, he was known for his experimental style of writing. This novella follows a journey on the streetcar in Vienna.

I spent the hot summer back in those years mostly at the house of a great-aunt in the country, though, where I would sink down into her garden as if into a sutropical rain forest, in the shadows of the larkspur along the trailers and stalks of vegetables with pods and hulls bursting open in the heat, planted all the way out to the twilit place where menacing stands of horsetail and hemlock woods lined a pondoceanswamp in the sour-smelling surf of which the afternoons coursed along, garbed as tribal migrations of dragonflies in the sky,under whose evening attire my great-aunt would tell me about the most exciting and, to her most decisive moment of her life, which was referred to as the neumarkt air, so good ,so healthful.

One of those long sentences the austrians do so well.

The book follows the twelve stops of his journey on the streetcar. But this journey is one in time and the history of the city itself. The story is said to be autobiographical. But the twelve stops also have separate tales.From a woman arriving at a hospital in one tale. Then another looking back on summers spent with an aunt in the country. Then we have characters like a man that has lost his slides for a lecture. A fish dealer gives his views on Austrian politics and his part within the system. A stamp collector tells how they change the King of Yugoslavia stamp after he passed away. A man that has a view of life formed by what he has found by chance over the years.

“Take a look, though. Don’t you see that the building shouldn’t be standing where it is ? The French emabassy over there was built in the wrong place, although no one intended it to be, but they delivered the wrong plans to the construction firm; they sent the construction firm in charge of the French embassy in Vienna the plans for the French embassy in Bangkok, and delivered the counstruction firm in charge of the French embassy in Bangkok the plans for the Fench embassy in Vienna.

Not sure if this is true but a fun tale told to the narrator.

This is one of those strange little books that are a compelling read.I was drawn in by the mention of the likes of Lawrence Sterne and Italo Calvino on the cover. He has the humour and absurd nature of Sterne for sure. LIke Calvino at the heart of every tale is Vienna Wien.As the tales get stranger and stranger. He takes everyday characters we may see on a streetcar and turns them into the surreal. From a man viewing the world through found items, like the flotsam and jetsam washed up on a shoreline. Building in the wrong place, I was reminded of the comment the German artist Joesph Beuys said when he felt the Berlin wall was too short to be in perspective with the rest of the city. An absurd idea like moving a building in Vienna because it is in the wrong place.He also like Bernhard is a master of the long sentence as you see in the first quote. He is Another writer I will be reading more from and another powerful voice from Austria. Have you read Jonke if so which book should I try next?

The king of China by Tilman Rammstedt

 

The king of China by Tilman Rammstedt

German fiction

Original title – Der Kaiser von China

Translator – Katy Derbyshire

Source – Personal copy

Well, another book from Seagull books for my second German Lit month selection. Tillman Rammstedt is the son of a famous Sociologist. He studied Philosophy and literature at a university in German and Scotland. He is part of a group of writers that form the literature group Fön including Michael Ebmeyer and Florian Werner. He lives in Berlin. This book won the Ingeborg Bachmann prize in Germany.

We’re staying at the Bamboo Gardens, a cosy and tranquil hotel. The staff aren’t quite as helpful as we’d like but that has partly to do with the culture, Grandfather explained. The rooms are tastefully decorate, Ming fuinture, a small but clean bathroom, abundant foliage outside the window, but grandfather says the typical flair of the city is somewhere restricted by the modern residential block directly opposite. The room costs 680 Yuan, a mid range price as we found when we made a comparison.

The first letter reads like the travel guide bar the last words about looking at prices.

I was struck by the synopsis of this book when I was choosing a read for German lit month. As there isn’t many comic German novels out there, especially as the English had always a wrong idea that the Germans hadn’t a sense of humour.For me, this was shattered when I lived in Germany and this book is as good as any of the great comic English novelists.The book follows a trip to China by Keith and his grandfather. Now the trip doesn’t actually happen as they are just about to leave the grandfather dies. The trip was the choice of the grandfather from Kieth four siblings as a gift, but when Kieth lose the money he grandfather says to go alone, then passes away. So Keith instead of telling the family hides at home sleeping under his desk and outsight of his window. He also starts to send back postcards and letters to the family. They start of sounding like they are just from the travel guide but as they progress Kieth starts to invent things like a mad channel just showing teeth cleaning. Then there journeys in trains next to fairground arts. Intersped with this is the story of his grandfathers young with Franziska who the young Kieth is in love with her.

My dears,

To my left lies a trapeze artiste, to my right a lady contortinist, both asleep, and I too am actually far too exhausted to write, but so much happened today that I want to tell you about, even though the days are beginning to blur together, even though tey seem like years to me.

Another letter when Kieth has let his imagination go wild, rather like Billy liar.

Now, this isn’t a travel book it is a book in the tradition of books like Billy Liar about inventing a world or that of Calvino with his Invisible cities. What happens when a white lie runs out of control, When Kieth start to drift off from the travel guide, which when he writes the early letters sound just like he has written from the travel guide when he talks about the history of places and I have a huge life when he described the hotel as mid-price, quickly saying they decide so after seeing other prices. But it seems an odd thing to say. The letters are the imagined world of a young man with his own problems, but a love of his grandfather and even more of his younger grandmother. This would be herald as comic great here, I was reminded of a writer like Dan Rhodes here or more so Magnus Mills where like Mills he uses a situation to create the story.

 

 

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