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.

 

Women as lovers by Elfriede Jelinek

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Women as lovers by Elfriede Jelinek

Austrian fiction

Original title – Die Liebhaberinnen

Translator – Martin Chalmer

Source – Library book

I carry on with my second german lit month book and another big hitter of German lit .When Elfriede jelinek won the Nobel prize her writing was described as difficult and hard. I at the time didn’t read her books so now eleven years after her winning the Nobel prize I decide to try her but not with the best known of her book the piano teacher I choose this an earlier book by her and I am pleased I choose this book as it wasn’t challenging or hard to read in fact if anything it was very entertaining.

The example of Paula is from the country. Until now country life has held her in check – just like her sisters erika and renate, who are married. One can already write both off, it is as if they were not in the world at all. It’s different with Paula, she is the youngest and still properly in the world .she is 15 years old.

Paula is now ready to find the world and a man her family seems

Women as lover is the story of two factory girls and their lives. The two Brigitte and Paula are of an age where they are wanting to find that last lover the one to be married to and the story follows both of them in this action with each chapter in turn telling the story of each girls progression. There paths go two ways one meets a businessman a man on the upward path of life but he also motivates Brigitte to become a better women herself even thou they aren’t initially attracted he isn’t really her type. Then Paula she meets and falls head over heels for a man of similar standing as her self a forest worker Erich ,he is handsome compared to Heinz so Paula goes feet first into married. But as the story evolves it has twist initially you feel for Brigitte struggling to meet her new mans standards but getting there and what initially seems a perfect match turns very sour as Erich isn’t all he seems.

The wedding of Heinz and Brigitte is very moving and solemn

The wedding of Erich and Paula is very moving and solemn

Brigitte is very happy

paula is very happy

Brigitte has made it

Paula has made it

Brigitte is pregnant and will soon be able to hold her child in her arms.

Paula already has a baby. She has already been holding it in her arms for a while.But today the baby must stay at home.

Heinz is now master in the house, as he says good humouredly

Erich is now master in the house, as he cannot formulate, but as others whisper to him

This Call and Response style of writing as the pair marry and their paths split off in different directions.

 

I loved the style of Jelinek writing at points she use almost a call and response style of writing as shown above when the two girls lives are told in parallel . This book also made me wonder if Anita Raja the women who is now thought to be Elena ferrante , her self a translator of German Lit into Italian had worked on this book as it seems although totally different in many ways the initial idea of two female friends and the life beginning is may the same core idea as the Naples  quartet? also the way the two characters lives drift in two directions is also similar to the ferrante books characters. The book also shows how fragile some female lives can be and how married can sometimes be like a prison sentence for some and on the flipside of the coin for other can be the chance to blossom and grow.

 

 

The emigrants by W G Sebald

 

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The emigrants by W G Sebald

German Fiction

Original title -Die Ausgewanderten

Source – Personnel copy

Translator – Michael Hulse

Well another November is on us again and it is German Lit month and as I sit writing my first post of the month on Halloween as tomorrow I am in London giving a talk to the Swedish translators group. I decided to kick of this years German lit month with a great  reread from one of my favourite writers Max Sebald was maybe better known in the Uk at the time he wrote. But know 15 years after his death we are slowly seeing writers influenced by him , I am at the moment reading one such writer from Slovenia.

The years of the second world war, and the decades after , were a blinding, bad time for me, about which i could not say a thing even if i wanted to . In 1960, when I had to give up my practice and my patents, i severed  my last ties with what they call the real world.Since then, almost mu only companions have been plants and animals.

Dr Henry selwyn had to escape the world into nature to get through life in the end

The Emigrants was the second book by Sebald I read after I read rings of Saturn by in 1998 , I got the two earlier books by him in the weeks after I finished Rings Saturn. So it is nearly twenty years since I read this book and this second reading hit me more than the first one. The story is of four emigres from Europe . A doctor his story remind me of my own connection years ago to a man from the Baltic states my friend was from Latvia where as DR Selwyn in the story comes from Lithuania . Else where in the last of the four tales we see Max Ferber a painter Talk about his mother and her childhood but also along side this is his life in Manchester which touched my life again My grandfather was county architect for Salford in the  60’s and some of the modern blocks that my grandfather was involved with designing . So as max is describing his mothers pasts I connect with my own past in his present . Another story involves the narrator talking about the fate of his former school teacher that escaped before the war.

As I expected, I have remained in Manchester to this day, ferber continued. It is now twenty-two years since I arrived, he said , and with every year that passes a change of place seems less conceivable. Manchester has taken possession of me for good. I cannot leave, I do not want to leave, I must not. WEven the visits I have to make to London once or twice a year oppress and upset me

The north had soaked into Ferber holding and keeping him there .

I wondered if the germans have a word like Saudade that wonderful portuguese word that is a feeling of longing missing and memories of a lost past. There is a similar word Sehnsucht a word about longing but the saudade word is better her as it is about the loss a world this book these four are survivors of the holocaust in their own ways ans the four tales each reflect what was lost , the past that can never be this is what Sebald does so well in his book through his mix of prose and images to draw us as the reader deep into the world that is lost from the simple pictures of a class before the war and a wondering of how many were left . This remind me of when I met Dasa drndic the Croat writer and talked about her book trieste which in the italian version has pages that can be torn out  of the list of Italian Jewish victims of the holocaust and the effect is to make the book and the story unstable and this is what Sebald does with his pictures glimpse of a dead past. A world now dead remember and lamented the loss of a jewish europe wiped out by the war and spread through out the world.

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