The decision by Britta Böhler

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Well this was the first book I was sent this year and I always like the way books seem to interlink  with books I have read or tried to read and this one is no different. I tried to rush through Magic mountain for German lit month but decide halfway through it needed a slower reading from me, so I put to one side for this years German lit month. But I had also tried to order from my library a book that collected together letters sent between Thomas Mann the main character in this book and his fellow writer Herman Hesse, I wish the library copy had turned up as I could looked up his letters around this time.I love the way books overlap this one even overlaps with one of the earliest books on the blog. Another thread of the book is how important Mann considered his book Joseph which was being published at this time this is his longest book and also one maybe least spoke about now in his cannon.

Hesse would probably lecture him because if the Korrodi letter. He can see it now, Hesse’s thin face would be even thinner than usual, there would be reproaches and exhortations, and perhaps even more than that. Lose another friend is that worth it ?

It’s all very well for Hesse to talk. When you’re not in the middle it’s difficult to stay out of things. Hesse hasn’t lived in Germany for decades; he became a swiss citizen long before the trouble in German started.His books are also published by Bermann ; he has german readers, but doesn’t live in the fatherland and doesn’t want to return.

The relationship between Mann and Hesse is shown here when in those three days he visits Hermann.

It’s 1936 and in switzerland the writer Thomas Mann has taken the decision to write and open letter in a swiss paper denouncing the Nazi regime and the actions. What follows in the book is the three days from him writing the letter and  it’s being published. The writer Britta Bohler a well-known Dutch lawyer has filled in the gaps in the story, as Mann’s diaries of the time mention very little of the time between the letter writing and being published.Mann confronts the ghosts of his past and fear of the future.One man well Mann struggling to choose exile other bowing down.

The memory of Germany is a nostalgic remembrance, a memory of times long gone. Times that don’t return. How did Proust say it ? “The really that I knew no longer existed.” No, he doesn’t want to be able to return to present-day Germany. He wants his fatherland to become again the country it once was. His homesickness is pain in time, not in space, and staying in Germany would not have changed that. He switches on the reading light and looks at the clock. He still has enough time to stretch his legs for half and hour before the evening meal; the radio broadcast can’t wait until after dinner.

I loved this passage as it sums up Mann’s thoughts in the book a struggle with Germany’s so to speak.

 

Mann wonders the knock on effect of the letter his publisher is Jewish and may be in trouble more because of the letter. He ponders what it is to be German, The thought of being German and not in Germany in fact against the German regime. He see how other people have dealt with the Nazis. The way Wagner has been embraced by the Nazis. we see Mann as not the bold writer we know but as a man on the edge, having to make The decision. I was reminded of one of the earlier books I read on the blog. Brecht at night  by Mati Unt which followed a fellow German writer Bertolt Brecht as he escaped the German regime. in his case via Finland to The US .In the book Britta has brought a time the Mann his self wrote very little about and filled three days in his life into a novel that shows the greater struggle between good and evil.As The open Letter from Thomas Mann to Korrodi about Germany and Exile writers is due to be published in feb 3 edition of the NZZ newspaper in Switzerland. A move that sees Mann become and exile himself.

Dutch literature

Original title – De besilissing

Translator – Jeannette K Ringold

 

 

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A Minute’s Silence by Siegried Lenz

9781906598440

A Minute’s silence by Siegried Lenz

German fiction

Original title –  Schweigeminute

Translator – Anthea Bell

Source – personnel copy

What will you do when the war is over, tender comrade
When we lay down our weary guns
When we return home to our wives and families
And look into the eyes of our sons
What will you say of the bond we had, tender comrade
Will you say that we were brave
As the shells fell all around us
Or that we wept and cried for our mothers
And cursed our fathers
For forgetting that all men are brothers

Will you say that we were heroes
Or that fear of dying among strangers
Tore our innocence and false shame away
And from that moment on deep in my heart I knew
That I would only give my life for love

I choose tender comrade a song about forbidden love

I move on to another great German writer Siegfried Lenz is maybe less well-known in English the Boll and Grass . I won this Siegfried Lenz  as well in a German lit month competition .He was also in Group 47 , which was a group of writers that was brought together to promote the new democratic west germany after the war Gunter grass was also a member of it .He won most of the big prize in germany including the Goethe prize .He died last year this was a book he wrote this novella in his later life.

“Here sit we down in tears and grief ” sang our school choir at the beginning of the hour of remembrance. Then Herr Block, the principal, went over to the rostrum, which was surrounded by wreaths. He walked slowly, hardly glancing at the crowded school hall, and stopped in front of Stella’s photograph on its wooden easel. He straightened up or seemed to straighten up then bowed very low.

The opening as they have the memorial service at the school for Stella .

A minute’s silence is told on two timelines the present is a memorial service for an English teacher Stella in the crowd is one of her Pupils Christian .But Christian was more than a pupil the second timeline is the building of the relationship between Stella and Christian , from her starting to teach him Orwell in class to the pair draw closer together whilst meeting in secret at school they finally start meeting out of the school as Christian meets Stella at her father’s house her father makes his living by finding stones in the sea . Just before she is due to take a boat trip with her friends and spend time away from Christian.this is where on the boat something happens to Stella .

“A stone fisher can always tell where to go ” I said “My father knows whole stone-fields and artificial reefs built a hundred years ago, and he goes searching for those. He carries the sea chart showing the richest sources of big blocks around in his head ”

I’d like to see those stone fields sometime said Stella.

A stone fisher is a job I hadn’t heard of till this book what a truly unique job fishing for stones .

This is a great novella a romance doomed but end before it was doomed two young people joined together even thou one is a teacher and the other is pupil the years between them although not said isn’t many she had just started teaching.He is great at describing the relationship blossoming between the two , but also the world things like Stella’s father talking about his job scrapping stones from the sea bed. I must admit Anthea bell did a wonderful job on this book it is so poetic and delicate i forgot it was a translation, which is why she is still one of my favourite translators .The tale of two lovers told through the younger christians eyes as he tries in the minute’s silence to remember miss Stella Peterson his teacher and oh his lover as well .Is Short yet lingering in the reader’s mind I will be reading more books from him.This is the perfect Novella doesn’t get bogged down in too much history glimpse of the romance and the present give you enough .

Have you read Siegfried Lenz ?

 

 

Barbarian Spring by Jonas Lüscher

9781908323835

Barbarian Spring by Jonas  Lüscher

Swiss fiction

Original title – Frühling der Barbaren

Translator – Peter Lewis

Source – review copy

For two hands, of stone and of thyme
I dedicate this song.. For Ahmad, forgotten between two butterflies
The clouds are gone and have left me homeless, and
The mountains have flung their mantles and concealed me
..From the oozing old wound to the contours of the land I descend, and
The year marked the separation of the sea from the cities of ash, and
I was alone
Again alone

A verso of the Poem Ahmad Al-Za’tar by Mahmoud Darwish , seems to fit the feeling of this book .

 

Another novel from switzerland for German lit month and another from Haus publishing( I love the cover of this book a very german looking cover sparse just what is need on it )  .Jonas  Lüscher was born in Berne , and studied Philosophy , getting a master’s degree first teaching , since then he also did some work alongside the well-known philosopher Michael Hampe .Barbarian spring is his first novel it was shortlisted for the swiss book prize and longlisted in the German book prize .

Preising was all set , then , to exchange the fogs of midland Switzerland for the balmey Tunisian spring .He swapped his customary tweed jacket and Burgundy cords for a houndstooth jacket the colour of egg nog and a pair of chinos with sharp creases ; in all honesty, he found this ensemble ludicrous , but his housekeeper had laid it out ready for him and he was afraid of offending her by spurning it .

I was reminded of Frasier this is just the sort of thing he would do they worry about it .

Barbarian spring is really a double meaning in its title , the first being an older word for the Arab world and the Arab spring , the second and main one is the spring of a group of people who should know better that become barbaric in the face of the Arab spring happening around them .The story is the story of Preising a Swiss industrialist and rather like  a swiss version of Frasier or Niles from the programme Frasier as he is very picky in his ways .We meet him on route to a wedding of two friends from London they are getting married in a resort in Tunisia that has been built-in an Old Berber town and made into the height of western opulence as a hotel the couple haven’t spared any expense the bride arrives in her wonderful dress on the back of a camel  .The marriage goes ahead , but even as Preising is arriving for the Marriage you sense not all is right in the world around them .Add to this the crash in the markets  in London where the couple are from at this time as well .We have two groups living on the edge and a group of overpaid rich people getting  caught up in the Arab spring .

Sitting in the shade , Snaford started talking about the niceties of the Berber village societies and the role played by women , and preising , who’d read a bit about native peoples , chipped in from time to time .

Preising and one of the guests talk about the natives , but see the world from a western view .

Now this book is a story of what may have happened but what could have happened of course the two events in the book the Arab spring and the Market crashes happened a different times but what Jonas does in the book is imagine them happening in a future event and how this has a knock on effect on the Couple , their party and Preising .But also the people in the Resort around them those everyday Tunisians .This of course leads to the darker side of human nature taking hold not just survival but also what happens when there are no rules for everyone and effectively we are all on the same level for once caught in  a storm of events .Also certain scenes show one world smashing into another like a luxury coach crashing into a group of camels , in one way the part in the coach unhurt and the family that own the camel destroyed by this one event .Short but thought-provoking fiction , using an outside eye on recent events like the market crashes and Arab spring make for an exciting and different debut novel .

have you read any books about the Arab spring ?

A price to pay by Alex Capus

9781908323736

A price to pay by Alex capus

Swiss fiction

Original title – Der Fälscher, die Spionin und der Bombenbauer

Translator – John Brownjohn

Source – review copy

To answer a question
It’ll probably take more
If you’re already there
Well then you probably don’t know
Well we were the people
That we wanted to know
And we’re the places that we wanted to go
It’s hard to get hold of
And hard to let go
Always something we look for
From the day we were born
Instead we’re the people that we wanted to know
And we’re the places that we wanted to go
Yeah we’re the places that we wanted to go
We’re the places that we wanted to go

The first verse of people as place as .. by modest mouse seem to match this book a bit source

Another book for German lit month , today I bring a book from Switzerland .Alex Capus is French swiss writer , he was born to a French father and Swiss mother in Normandy in France , spent his first few year in Paris , then moved to switzerland where he studied in Basel at the university .Working as a Journalist then and editor ,his big break through came in 1994 with his first book by 1997 he had developed a style of writing he is now known for using a Classic narrative style .What I like about Alex Capus is in one writer he maybe sums up this blog a bit of europe all mixed up in one  .He has previously been longlisted for the German book prize .

I like the girl .It pleases me to picture her sitting in the open doorway of the rearmost carriage of the Orient Express with the glittering silvery waters of lake Zurich gliding past her .It could be early November 1924 .I don’t know the exact date .She is thirteen years old , a tall , tin , rather gawky girl with a small but deeply incised furrow on her nose .

Opening lines the young Laura on her way through Europe on the Orient Express .

This book follows three lives Emile Gillieron , Laura d’Oriano and Felix Bloch over the course of 15 to 20 years , we first meet them as they all wait on a station platform in 1924 in Zürich , this is the only time the three of them are together what follows in alternating chapters is the journey to the second world war .Emile is a budding draughtsman who gets drawn into Forging is at the station to scatter his father ashes , but then gets drawn into ,making fake relics , is actually considered the greatest forger of his age  whilst in Greece .Laura is a singer on the music hall , moving to italy and in the end becomes a spy for the allies in the second world war  a sort of world war two Mata Hari .lastly is Felix is a physicist that becomes a member of the  Robert Oppenheimer team that made the Nuclear bomb who also after the second world war won the Nobel prize for his work during the wat  .We follow each life from that meeting on the station to each ones end .

Felix Bloch never set eyes on the girl in the Orient Express because she didn’t get out in Zürich .That November afternoon .Laura d’Oriano travelled on via Basel to Belfort , where while Felix Bloch was calling at ETH’s enrolment office and Emile Gillieron waiting for his steamer in Trieste

The three crossed paths for just a brief second of time .

Now these are actually three real people , we don’t know if they actually meet but what Alex capus has done is throw three people with relatively unknown stories around the second world war and see what lead to their part in the war .I was reminded of the jesuit saying show me the boy I ‘ll show you the man , show us the young people on a station , We find out their lives here and how the war effected them .Capus uses alternate chapters to tell the stories , sometimes the paths cross after the first meeting but not quite .The original title shows more about the book which translates as the The forger , the spy and the bombmaker , which of course is all three of them .Capus has been compared in German reviews to both Delius and Grass both of whom like Capus use the second world war as a main part of their fiction .The three characters show how people’s lives can have a knock on effect and how we may think we are on one path but a slight shove or chance meeting may lead your life in a whole different path .Fate is out their for all of us and we never know where it will take us .

Have you a favourite novel based on a real person ?

Winstons books – A bumper week

Well last week no books arrived for me ,but this week I have had five arrive .

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First up from And other stories By the mountains burn by Juan Tomas Avila Laurel ,a writer from Equatorial Guinea (A first for this blog ,the only spanish speaking country ) a childhood on a remote island of the west african coast ,cholera ,superstitions and fire destroy crops sounds great .Then The alphabet of birds by S J Naude one of the best Afrikaans writers a collection of short stories with recurring motifs ,from London via Milan to Johannesburg .

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Now to a writer I have reviewed before Philippe Claudel his new book is a memoir formed up of Smells so each chapter is a smell and what it means or meant to him .I really like the idea of a smell memoir a quick flick and cigar is one ,I have this a smell with my father when younger .from MacLehose press

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Next up are two novels from German the first in the shadow is a price to pay by Alex Capus a Swiss- French writer that writes in German (only via books in translation do you find story’s like that a franco swiss writer in German !!!) the story is of three characters whose paths cross in 1924 on a station in Zürich this leads them in different directions all after this chance meeting .The other is The glory of life by Michael Kumpfmuller ,the story of the last year of Kafka’s  life caught in the relationship he had with Dora a young women he meet whilst recovering by the Baltic sea .both from Haus publishing

What books have you got this week ?

 

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