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 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.

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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