A Minute’s Silence by Siegried Lenz


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 ?



All days are night by Peter Stamm


All days are nights by Peter stamm

Swiss fiction

Original title – Nacht ist der tag

Translator – michaael Hofmann

source – library book

Have I said something wrong?
How can I know if you’re not going to speak to me?
There I am, in your eyes
And we’re only playing, but what am I saying?
Oh, what am I saying?
Oh, what am I saying?

Oh, there’s no one like you, no one like that now
There’s always some way that you could bring me down

Maybe it’s just that I fly too high, that the ground is hard
It always hurts me
When I fall over sideways and break out in sores and people start laughing
But it’s not what I’m into

I don’t expect you to know
I don’t expect you to

I’ve  choosen an old wedding present lyric as no one caught heart ache and bitterness better than David Gedge in his songs Gillian could been in one of his songs .


This the second book by Peter Stamm I have reviewed here, I reviewed Seven years two years ago and was blown away, but I then download his stories to my late kindle but never got to them so when looking for some ideas for this years German lit month I decide it was time to try another book by Peter Stamm. Stamm started out working at accounts then decide to return to university and studied subjects as varied as English , business and Psychology .He started in radio drama in the early 1990s and has written a number of novels stories and plays Since I last reviewed him he won the frank O’Connor short story prize and been on the man booker international list.

Half wake up then drift away. alternatively surfacing and lapsing back into weightlessness .Gillian is lying in water with a blue luminescence. Within it her body looks yellowish, but wherever it breaks the surface, it disappears into the darkness. The only light comes from the warm water lapping her belly and breasts, It feels oily, beading on her skin.She seems to be in an enclosed room, there is no noise, but she still has a sense of not being alone. Love is somewhere filling her up

The opening lines as she wakes up to what has happened to her .

All days and night is the story of a woman Gillian, she starts the book waking after a horrific crash after she had argued with her husband. He did in the crash leaving her with a broken life , broken body and worse of all in a way a broken face.The book follows her struggle to piece together her life together and also we see how the point at which the crash happened her pre crash life with her husband Mathias he was an editor and she was a presenter on tv , this is where she meet the man the caught the problem and why they had a drunken fight that lead to the crash Hubert is the man.He is an artist and took Nude pictures of her , that is what he does takes pictures of women naked at home and Mathias saw them which leads to the crash but why had she a problem with Hubert what part has he in her future ?

The day before the second operation, a sunday, Gillian visited her parents.She hadn’t seen then since the accident. When he mother opened the door and saw her, she turned aside and started crying.Her father stepped up and with an expression of annoyance pushed her mother out of the way

Come on in , he said

The new Gillian after the crash is to much for her mother .

This book has just the same feeling I had when I read seven years Stamm seems to be very good at cold characters, Gillian is a cold woman in a way her life is all face and scratch below that her life with mathias was all for show really. She was jut the face on tv her life had become a show really so when she loses nearly everything and everyone around her as she is now faceless looking for her old face but getting a new face and outlook. Yes Gillian is one of these woman who seems to have everything , but when it comes to that point of the crash what has she nothing for me that is what stamm captures so well in his prose a woman broken rebuilding herself but at the time she does the flaws of before are clear. Stamm has said all character are fiction even if based on real people such is the case her Gillian and mathias are a mix of characters but when you see them on the page you instantly know the sort as I would say .

Have you read Stamm

Winston’s books some important Arabic books

I very rarely ask , request books from publishers these days. I do get sent a lot of books without asking which keeps this blog going and for which I am grateful. But once in a while there is an important book or set of books that come out I feel I would love to read, so I send a request sometimes these fall on deaf ears and other times I get a reply and if I am very lucky the books .Earlier this year I saw on Arablit that paperback  version of the  Library of Arabic Literature  series were coming out .


The first two books are the four volumes of Leg over Leg by  Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq THe book recounts the writers life using an Alter ego .The book is considered one of the first books of Modern Arabic literature .The book was a satrical look at the world he lived in and is one of those books that breaks the mould .


The second set of  two books deal with early days of Islam, The epistle on Legal Theory by Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafii deals with early foundations of Islamic law. I feel we hear a lot about islamic law these days , But maybe if we know more about it’s origins we would understand it in the sense of present day. The second book is The expeditions by Mamar Ibn Rashid is one of the first books about the prophet Muhammad  and the early years of Islam. Both these serve as important texts in the Arabic cannon available in English for the first time .For more books from the series look and the Library of Arabic website.


Street of thieves by Mathias Enard

Street of thieves by Mathias Enard

French fiction

Original title – Rue des voleurs

Translator – Charlotte Mandell

Source – review copy

The moon is in the gutter
And the stars wash down the sink
I am the king of the blues
I scrape the clay off my shoes
And wade down the gutter and the moon

The moon blinds my eye with opal cataracts
As I cut through the saw-mills and the stacks,
Leaping over the gully where I would one day take Lucy
Then wash up my hands in the gutter and the moon.

I choose a very old Nick Cave song The moon is in the Gutter because maybe Lakhdar is in the gutter but there is the moon there to see .

Another from Fitzcarraldo edition today their second book from the s=rising star of French Literature Mathias enard.A s you may recall earlier this year our shadow IFFP jury called in his first book in english Zone to the shadow longlist we felt so strongly it was one of the best books from last year, so no high hopes for this one hey !Mathias Enard studied Arabic and Persian at university, he then went on to spend fifteen years living in Barcelona and most recently he spent a year in Germany living in Berlin.

The rest of our catalogue was more expensive, 9.90 per book. These are bound books, usually in several volumes, heavy as a dead donkey. The collection was entitles The heritage of Islam and was made of reprints of works by classical authors: Lives of the prophet, commentaries on the Koran, works of fhoetoric , theology, grammar. Since these mammoth works had beautiful imitation-leather bindings in coloured calligraphy, they were used mostly to decorate the neighbourhood’s living and dining rooms.

The shop he worked run by Sheik Nreddin selling books and doing their websites .

Street of thieves is the story of one young boys life as he journeys from Tangiers to Barcelona. Lakhdar the boy in question is on the verge of becoming a man and we see the world through his eyes. He is in Tangiers just as the Arab spring starts, we see how the system has kept the youth down, and why him and all his friends look to the other side of the Mediterranean. Lakhdar tries to find his place escape a violent home life to sell books then work on a ferry and then eventually he arrives in Europe and to the city of Barcelona and the Street of thieves a notorious area of the city for pickpockets this is a journey of a boys awakening to a man but also a trip from Africa to Europe and the contrast between the real and the dreams of the journey.

I opened the little safe with help of a key shaped like a cross, it contained a number of papers that had nothing to do with me, and almost five thousands euros in cash. I was becoming a thief. I had enough to live on for a while in Barcelona or elsewhere. The money of the dead that’s kind of idiotic thing I said to myself. Of course there was the police. I had left my fingerprints everywhere , even on the bottles of poison, I was the king of dunces.

Lakhdar is driven to steal for his new world in Europe .

I actually loved this more than the zone this book is one of those that captured the Zeitgeist the way it was to be in the North African Arab world as the Arab spring broke. But he also captures a young boys journey from Boyhood to manhood a sense of broken dreams , false hopes but also find friends and people in the same places and world as yourself. Of course because Lakhdar has read many books in his time we see the way the books have crafted his view of the world. I find it strange this has been heralded as one of the first novels of what happened with the Arab spring Enard is no doubt a rising star (recent events have shown he has ambition ) of French literature.I feel there are two great ways a writer becomes a great writer that is write similar books but make them seem different or write great books with different voices I put Enard in the Later this is different from Zone the same place the greater Mediterranean so to speak but more ground in now than the Zone .

Have you read Enard ?

Booker night, damm I’ve not read any


Tonight sees the booker winner announced and like last year I have not read a single book from the shortlist .I last read the full shortlist in 2009 in the early days of this blog. But my tastes have shift or have they ? I watched the artsnight show presented by Ben Okri about this years shortlist and by the end of the show went damm Stu what you doing . THis years list maybe is the one that I should have tried . I have read Anne Tyler and Tom McCarthy  before and connected with both Tyler writes great family drama and McCarthy is talented writer if a little overrated imho but C was thought-provoking. I was brought A little life by Hanya Yangihara by Amanda for my birthday, but have yet to get to it. When the list was first announced a the longlist stage I would put money on A little life, BUt it is the last three books that Ben Okri really sold me and reminded me of what years ago I loved in the booker .Marlon james has written about the attempt  killing of Bob Marley , The fisherman by Chigozie Obioma could herald a new voice in African writing it seems and draws on the oral tradition of His homeland .Then there is  Sunjeev Sahota book about immigrants in Sheffield from India (I only live ten miles from Sheffield so this appeals on the level I don’t think there is enough immigrant lit ).I wish BBC had shown the Okri show at the start of the shortlist (I know it couldn’t have been done , but they could have done all longlisted writers maybe). Next year I shall take more note and maybe raise my eyes out of my current translated read and look at what makes the shortlist and in the mean time will pick up the three books by James, Obioma and Sahota as and when I see them. I’m not going hazard a guess at a winner but for fun will pick some comparable translated books similar in one or many ways to the shortlist.

A little life by Hanya Yangihara  – The tower by Uwe Tellkamp – another epic book about growing up , not as much about abuse but the abuse of  power that they saw by the state at the time .

A spool of Blue thread by Anne Tyler -When doves disappear by Sofi Oksanen a story that goes back and forth in time like the Tyler story does.also there is a link between the two main characters .

when the doves disappeared by Sofi oksanen

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy A project for revoloution in New York by Alain Robbe-Grillet A challenging  experimental novel from France set in america as Satin island is a play on Staten island in New York .

alain robbe Grillet

The fishermen by Chigozie Obioma – Our Musseque is another tale of African life tough and brutal as well but seen through the eyes of kids .


A Brief history of seven killings by Marlon james – The anatomy of a moment by javier Cercas another book about a moment in history , this was about the attempt coup in the early 80’s in Spain .


The year of runaways by Sunjeev Sahota – She is not me by Golnaz Hashemzadeh  Another story of immigrant life in Sweden not Sheffield thou .


She Is Not Me

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries

November 2015
« Oct    

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,732 other followers

%d bloggers like this: