Category: Germany Page 1 of 5

Ulrike Almut Sandig: Monster wie wir ( Monsters Like Us)

The latest addition to my website is Ulrike Almut Sandig‘s Monster wie wir (Monsters Like Us). The novel is narrated by Ruth, now a successful violinist to her almost invisible (in this novel) Finnish boyfriend Voitto. Ruth grew up in East Germany where she met Viktor at school and the two became friends. However, they have one other thing in common – both were sexually abused, Ruth by her grandfather and Viktor by his half-sister’s husband. They briefly talk about it but if you don’t talk about it, then it hasn’t really happened. That’s right isn’t it?. After the fall of Communism, Ruth gets on with her musical career while Viktor becomes a right-wing thug and then, improbably, an au pair in France where he recognises that the boy in his care is also a victim of sexual abuse and takes appropriate action. While the sexual abuse theme is key, we learn a lot about life in East Germany, from the founding to the fall and afterwards.

Hans von Trotha: Pollaks Arm (Pollak’s Arm)

The latest addition to my website is Hans von Trotha‘s Pollaks Arm (Pollak’s Arm). Ludwig Pollak was a very respected Jewish Austro-Czech classical archeologist and dealer, who spent much of his adult life in Rome and is best-known for finding the missing arm of the famous sculpture Laocoön and His Sons. This book recounts the last few hours before he was arrested by the SS with his family in September 1943 and sent to Auschwitz where they were all murdered. A German called only K, who was working in the Vatican, was sent to pick him up. He failed. Pollak talked for a long time, telling his full and very fascinating story (the bulk of the novel), feeling that he has to tell the story so that he will be remembered. He also felt that he was carrying the burden of his people. We learn of his successes and the problems he had and of K’s devastation at not being able to help him.

Jens Bjørneboe: Frihetens øyeblikk (Moment of Freedom)

Latest on my website: Jens Bjørneboe‘s Frihetens øyeblikk (Moment of Freedom) This is a thoroughly grim account by a forty-six year old Norwegian, living in a remote Alpine part of Germany called Heiligenberg, who cannot remember his own name. He works in a menial position for a court and is writing a History of Bestiality while studying the court and the people of the region. He recounts some of the horrors of the past – the Nazis, the Soviets, the Belgian Congo. The people in Heiligenberg seem, on the face of it, to be ordinary decent bourgeois but are anything but. Mass murders are routine and our hero uncovers a guilty secret which shows that most of the town people are depraved. We also learn of his travels and early life, which have given him material for his History. From my life I can hardly remember anything but murder, war, concentration camps, torture, slavery, executions, bombed-out cities, and the half-burned bodies of children he tells us and all that feeds into his book.

Karen Duve: Regenroman (Rain)

The latest addition to my website is Karen Duve‘s Regenroman (Rain). Leon Ulbricht is an unsuccessful writer when his friend Harry Klaamt gets him the job of writing a biography of Harry’s boss, Benno Pfitzner, a former boxer and current pimp and thug. With the advance, Leon, with his docile but attractive wife Martina, buys a rundown house by a marsh in a small village in the former East Germany. It rains all the time, the house is in very poor condition and, because of the water, getting worse, there is a plague of slugs and Leon has to spend his time doing repairs, though he injures himself doing so. The neighbouring sisters, one a predatory lesbian, the other a predatory man-chaser, do help a bit. However Benno wants his book and he wants it now and he is not used to not getting what he wants and becomes increasingly menacing. It all ends very badly for all concerned but it is still raining.

Wolfgang Hilbig: Das Provisorium (The Interim)

The latest addition to my website is Wolfgang Hilbig‘s Das Provisorium (The Interim). This novel tells the story of C. He had been a good East German, working in a factory and then, at the age of forty, became a full-time writer. He eventually gets a visa to spend a year in West Germany, leaving his live-in girlfriend and mother. Much of his money is made from book tours, which he hates, rarely seeing the city but hanging out near the railway stations, which symbolise the journey home. He does go home a few times but when his visa expires and he has not applied for renewal, he is more or less stuck in West Germany and cannot really cope, feeling he belongs to neither country. He turns to drink and pornography, failing in relationships and moving to a different city, always on an interim basis. A sad but superbly written story of man who has lost his way.

Juli Zeh: Neujahr (New Year)

The latest addition to my website is Juli Zeh‘s Neujahr (New Year). Henning is on holiday in Lanzarote with his wife, Theresa, and young children. On New Year’s Day 2018 he decides to go cycling on his own up the steep slope to Mount Atalaya. During his ride he thinks of his life, which is not going well, particularly because of frequent unexplained panic attacks. He and Theresa both work half-time to share child-minding duties but that is not going well, either. As he reaches the summit he is exhausted and dehydrated and is rescued by a fellow German but collapses and recalls in detail a traumatic event from his childhood which may or may not explain his panic attacks. As always Zeh gives us an excellent psychological story.

Ingeborg Drewitz: Eis auf der Elbe [Ice on the Elbe]

The latest addition to my website is Ingeborg Drewitz‘s Eis auf der Elbe [Ice on the Elbe]. An unnamed West Berlin woman keeps a diary (in 1981) about her not entirely happy life. She is a lawyer and sees the unpleasant side of life – refugee women who are struggling, for example, but she is also defending a (male) murderer. She has three adult daughters whose lives are not always perfect, particularly her eldest Christine, whose husband is a drunk who hits her. Our narrator is not particularly fond of her controlling husband Heinrich, though looks after him when he has cancer. She does not like the weather, the traffic, the crime. The only thing she does enjoy is the monthly lunch she prepares for her daughters and their families. She looks back at the war, when her father was killed and their house burned down. She wonders how the young generation cope with the guilt of being German. But, as the title implies, life is always cold.

Wolfgang Hilbig: Alte Abdeckerei (Old Rendering Plant)

The latest addition to my website is Wolfgang Hilbig‘s Hilbig: Alte Abdeckerei. This is a short novel, set in what was East Germany, in a fairly remote area. Our unnamed narrator, first as a boy and then as an adult,explores the blighted landscape not far from his home. He discovers a foul-smelling stream but also considerable evidence of former mine workings, now not only abandoned but with no maps as to where the tunnels are, so they are dangerous as they are liable to subsidence. As an adult, he discovers an active rendering palnt and sees animals – dead, alive and half alive – dragged to the plant. The whole sight disgusts and horrifies him but, later, when considering a job, he thinks of working there, despite the fact that the workers are very much looked down upon and smell the whole time. However, the mine tunnels are liable to subsidence… This is a first-class novel, superbly invoking the blighted landscape of East Germany.

Selim Özdoğan: Die Tochter des Schmieds (The Blacksmith’s Daughter)

The latest addition to my website is Selim Özdoğan:‘s Die Tochter des Schmieds (The Blacksmith’s Daughter). This is the first in a trilogy which focuses on Gül, a Turkish woman, who grows up in Turkey in the period immediately after World War II and, by the very end of the book,will emigrate to Germany. We follow her story from before her birth to just prior to her departure to Germany with her two daughters – her husband is already in Germany. She is determined and hard-working and despite the various problems in her life – her mother dies when she is young and her father soon remarries, her husband drinks, gambles and hits her, she is seen by her in-laws as a servant – she is a survivor. As well as Gül, we get a host of other characters – family, friends, neighbours – to give us a full picture of life in Turkey in that period.

Isabel Bogdan: Der Pfau (The Peacock)

The latest addition to my website is Isabel Bogdan‘s Der Pfau (The Peacock). This novel gives the impression of being written by a Scottish or English writer, being set entirely in the Highlands of Scotland and featuring primarily Scottish and English characters. Lord and Lady McIntosh rent out holiday cottages on their estate and are planning, for the first time, to rent out the West Wing to a group of bankers (with their own cook and psychologist) who are coming for a team-building exercise. They are worried about their peacock which attacks anything blue and has attacked the car of a guest, causing damage. When the laird sees that the banker boss’s car has been attacked, he shoots the peacock and conceals it under leaves. However, the bankers’ boss’s dog discovers it and the boss thinks her dog has killed it. She instructs one of her staff to get rid of it. The cook volunteers to cook it, pretending it is pheasant and then, later a goose. She finds gunshot in it so now everybody has different ideas on the fate of the peacock. Throw in the bankers’ not entirely successful team-building exercise and a snowstorm and things get messy. It is a very enjoyable book but also a serious discussion of how we can have different perceptions of the same event.

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