Category: Germany Page 1 of 5

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.

Ingeborg Drewitz: Gestern war heute [Yesterday Was Today]

The latest addition to my website is Ingeborg Drewitz‘s Gestern war heute [Yesterday Was Today]. The novel follows fifty-five years in the life of Gabriele, from her birth in 1923 to the birth of her granddaughter in 1978. Unlike her mother and previous generations of women in her family, Gabriele seeks far more independence but very much struggles with her own role, both as a teenager (teenage angst) and then later when she, too, becomes a wife and mother. While we are following her struggles and search for identity (as well as those of other women), we are also following events in Germany and the world, particularly the rise of the Nazis and World War II. As Gabriele and her family are in Berlin, they particularly suffer, even though Uncle Bruno is a Nazi. Above all, however, the focus is on Gabriele and her search for her own identity and role in the world.

Wolf Wondratschek: Selbstbild mit russischem Klavier (Self-Portrait with Russian Piano)

The latest addition to my website is Wolf Wondratschek:‘s Selbstbild mit russischem Klavier (Self-Portrait with Russian Piano). The unnamed Austrian narrator meets Suvorin, a retired Russian classical pianist in a café and they become friends, meeting regularly in a Italian restaurant. Much of the novel is Suvorin recounting his life, his views on various matters, particularly literature and music but also on ageing. He has given up playing and even going to concerts. His wife was killed in an accident and his children have moved away, so he is very solitary, though occasionally meeting other retired musicians. We learn little about the narrator, who wanted, when young to be an opera singer, but a lot about Suvorin and the problems of ageing. Wondratschek tells his story well, showing ageing and all its problems. This is Wondratschek’s first book published in English.

Siegfried Lenz: Der Überläufer (The Turncoat)

The latest addition to my website is Siegfried Lenz‘s Der Überläufer (The Turncoat). This novel was originally written in 1951, Lenz’s second novel. However, it was not published then, partially for political reasons, and forgotten, only for the manuscript to be found in his papers after his death in 2014. It was published to great acclaim in Germany in 2016, It tells the story of Walter Proska. We first meet him as a German soldier, returning to the front near Kiev from leave. His train is blown up but he escapes and then joins a German troop guarding the railway, not very successfully. The troop is eventually captured and, at the instigation of his of his comrades, Walter joins the partisans and is with them as they come to his home town just across the former German-Polish border. After the war, he works for the Soviet-controlled Germany, the future East Germany. However, he learns that he is about to be arrested. Lenz tells an excellent story, particularly the first part with the troop with it s colourful members and nasty corporal.

Francis Nenik: Reise durch ein tragikomisches Jahrhundert (Journey Through a Tragicomic Century)

The latest addition to my website is Francis Nenik‘s Reise durch ein tragikomisches Jahrhundert (Journey Through a Tragicomic Century). The book is a narrative non-fiction. It is the biography of a forgotten German writer, Hasso Grabner (link in German) who had something of a colourful life. He never knew his father, became a Communist early in his life, opposed the Nazis in the 1930s but ended up in Buchenwald and then as part of a punishment battalion in Greece, where he tried to sabotage the German war effort. After the war, he was in East Germany, working to build socialism but, because he was less than ideologically pure but very efficient, he was at one minute an ordinary worker and the next head of a major industrial combine. Eventually, he became a writer but, even then, clashed with the authorities. Nenik tells the story at a furious pace but makes plenty of comments and writes Grabner’s story as a novel not as a formal biography , which makes it highly readable and enjoyable. This is a book from new imprint V&Q Books, , headed by Katy Derbyshire, translator of this and many other fine German works.

Esther Kinsky: Hain [Grove]

The latest addition to my website is Esther Kinsky‘s Hain [Grove]. LikeAm Fluss (River), her previous work – this novel is about the travels of an unnamed narrator, clearly Kinsky herself, in this case in Italy, but off the usual tourist track, to Olevano Romano and the Po Valley. This book is coloured by the death of her husband (Kinsky’s husband Martin Chalmers died in 2014). She does observe nature but she also visits cemeteries and sees many images of death, from dead birds to the local undertaker. More in the Po Valley, a wetlands area as in Am Fluss (River), she observes nature and its effect on man. There are no fireworks in this book but a beautiful reminiscence of nature and of death. It has not been translated into any other language.

Uwe Tellkamp: Der Eisvogel [The Kingfisher]

The latest addition to my website is Uwe Tellkamp‘s Der Eisvogel [The Kingfisher]. Wiggo Ritter is a lost soul. His father is a ruthless banker and Wiggo hates everything he stands for. He studies philosophy, to his father’s disgust, but gets into a dispute with his professor and loses his job. He then meets Mauritz and Manuela Kaltmeister. They belong to a group called Rebirth, a right-wing group, which believes the elite should rule. Mauritz is pushing for terrorist activities to scare the populace into wanting a law-and-order group like his to take over and where better to start than with the professor who fired Wiggo? We know it goes wrong, as the book opens with Wiggo shooting and killing Mauritz and he ending up in hospital with severe burns. This is a fine book, only translated into Polish, about urban terrorism and a lost soul not finding his way.

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