Thankfully German Literature Month (GLM) starts on Saturday and that will give me time to review some of the books I read in preparation. (4 completed and pictured with just 50 pages to go of a 1000-page extravaganza).  I kept myself reasonably up-to-date review-wise during September, but October whizzed by in a flurry of flu, a renovation project and an unrelated broken boiler that caused far more disruption than they should have, plus house guests from Canada. (Fortunately house was rendered habitable just-in-time for their arrival.) Given that I just wanted to read in downtime, I’m afraid reviews of October’s non-GLM books and activities shall be confined to the following summaries.

Margaret Atwood’s latest collection of short stories, Stone Mattress, is all kinds of magnificence. I could tell she was enjoying herself writing these.  They are playful, exuberant, full of wicked wit and an absolute joy to read.  If you need more detail, see Victoria’s review at Shiny New Books.  I agree with every word. My only regret is that I read a library book. I now want my own copy. Five_Stars.GIF

Nathan Filer’s The Shock of The Fall, winner of the 2013 Costa Book of the Year is another reading highlight.  A dead cert to win my tearjerker award of the year.  I haven’t had such a cathartic sob for years!  Five_Stars.GIF

Oh yes, North Lanarkshire’s Encounters Festival was held during October also.  And Nathan Filer appeared at it!  Interesting questions and experiences from the audience who were more concerned with the mental health issues than the literary aspects of the novel. 

Then there was the 10th anniversary of my book group which was celebrated with cake, cava and a visit from the Scottish crime writer and co-founder of Bloody Scotland, Lin Anderson.   Don’t we look pre-cava pretty?

I’ll confess to not having read Anderson before the event but I was absolutely blown away by the opening chapter of Picture Her Dead.  Best 1st chapter of the year … and the rest of the novel is pretty darn good as well. It’s the 8th in her Rhona McCleod series – not that it matters.  I had to read it as a stand-alone, and it works as such. Who knew there were so many disused cinemas in Glasgow or that they would spawn such an intrigung premise for a crime novel!  The only downside is that I now want to start reading the series from the beginning.  But do I have the time to add another 7 novels to my 1000+ TBR?  Rhetorical question.  The answer is no but I will read number 9 sooner rather than later. 4_stars.GIF

So there you have it, proof that Murphy’s law does indeed exist. In a period when I had precious little time for blogging, I read three books which will doubtless appear in my best of year list. 

There is time for just one more pre-#germanlitmonth giveaway.  Actually this is also a pre-release date giveway!

Julia Franck won the German book Prize with The Blind Side of the Heart in 2007.  It remains my favourite translated German Book Prize winner to date.  I am, therefore, looking forward to her latest novel, West, which will be released in the UK, and Harvill Secker have kindly offered 5 copies to UK-based German Literature Month participants.

Here’s the blurb.

 Translated by Anthea Bell

Scientist Nelly Senff is desperate to escape her life in East Berlin. The father of her two children has supposedly committed suicide, and she wants to leave behind the prying eyes of the Stasi.

But the West is not all she hoped for. Nelly and her children are held in Marienfelde, a processing centre and no-man’s-land between East and West. There she meets Krystyna, a Polish woman who hopes that medical treatment in the West will save her dying brother; Hans, a troubled actor released from prison in the East; and John, a CIA man monitoring the refugees for possible Stasi spies. All lives cross here, and the cramped confines of the camp breed defamation and violence.

West is a devastating portrait of a mother in turmoil, trying to do the best for her children, as she attempts to escape her past and start a new life.


If you’re based in the UK and would like to read West, please leave a comment below. Let me know also if you’d like me to organise a #germanlitmonth book discussion sometime during the 3rd week of November.  Winners will be selected by some random process on Sunday 26th October.  

It’s become a bit of a joke at work.  Whenever I go into Edinburgh for a half-day conference, I take a half-day’s leave to go adventuring in the city afterwards. Edinburgh, City of Literature, never ceases to surprise me and last Tuesday was no exception.

As I disembarked at Waverley Station (the only rail station in the world to be named after a novel), who did I meet?  None other than Sir Walther Scott, author of said novel, in the middle of distributing 25,000 books! The book, produced by the City of Literature for the 10th anniversary of Edinburgh being proclaimed a Permanent City of Literature, celebrates Scott and his work.  As indeed did Waverley station that day which was decorated with the wit and wisdom of a man, who was so much more than a novelist.

Digital copies of the special release available here, if you’re interested.

I had to rush off to my conference, but I had time during my afternoon off to take some photos.  By the looks of Scott, his latest gifts to the nation were snapped up like hot cakes.

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Never has Waverley station been so endearing and the surprise served as a timely reminder that I’d best get my skates on, if I want to read Waverley in its bicentennial year.


There have been a number of requests for a list of new things to read during #germanlitmonth. Happy to oblige.

Firstly a couple of tips as to where you can hunt out the new.

1) Download the 3 percent database lists all new translations in the US.  Most of the German titles there (and there are 40 of them) have also been published in the UK this year.

2) Check out New Books in German which has a feature on newly released translations.

3) Keep your eye on The German and Swiss Lists from Seagull Books.  Always plenty of interesting reads to be found among them, including 2 I’ve selected below,

I was intending to keep up with the new releases this year, but, as it is wont, time has run away from me  Plus it has been a year of plenty! I’ll need next year to catch up.  That shouldn’t be a problem as there appears to be an almost total famine of translations from German in the 2015 UK spring catalogues.

Nevertheless below is a selection of 10 2014 contemporary fiction releases, complete with publishers’  blurb. For the purposes of this post, contemporary fiction means authors who are still living with books available in English by 12th October.  

Without further ado:

Volker Braun – Rubble Flora

Translated by David Constantine and Karen Leeder

For poetry lovers. 

Rubble Flora is a selection of poems from the distinguished, half-century-long career of German poet Volker Braun. Born in the former East Germany, Braun is a humane, witty, brave, and disappointed poet. In the East, his poetry upheld the voice of the individual imagination and identified with a utopian possibility that never became reality. He might be said to have found a truly singular voice amid the colossal upheavals of 1989-exploring the triumph of capitalism and the languages of advertising, terror, politics, and war. At the same time, Braun is a sensual poet in tune with the natural landscape. He has his own touchstones in world literature, and many of his poems set quotations from Rimbaud, Shakespeare, and Brecht into his own context, where they work as ironic illuminations of a present plight. The literary principle of his work lies in the friction of these different voices, whether cast into free form, collage, or classical verse. Cumulatively, Rubble Flora offers a searing vision of these transformative decades.

Alina Bronsky – Just Call Me Superhero

Translated by Tim Mohr

For those seeking something completely different. 
After an encounter with a dog in which he was worsted, seventeen-year-old Marek begins attending a support group for young people with physical disabilities, which he dubs “the cripple group,” led by an eccentric older man known as The Guru. Marek is dismissive of the other members of the support group, seeing little connection between their misfortunes and his own. The one exception to this is Janne, the beautiful young and wheelchair-bound woman with whom he has fallen in love. When a family crisis forces Marek to face his demons, group or no group, he is in dire need of support. But the distance he has put between himself and The Guru’s misshapen acolytes may well be too great to bridge.
An atmospheric evocation of modern Berlin and a vivid portrait of youth under pressure, Just Call Me a Superhero is destined to consolidate Alina Bronsky’s reputation as one of Europe’s most wryly entertaining and stylish authors.

Arno Camenisch – The Alp

Translated from Romansh by the author into German, and from German to English by Donal McLaughlin

For those who prefer short reads. 

The first novel in Arno Camenisch’s celebrated “alpine” trilogy is set during a single summer. The four main (unnamed) characters are a dairyman, his farmhand, a cowherd, and a swineherd who all live and work in close proximity — but this is no Heidi. Theirs is an existence marked by dangerous work, solitude, cruelty, alcoholism, and sheer stubbornness; but the author’s handling of these situations and lives is characterized at all times by affection, surreal humor, and a brilliant ear for the sounds of the setting.

Monica Cantieni – The Encyclopaedia of Good Reasons

Shortlisted for the 2011 Swiss Fiction prize

Translated by Donal McLaughlin (and recommended by me.  To be reviewed during #germanlitmonth)

For those seeking a quirky read with serious undertones.

 “My father bought me from the council for 365 francs,” recalls the narrator in Monica Cantieni’s novel The Encyclopaedia of Good Reasons. She’s a young girl, an immigrant to Switzerland whose adoption has yet to be finalized. When she finally moves into her new home with her new family, she recounts her days in the orphanage and how starkly different her life is now. Her new community speaks German, a language foreign to her, and she collects words and phrases in matchboxes. Though her relationship with her adoptive parents is strained, she bonds with her adoptive grandfather, Tat, and together they create the eponymous Encyclopaedia of Good Reasons. Set in the time of the crucial 1970 Swiss referendum on immigration, the book introduces us to a host of colorful characters who struggle to make Switzerland their home: Eli, the Spanish bricklayer; Toni, the Italian factory worker with movie star looks; Madame Jelisaweta, the Yugoslav hairdresser; and Milena, the mysterious girl in the wardrobe. This is a book with a very warm heart, and rarely has a young girl’s narrative been at once so uproariously hilarious and so deeply moving. 

Wolfgang Herrndorf – Why We Took The Car

Winner of the German Teen Literature Prize

Translated by Tim Mohr

For the young at heart and those who would like to participate in our sponsor’s forthcoming book club.

Mike doesn’t get why people think he’s boring. Sure, he doesn’t have many friends. (OK, zero friends.) And everyone laughs at him when he reads his essays out loud in class. And he’s never invited to parties.

But one day Tschick, the odd new boy at school, shows up at Mike’s house out of the blue. He dares him to go on a road trip with him. No parents, no map, no destination. Will they get hopelessly lost in the middle of nowhere? Probably. Will they meet crazy people and get into serious trouble? Definitely. But will they ever be called boring again?

Not a chance.

Michael Kumpfmüller – The Glory of Life

Winner of The Jean Monnet Prize for European Literature

Translated by Anthea Bell

For Kafka fans. 

In July 1923, Franz Kafka is convalescing by the Baltic Sea when he meets Dora Diamant and falls in love. Set over the last year of Kafka’s life, the tale of Franz and Dora’s fragile time together in a Germany juxtaposes the excitement and vitality of Weimar Berlin with Kafka’s indecision and failing health. Mediated through letters, telegraphs, and the telephone, Michael Kumpfmuller captures the exhilaration of modernity and the essence of a friendship nourished by communication.”The Glory of Life” meditates on what really makes life worth living. A compelling combination of historical research and fictional reconstruction, this evocative and artful novel captures the inner life of one of the twentieth century’s most influential and revered literary figures.

Nele Neuhaus – Big Bad Wolf

Translated by Stephen T Murray (and recommended by me.  To be reviewed durng #germanlitmonth.)

For crime lovers and those wanting to find out what happens after Snow White Must Die.

On a hot day in July, the body of a sixteen-year-old girl is pulled from the river Main near Frankfurt. She has been brutally attacked and murdered, but no one seems to miss her and no one seems to know who she is. Investigations lead to a rural children’s home in the mountains, and to a TV presenter whose research took her too close to the wrong people. As investigators Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein dig deeper, they uncover a web of lies and deceit in the midst of a middle-class idyll. And then the case gets personal . . .

Clemens Setz – Indigo

Shortlisted for 2012 German Book Prize

Translated by Ross Benjamin

For lovers of metafictional (?) psychological thrillers.

It is 2007 and Austria is in the grip of a sinister epidemic: Indigo Syndrome. Children are the carriers, and anyone who comes near them is afflicted with severe headaches, nausea, and vertigo. These Indigo children are sent away to the Helianau Institute in Styria, in the mountainous heart of the country, a protected zone where they cannot affect the wider population. There, one of the teachers, Clemens Setz, witnesses students being taken away in strange masks. They never come back. When Setz tries to find out what is going on, he swiftly loses his job, but he doesn’t give up trying to uncover Helianau’s dark secrets.

Timur Vermes – Look Who’s Back

Translated by Jaimie Bulloch

Winner of Lizzy’s Best Book Trailer of the Year.  :) Also bestseller of the bunch.

For those who aren’t afraid to break taboos. 

Berlin, Summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. Things have changed – no Eva Braun, no Nazi party, no war. Hitler barely recognises his beloved Fatherland, filled with immigrants and run by a woman.

People certainly recognise him, albeit as a flawless impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable, the inevitable happens, and the ranting Hitler goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own T.V. show, and people begin to listen. But the Führer has another programme with even greater ambition – to set the country he finds a shambles back to rights.

Look Who’s Back stunned and then thrilled 1.5 million German readers with its fearless approach to the most taboo of subjects. Naive yet insightful, repellent yet strangely sympathetic, the revived Hitler unquestionably has a spring in his step.

Juli Zeh – Decompression

Translated by John Cullen

More psychological thrillery from a lady on my completist list and a book I have actually read and reviewed.

Jola is a beautiful and privileged soap star who wants very much to be taken seriously; her partner Theo is a middle-aged author with writers’ block. In an attempt to further her career, Jola is determined to land the lead role in a new film about underwater photographer and model Lotte Hass.

To improve her chances, the couple travel to Lanzarote and hire diving instructor Sven, paying him a large sum for exclusive tuition. Sven is meticulously planning his most ambitious expedition yet – to an untouched wreck 100 metres down on the ocean floor. Diving calls for a cool head and, as a sinister love triangle develops, events rapidly get out of hand. But whose story do we trust – Sven’s or Jola’s?

Deliciously claustrophobic, smart, and unrelentingly intense, this psychological thriller with shades of Patricia Highsmith will leave readers gasping for air


Thanks to the generosity of the Glasgow Goethe Institute, I can offer 3 readers their pick of the crop.  Just leave a comment saying which book you’d like to read, and where you would review it during German Literature Month.  Competition is open internationally. 

if you want the book in a language other than English, please say so.  If the Book Depository stocks it and delivers to your country, this will be doable.

Winners will be chosen and notified by email on Sunday 12th October.


Later today Issue 3 of Shiny New Books will appear and, with it my ruminations on the first three Neapolitan novels of the phenomenon that is Elena Ferrante. To coincide with that, Ann Goldstein, who works as an editor at The New Yorker and translates Ferrante’s novels into English, talks here about her career as a translator, the third and most recently released Neapolitan novel and her desert island books.

How did you become a literary translator?

Somewhat by accident. An Italian manuscript came to The New Yorker, where I am an editor, and at the time I was the only person who could read Italian; the idea was that I would read it and then write a polite rejection. But I decided to translate it, and it was published in the magazine. The manuscript was Chekhov in Sondrio by Aldo Buzzi (September 7, 1992).

How did you come to be Elena Ferrante’s translator?

I was asked by Europa Editions (or rather its parent, the Italian publisher e/o) to submit a sample translation from The Days of Abandonment. The editors liked it, and I went on from there.

Are there any particular challenges in translating her Neapolitan novels? How long does it take you to translate each volume? Are there passages where you need to be creative because the Italian idiom doesn’t easily translate into English?

The language is very dense; the sentences can be long and complex. It is hard to maintain the intensity and the rush or pileup of words and at the same time maintain a syntax that reads like English. She doesn’t actually write in dialect, fortunately for me, but there are occasional Neapolitan words and of course there are local references: those are tricky, because you don’t want to overexplain but you don’t want an English or American reader to be baffled by something that any Italian would know. In the case of the stradone, for example, the big street at the edge of the neighborhood, I decided to define it and then leave the word in Italian, because none of the English options seemed to have the right tone, whereas I did decide to use “neighborhood” for rione, even though I think rione has a more localized, urban connotation.

It’s hard to say how long it takes me, since I also have a day job. I usually do a first draft pretty quickly but revising can be very slow. I think I worked on Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay over a period of about four or five months.
As for being creative, I try not to be; I try to find solutions that do not stray too far from the Italian.

Do you have a favourite section of the Neapolitan Novels? Which is it and why?

I have a lot of favorite passages, but one that stands out is Elena’s visit to Lila in the sausage factory. First of all there is the horror you feel, along with Elena, as she enters the place, with its rudeness, its hostility, in a sense reflected in the work: sausage stuffing, mixing, stripping meat off carcasses. And then it presents a sort of microcosm of the relationship between Lila and Elena: their separateness, their closeness, Elena’s misreadings. Also it is dramatic, from Elena’s shocked entry into the factory and encounters with the workers to Lila’s burning of the book when Elena leaves.

Which of your translations gave you the greatest pleasure and for what reasons?

Most of my translations have been a pleasure, and each has been challenging in a different way. Certainly Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels have been both: it’s impossible not to become involved with the characters, almost as if they were part of your life, and to feel a kind of emptiness when the translation is finished. Another book I loved working on—I was part of a team of translators—is the Zibaldone by the nineteenth-century poet Giacomo Leopardi. It’s a huge work, essentially a kind of intellectual diary or day book. One of the first books I translated was Petrolio, by Pier Paolo Pasolini, his last, unfinished novel. I didn’t know much about Pasolini, and working on it was like entering a new world. And really that could be said in a certain sense of every translation: even if the book is not immediately sympathetic, because you are involved in it in such a detailed, word-for-word way, it becomes compelling.

Which has been your most challenging translation project to date?

My most challenging project has been The Complete Works of Primo Levi, to be published by Norton/Liveright next fall. That has also been a team project, but I am both a translator, of three books out of the fourteen, and the editor, so there was the additional challenge of editing the translations done by others, and trying to maintain a consistency through the many books.

Which three works of Italian literature would you take to the proverbial desert island and why?

Perhaps the above mentioned Zibaldone, La Storia, by Elsa Morante, and—the obvious—Dante. They represent three centuries, and you would never get bored reading them.

You are allowed another book to take for translation purposes. Which would it be and why?

I’d have plenty to occupy me if I had the Zibaldone. First of all it’s very long. Second, it is extremely complex from a linguistic and syntactical point of view, so you would never be bored, though you might be frustrated, and finally it gives you a lot to think about—philosophy, morality, language, history.

Wonderful Wednesdays are a tradition when to comes to German Literature Month.  When kind sponsors of the event offer us books to giveaway, then Wednesdays are the day on which we do just that.

Week One of the 2014 German Literature Month is Award Winners Week and I’m delighted to be able to offer two hot-off-the-press prize winners from New Vessel Press.

I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar won the 2012 Austrian Alpha Prize for Literature.

Twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro has spent the last two years of his life living as a hikikomori—a shut-in who never leaves his room and has no human interaction—in his parents’ home in Tokyo. As Hiro tentatively decides to reenter the world, he spends his days observing life around him from a park bench. Gradually he makes friends with Ohara Tetsu, a middle-aged salaryman who has lost his job but can’t bring himself to tell his wife, and shows up every day in a suit and tie to pass the time on a nearby bench. As Hiro and Tetsu cautiously open up to each other, they discover in their sadness a common bond. Regrets and disappointments, as well as hopes and dreams, come to the surface until both find the strength to somehow give a new start to their lives. This beautiful novel is moving, unforgettable, and full of surprises. The reader turns the last page feeling that a small triumph has occurred.

You can read an excerpt of the translation by Sheila Dickie here.

Who is Martha? by Marjana Gaponenko won the 2013 Adalbert von Chamisso Prize.

96-year-old ornithologist Luka Levadski foregoes treatment for lung cancer and moves from Ukraine to Vienna to make a grand exit in a luxury suite at the Hotel Imperial. He reflects on his past while indulging in Viennese cakes and savoring music in a gilded concert hall. Levadski was born in 1914, the same year that Martha – the last of the now-extinct passenger pigeons – died. Levadski himself has an acute sense of being the last of a species. He may have devoted much of his existence to studying birds, but now he befriends a hotel butler and another elderly guest, who also doesn’t have much time left, to share in the lively escapades of his final days. This gloriously written tale, in which Levadski feels “his heart pounding at the portals of his brain,” mixes piquant wit with lofty musings about life, friendship, aging and death.

You can read an excerpt of the translation by Arabella Spencer here.

Reasons to enter this giveaway: They both sound delicious. (May I enter too?).  They should appeal to anyone participating in #readwomen2014 and will give a kick start to the new initiative #womenintranslation. Plus both titles, if reviewed, will earn 2 entries into the German Literature Month Pick and Mix prize draw. (More info here.)

If you wish to enter, simply leave a comment saying which title you would like to review during German Literature Month and where you would review it. The winners will be selected randomly and notified on Sunday 5.10.2014. Books will be sent directly by the publisher.  Competition open internationally.

P.S Hop over to Caroline’s place. There are more giveaways to be had.

EDIT: Link to Caroline’s place now working.


Good morning/afternoon/evening,  German(-language) literature lovers. It’s time to look through your TBR piles and hunt out all the German literature you can find. #germanlitmonth is returning for year four!

In years past Caroline and I have structured the whole month for guidance, but now that a wealth of ideas and reviews exists in the blogosphere (see footnote), we no longer think that’s necessary. This year we’re each going to host a themed week, leaving the rest of the month for you to read as you please. However, to make things more playful, we’re incorporating an optional pick and mix!

The overall structure of the month looks like this.

Nov 1-2 Introductions and reading plans
Nov 3-9 Award Winners Week (hosted by Lizzy)
Nov 10-23 Read as You Please
Nov 24-30 Joseph Roth Week (hosted by Caroline, with the Literature and War group read, Flight Without End, on the 29th)

At any time during the month you can pick and mix by reading and posting about any of the categories listed below, Each review will receive at least one entry into a prize draw. If the review fits multiple categories, you will earn multiple entries. For example if you participate in Caroline’s Literature and War read, you will get two entries: 1 for category 5 and another for category 6.

Pick and Mix Categories

1) Read and review an award winner.
2) Read and review a work that is not a novel.
3) Read and review a recommendation from German Literature Months 1-3. (See footnote)
4)To commemorate the 25th anniversary of The Fall of the Wall, read and review a work relating to the GDR or the Berlin Wall.
5) To commemorate armistice day, read and review a work relating to the First World War
6) Read and review a work written by or relating to Joseph Roth
7) Read a work published in German original or in translation during 2014.

For the purposes of clarity, all reviews must relate to works originally written in German, regardless of the author’s nationality. The winner of the pick and mix prize will be announced during the first week of December.

Apart from that, there are no other rules. You can participate in the themed weeks and the pick and mix as much or as little as you wish. You can do your own thing too, if you so chose. If you don’t have a blog, you are welcome to review on librarything or goodreads or similar or even write a guest post for one of the host blogs.

The main focus of the month is to share and enjoy German-language literature. We hope you decide to join us.


Footnote – Indices of reviews from previous years

German Literature Month 2011 
German Literature Month 2012 
German Literature Month 2013


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