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This month’s 6 Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate, starts with Stephen King’s It, a horror novel whose clown, I guess, is anything other than funny.

Heinrich Böll’s The Clown doesn’t play it for laughs either. There’s far too much male angst in it for me. So no surprises that I disliked it as much as Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

I hated that classic even in my early teens in stark contrast to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, which immediately became and remains an all-time favourite. In fact, I credit her novel as being to one that turned me into a lifelong reader. In addition, the Folio Society edition became the first volume of my now 200+ Folio Society collection.

Talking of lifelong readers and book collections, I am a rank amateur in comparison to Alberto Manguel, whose book collection once reached the dizzying total of 30,000 volumes. He has since culled it, in order to move into a New York apartment, and I’m very much looking forward to his book about that process, to be published next year. For today though, let’s just concentrate on the pleasures of reading, which he describes in his book A Reader on Reading.

Of course, there’d be no books to read or collect without publishers, and the name of John Calder, is legendary in the publishing industry.  Pursuit is his book of uncensored memoirs.  At 648 pages, it’s also a bit of a chunkster!

Following this line of thought backwards from consumable to creation, publishers would have no business without writers practising their craft. And that brings us right back to Stephen King and his memoirs On Writing, which I haven’t read, but shall assume contains insights into on writing It.

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December and my thoughts turn to which books on my Best of 2017 list I have yet to review.  Thus today’s post features Lizzy’s Most Beautiful Book of 2017.

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It’s not often I start a review with a picture of the endpapers, but as anyone who has strolled through Edinburgh knows the front doors of private properties, particularly in the New Town, are one of its greatest charms.  I have untold numbers of photographs, and now I have a wonderful selection of sketches.

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Strolling is the ethos behind this book –  taking an imaginary, leisurely stroll through Edinburgh, a city of “pure theatre, with its battlements, crags and classical columns”. Coffee-table book sized, it’s not definitely not a book for carrying with you as you do it.  Neither is it a history book, although it does includes lots of interesting snippets of information.

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The book is a local labour of love. The authors Iain Fraser and Anne Fraser Sim have lived in Edinburgh most of their lives.  He is the owner of The Elephant House Café.  You know the one in which the first Harry Potter was written.  The 150 colour illustrations by Scottish based artists, Keli Clark, Irina Cucu, Cat Outram and Catherine Stevenson, are intricate, accurate and an absolute delight.  (And perhaps, the inspiration I, the girl who cannot draw a straight line with a ruler, need to sign up to an art class or two.)

A Sketchbook of Edinburgh features all the iconic areas of the city.  There are chapters devoted to The Old Town, The New Town, The West End and The East End, in addition to areas outwith the touristy centre in chapters entitled The Northern New Town, Heading North, Heading South.  I read about lots of interesting new places, including bars and cafés,  to visit in these, despite Edinburgh being my day out city of choice for many years. For instance, top of my to-be-wandered-through list is Stockbridge.

Everyone will have their favourite spot in Edinburgh. No prizes for guessing mine ….

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The only suggestion I have for improving on this sketch would be to have featured Charlotte Square during book festival time!   But perhaps that’s one I can submit to the authors for a second volume. They are planning one, and do ask for suggestions on the last page. I’m sure the citizens of Edinburgh will oblige, and I look forward to its future release!

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GLM VII was an excellent month in which many authors and titles made their debut appearance on #germanlitmonth.  Thank you to the 30 participating bloggers from around the globe for making this such a special event.

Drama
Bernhard: Heldenplatz 1 Kehlmann: The Mentor 1

Features
Author Profile: Larissa Boehning 1
Six Degrees of Separation: From Less than Zero to The Inspector Barlach Mysteries 1 German Historians of the C18th and C19th 1
Random Book Covers and Illustrations: Gerstäcker 1 Schiller 1

Fiction
Abonji: Fly Away, Pigeon 1 Ani: The Nameless Day 1 Arnim-Brentano: Goethe’s Correspondence with A Child 1 Bachmann: Malina 1 Bernhard: Three Days 1 Boehning: Swallow Summer 1 Böll: The Clown 1  Brentano: Fairy Tales / The Story of Brave Caspar and the Fair Annerl 1 Camenisch: The Alp 1 Behind the Station 1 Christ: Memoirs of A Superfluous Woman 1 Clavadetscher: Knochenlieder Döblin: Berlin Alexanderplatz 1 Drvenkar: Sorry 1 2 Ende: The Night of Wishes 1 Erpenbeck: Go, Went, Gone 1 Tand 1 Fallada: Alone in Berlin 1 2 Wolf amongst Wolves 1 Feuchtwanger: The Oppermanns 1 2 Fontane: Effi Briest 1 Frisch: Zurich Transit 1 Fühmann: The Jew Car 1    Gaponenko: Who is Martha? 1 Geltinger: Moor 1 Goethe: Elective Affinities 1 Goetz: Insane 1 Grasnojwa: The Legal Haziness of A Marriage 1 Haffner: Blood Brothers 1  Hansen: This House is Mine 1 Hebel: How A Ghastly Story Was Brought to Light by a Common or Garden Butcher’s Dog 1 The Treasure Chest 1 Heinrich: Cross of Iron 1 Helle: Euphoria 1  Hensel: Dance by The Canal 1 Hesse: Demian 1 Hilbig: A Temporary State 1 Hofmann: Parable of the Blind 1 Hoppe: Pigaletta 1 Huch: The Last Summer 1 Jelinek: In the Alps 1 The Piano Teacher 1  Jonke: The System of Vienna 1 Jünger: The Glass Bees 1 Kafka: Investigations of a Dog 1 Kehlmann: You Should Have Left 1 Keller: Stories 1 Keun: After Midnight 1 The Artificial Silk Girl 1 Kleist: An Earthquake in Chile 1 Kracht: Imperium – A Fiction of the South Seas 1 Kurbjuweit: Fear 1 Lehn: Aladdin, COB 1 Lernet-Holenia: Mona Lisa 1 Lewitscharroff: Apostoloff 1 Blumenberg 1 Mann: Buddenbrooks: A Literary Conversation 1 2 3 4 Markovíc: Superheldinnen (Superheroines) 1 Meier: Isle of the Dead 1 Meile: 3000€ 1 Perutz: Master of the Day of Judgment 1 Rammstedt: The King of China 1 Roth: Confessions of A Murderer 1 Ruge: In Times of Fading Light 1 Schnitzler: Casanova’s Homecoming 1 Late Fame 1 2 Night Games 1 Sebald: Austerlitz 1 The Description of Unhappiness 1 The Emigrants 1 The Rings of Saturn 1 Vertigo 1  Seethaler: The Tobacconist 1 Seiler: Kruso 1 Speck: Bella Germania 1 Stamm: Seven Years 1 Storm: Grieshuus 1 Suter: Allen and the Dragonflies 1 The Last Weynfeldt 1 Tawada : Memoirs of  Polar Bear 1 2  Urzidil: Borderlands 1 Siegelmann’s Journey 1 The Duchess of Alahambra 1 The Last Bell 1 Wagener: You’d Have Larvae Too 1 Wagner: Ice Moon 1 Wander: The Seventh Well 1 Wassermann: Kaspar Hauser – Inertia of the Heart 1 Wolf: August 1 The Quest for Christa T 1 Zeh: Eagles and Angels 1   Zehrer: Das Genie 1 Zweig: Compulsion 1 Journey into the Past 1 The Post-Office Girl 1 Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of A Woman and other stories 1

Non-fiction
Adam: Lesen unter Hitler 1  Byung-Chul: The Burn-Out Society 1 Enzensberger: Tumult 1  Ribbat: In the Restaurant 1 2 3 Zweig: Genius and Discovery 1 Triumph and Disaster 1

The Non-Fiction Exception to the German Language Rule
Beachy: Gay Berlin – Birthplace of A New Identity 1

Poetry
Gomringer: Moden 1

The Watch-As-You-Please GLM Fringe
Line of Separation 1 The Wall 1 The Weissensee Saga 1

 

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It felt quieter than in previous years, though that may be relative, now that I’m able to check the linky more frequently.  In the end though, it wasn’t as quiet as it seemed.  30 bloggers contributed over 100 reviews!  That makes November a great month for German Literature.

If there are any reviews still at the work-in-progess stage, feel free to publish  and add them to the linky by 21:00 hours Wednesday 6.12.2017.  I’ll be publishing the now traditional GLM Author Index the following day.

As for the quality of the reviews – WOW!  Juliana gave me an object lesson in how to write about a book I couldn’t summon up much enthusiasm for. And the Old Book Aporeciator, who joined us for the first time (WELCOME), wrote a review that prompted me to discover one of my books of the year. (It wins my book of the month accolade – see below.)

Thank you to everyone who joined in, with particular thanks to the regulars: Mel and Stu, who all published at least 10 reviews each.  Thanks guys, your support is amazing!

And Tony, I loved our conversation regarding Buddenbrooks – almost as much as I love the novel itself! As usual, you win the trophy for most original post.  Providing an original translation for German Literature Month is what I call going above and beyond …..

Finally, thanks to my co-hostess, Caroline, who found herself fighting a sudden and prolonged patch of ill-health, but nevertheless produced a couple of excellent reviews.  Get well soon, Caroline.

I had a productive GLM –  despite the building works going on around me.  The house has been re-rendered, the garage roof has been replaced.  Things will be no less noisy in December.  The bath overflow cracked and the water damage has wreaked havoc on the dining room.  Cue plumbers, plasterers and decorators all round during December.  The joys!

But I digress from the business at hand – a summary of my reading month

F65AA0A1-8A74-4AFF-B819-6EF1E13C0D74Read/reviewed November 2017

Reviews
Buddenbrooks: A Literary Conversation in Four Parts
This House is Mine – Dörte Hansen
Kruso – Lutz Seiler
Memoirs of A Polar Bear– Yoko Tawada
Imperium – Christian Kracht
The Mentor – Daniel Kehlmann
In the Restaurant – Christoph Ribbat
Grieshuus – Theodor Storm
Eagles and Angels – Juli Zeh
How A Ghastly Story Was Brought to Light by A Common or Garden Butcher’s Dog – Johann Peter Hebel

Features
Six Degrees of Separation: From Less than Zero to The Inspector Barlach Mysteries

2017 Reading Statistics
YTD 92 Read, 8 Audio Books, 10 DNF
November 2017 8 Read 2 DNF

ED77D864-4214-48BD-8059-B3D26522E404What usually happens during #germanlitmonth is that piles of recommendations are stored in my wishlist, purchased when I have spare cash and then left to collect dust in the TBR until … who knows when?  This year I decided that I would read and review at least one new-to-me recommendation before the month was out.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be a selection of stories, with surely the longest and quirkiest title of the month, published in 1811!  Yet Johann Peter Hebel’s The Treasure Chest was added to the wishlist after reading The Old Book Appreciator’s review at the beginning of the month.  When Thomas of Mytwostotinki added an endorsement saying it was one of his favourite books ever, I was moved to the purchase stage.  Yet £12.99 seemed quite expensive for a 208-page paperback.  Plus the risk.  Early C19th century moral fables? They might be hard to swallow. So instead I spent 80p on the Penguin Little Black Classic as a 26-story sampler.

Never has so little money been spent on so much pleasure.

These stories were everything that the Old Book Appreciator and Thomas promised.  (And I urge you to go read that review, which puts the whole into context. It would take me weeks to put something so well-crafted together.)  Yes, some of these short stories do have a moral, but they were written by a pastor who understood not to sacrifice the entertainment value of his tales, and a pastor who might have been a little subversive at times – because the bad guys don’t always get their just desserts.

Though some do.  In the ghastly story from which the Little Black Penguin takes its title (and is too long to retype) two murderers are undone when, after killing a travelling butcher for his money, and their own child who witnessed the murder, the butcher’s dog uncovers the corpses.  The conclusion, as Hebel reports it demonstrates a black sense of humour and the twinkle in his eye which can always be glimpsed in his narrative style.

The criminals were taken and brought to court. Six weeks later they were put to death, their villainous corpses bound to the wheel, and even now the crows are saying, “That’s tasty meat, that is!”

Stories, such as Unexpected Reunion (incidentally Kafka’s favourite story) have a more emotional register. A week before their wedding,  a couple are separated forever by a fatal mining accident. 50 years later, the well-preserved body of a young miner is brought to the surface. No one recognises the corpse or even remembers the accident from so long ago. Until his former bride-to-be hobbles up on her crutch. As the only person laying claim to him, she gives him a decent burial. Who can fail to be moved at her parting words?

Sleep well for another day or a week or so longer in your cold wedding bed, and don’t let time weigh heavy on you! I have only a few things left to do, and I shall join you soon, and soon the day will dawn.

In his essay on Hebel contained in A Place in the Country, W G Sebald discusses Hebel’s “vision of a better world designed with the ideals of justice and tolerance in mind.”  Of course, that is a C19th century vision, not necessarily aligned to C21st values. (Though the way I’m feeling right now, I’m not convinced of the latter.  But that is a completely different story.) It is also a vision with biblical precedents – as is to be expected from the pen of a Lutheran pastor.  Some of this can be seen quite clearly in stories such as The Clever Judge, a witty reworking of the Solomonaic judgement, in which the judge is asked to adjudicate, not over two mothers fighting over a child, but a package containing 800 thalers.

032F2B42-563C-4B00-8FB1-2A2D24F48D59In the introduction to The Treasure Chest (because, of course, I have now purchased the Kindle edition to carry around with me on my phone for some cheering company, whenever I have a spare 5 minutes), Hebel’s translator, John Hibberd discusses Hebel’s enduring appeal. Regarding the naturalness of his writing, he says:

It was undoubtedly that secure naturalness that appealed so strongly to Kafka as a contrast to his own abysses of uncertainty. Hebel had no problems deciding what was true and what was right, when it was appropriate to laugh and when to cry, and the modern reader may well, like Kafka, find welcome relief from some of the products of modernism (and its successors) in an author who is eminently accessible, is not ashamed of sentiment, is cheerful and humorous and sane and humane.

Amen to that.

Hebel’s vision is all the more remarkable given the times he lived in.  Tumultuous is the least that can be said of the Napoleonic era in which Hebel’s early hopes that Napoleon would be a harbinger of beneficial change were gradually dashed.  And yet, he retained his sense of humour.

I’ll leave you with the final story in “How A Ghastly Story …”.  It’s always good to end on a laugh, whatever the circumstances. And this is a particularly good way to end the 2017 edition of German Literature Month.

The Safest Path – translated by Nicholas Jacob.

Now and then someone drunk has the occasional notion or good idea, as a fellow did one day who didn’t take his usual path home from town but walked straight into the stream running alongside it instead. There he met a good man ready to offer a hand to a fellow, even a drunk one, in trouble. “My good friend,” said the man, “haven’t you noticed you’re in the water? The footpath’s over here.”  He too, replied the drinker, generally found it best to use the path, but explained that this time he had had one too many. “And that’s just why I want to help you out of the stream,” said the good man. “And that’s just why I want to stay in it,” replied the drinker.  “Because if I walk in the stream and I fall, I fall on to the path, but if I fell when walking on the path, I’d fall into the stream.”  And that’s what he said, tapping his forehead with his index finger, as if to show that he still knew a thing or two that might not have occurred to anyone else, despite being a bit the worse for wear.

———————

Footnote:  Another unplanned read for me this #germanlitmonth, which saw me – at last – break my Sebald duck!

As we came into the final week of GLM VII, I noticed that my female:male author ratio, whch I try to keep at 50:50, was woeful.  Not through lack of effort on my part, but because the ladies simply weren’t cutting it.  Of the 4 German titles longlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, I have abandoned 2 and am so underwhelmed by a third that writing about it is an impossibility.  This is not what I intended at all.  Desperate measures were needed, and so I turned to an old favourite, (Though I’m not so sure I should use the term old in connection with Zeh.)

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Translated from German by Christine Slenczka

Eagles and Angels is her 2002 Deutscher Bücherpreis winning debut novel.  (This award was the precursor of the Leipzig Book Prize,  not the German Book Prize.)  It is full of the verve and vim I was missing in the more literary offerings alluded to  above, and this kept me reading even though novels with drug addled narrators are not usually my preferred reading material.

Max is traumatised. His girlfriend, Jessie, shot herself in the head while talking to him on the phone and he is not coming to terms with it at all.  The solace provided by the lines of coke he snorts diminishes in direct proportion to his increasing intake.  One night he decides to phone in to a late night radio show to confess.  While he is not directly responsible for Jessie’s death, he confesses to the murder of her previous boyfriend, Shershah.  Instead of turning him over to the authorities, the radio host, Clara, tracks bim down.  Turns out she is researching for a psychology degree and sees him as an interesting case study.

She convinces him to tell his story, and so a tortured and surprising history unfolds as Max dictates it into one cassette after another.  Max hasn’t always been the loser we know him to be.  He was once a hot shot lawyer, specialising in the expansion of the EU to the East.  He should have known better than to get involved with Jessie, but an early teenage infatuation with the drug runner’s daughter makes it impossible for  him to walk away when she comes to him, years later, in her hour of need.

As he makes his confession, more and more unexpected connections are made in Max’s mind.  Like the connection between his seemingly stellar career and the opening of drug routes from Yugoslavia to Europe during the Balkan Wars in the early 1990’s.  He becomes convinced that Jessie was murdered, and that he is next.  Death is something to be welcomed and so he sets off with Clara from Leipzig to Vienna.  In his mind it is a journey back to the  hornet’s nest, where he is bound to be killed.  When the hit squad doesn’t arrive, he (and we) are forced to ask why?

Given that Max, in his drug-addled state, is the most unreliable of narrators, things are more weird in Vienna than I was expecting.  He and Clara are squatting in some kind of derelict outhouse – don’t ask me if they’re lying low or wanting to be found, because they send out some very mixed messages.  Of course, everything is filtered through Max, so what sense can we expect to get out of a coke-head?  The only person with any semblance of common sense is Jacques Chirac, not the politician, but Jessie’s great dane!

The question constantly running through my head was why does Clara put up with this? Because let’s be clear. Max is not good to her.  He hits her.  Is psychologically cruel.  Feeds her coke when she is sick. She must be really struggling for a subject for her Ph.D to continue with this field study.  Or does she have other motivations?

Of course, nobody is what they seem and Max is in the midst of a smaller circle than he could ever anticipate. What’s really clever is that there is nobody to sympathise  with wholeheartedly. . Not Max.  Not Clara. (Even if her psychological manipulations are much to be admired.) Jessie maybe?  Only maybe.  The great dane? Definitely,

And the victims of the Balkan wars.

Zeh’s plot ingeniously welds a grimy, gritty, private tragedy to the horrendous fate of those caught up in the Balkan conflict of the 1990s.  Is it a fictional connection? Probably not – Zeh used to work for the UN and is, therefore, fully aware of the machinations at the heart of European politics.  And how that implicates what we – the public – may think of as honourable institutions.

In a rare moment of lucidity, Max surveys the land outside the squat,  It’s littered with dog turds (because, of course, he and Clara, cannot be bothered to clean up after Jacques Chirac.)  I wonder if that patch of land is symbolic of a greater political landscape.

IMG_0019Translated from German by Denis Jackson
And so to the fourth multi-generational family tale I read for GLM VII, which turns out to be a precursor to the first.  Written in 1884 by Theodor Storm, the similarities witb Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks (1901) are striking.  It should come as no surprise – but it did, a very pleasant one at that – for Mann once said of Storm “he is a master, his work will survive”.

So for example Grieshuus, The Chronicle of A Family could easily be renamed Grieshuus, The Decline of A Family, because that is what it chronicles, a family coming to the end of a line in 4 generations as does Buddenbrooks.  Any similarity between the families and the plots ends there.  Storm’s family is from the Junker (noble) class, while Mann’s family is a family of merchants.  Mann’s novel is heavily autobiographical.  Storm’s novella is not.  And at a mere 94 pages in length, Grieshuus is an exercise in concision.  (Which is not to say that Buddenbrooks at 600+ pages is wordy.  I wouldn’t cut a word from it. ) But Grieshuus is a novella from the pen of an author at the height of his powers, making full use of all the poetic and literary techniques at his disposal: foreshadowing, symbolism, leitmotif.  The same techniques that Mann uses to such fabulous effect in Buddenbrooks,  You really can see Storm coaching Mann when you read these two works in close succession.

Grieshuus (The Grey House) is set in the tumultuous time of the Northern Wars of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a time when Schleswig-Holstein was not yet Germany, but was being fought over by Sweden and a coalition of other European powers. This serves as background, and only really becomes important towards the end of the story.  Up till that point, this is very much a family tragedy precipitated by class issues

*** Spoilers ahead – you may choose to skip the next paragraph ***

Junker Hinrich (2nd generation) becomes infatuated and marries the low born Barbe, thus precipitating a rift with his father and twin brother, Detlev.  Hostilities become so inflamed that, losing all control (his temper being foreshadowed in the very first scene of the novella), Hinrich actually kills his brother and flees.  Years later, he returns, unrecognised, to the Grieshuus estate, not to reclaim his place but to act as estate manager.  The intervening years have chastened and mellowed him and he wants to spend time with his grandson, Rolf.  (His daughter, having served her purpose, has died in childbirth.)  But, time is not on the side of Hinrich’s family and that great Northern War has its own agenda.

*** End spoilers ***

At the heart of the plot, then, is a classic Cain and Abel story, but one in which Cain is pays his penance and achieves redemption, although is unable to avert the ultimately tragic outcome for his family.  It is a dramatic storyline though I would say a typical 19th century one.  What makes Grieshuus less grey, if you will, is the power of Storm’s storytelling.  For instance the structure: the absolute break that is represented by the murder is reinforced by the break between books one and two.  There is also no sense of outrage that the murderer escapes. Storm has told us enough of preceding events to ensure that we understand his psychology and perhaps more than empathise.  How modern is that?   There are layers of natural description and symbolism that only a lyric poet and natural storyteller of Storm’s abilities could weave into his tale without overloading it for those of us with less poetic sensibilities (myself included). At this point I’m going to refer you to David Artiss’s excellent introduction in the Angel Classics edition with its clear breakdown of these elements.  It’s a boon in particular for interpreters of animal symbolism: a multiplicity of birds, all with malignant reputations, bloodhounds, wolves.  Ah yes, wolves.  Artiss points out that these function as a leitmotiv, mentioned every 3 pages.   I hadn’t noticed that.  Which means that it did not irritate me.  Perhaps this is one lesson Mann didn’t quite learn from the master. (I’m thinking here of Gerda’s overcooked brown eyes ….)

But I must not forget the horse.

A riderless dark-looking horse then appeared from the forest, with its white tail and mane flying in the moonlight; it was as if it was racing over the low ground and in he btidge to hurl itself into the midst of the flying soldiers; its dark eyes blazed, its small head flung from right to left, “That was no horse that we have known” …

Storm afficionados will recognise the precursor of The Dykemaster’s horse in that passage.  What does it say about me that I found it inordinately exciting?  (Rhetorical question – please don’t answer.)

Grieshuus is the 6th volume of Storm’s stories, published by Angel Classics and translated by the phenomenal Denis Jackson.  Reviews of a selection of the other volumes, plus my Meet the Translator interviews with Jackson can be found here.