The execution of my plan to read one translated book per Bundesland during GLM has been years in the planning. Saarland was one of the sticking points, and it was only with the aid of the London Goethe Institute (thank you Annemarie) that I managed to track down today’s subject for review.

Ludwig Harig (1927-2018) born in Sulzbach was of an exceptionally good vintage. (1927: My mum, Martin Walser, Gunter Grass among others.) However, he was not part of the Gruppe 47, in fact he stayed clear of well-known literary movements, preferring to forge his own paths. The Trip to Bordeaux was published by Small Press Distribution as part of their DICHTEN= series, which specifically seeks out work of an experimental nature.

Translated by Susan Bernofsky (2003)

And so this account of a fortnight in Bordeaux is unlike any other holiday journal. It is a series of vignettes of specific moments: the journey there, drinking the first bottle of wine, a saga of who sits on which chair, sunset on the beach etc, interspersed with monologues from Montaigne, a famous former resident of the area. Now that is the sum total of my knowledge about Montaigne (Stefan’s Zweig’s biography of the man languishes on my shelves), and so I’m unable to comment on how clever Harig’s inventions are.

The contemporary narrative is only discerned by linking the vignettes together. Harig is totally concerned with language, playing with sentences, phases and words just for the sheer joy of it. For example:

That made me smile. It even induced me to send off for a copy in German, because I want to see the original. In other places Harig includes poems, dialogues, and some prose passages are really beautiful. I loved this.

There were other sections though where I felt the conceit forced and the repetition monotonous. There were others when I was completely confused, particularly when reading the Montaigne sections. I really need to pull that biography down from the shelves ….

All in all a very mixed bag.