2021 has been a bounteous year for fans of G-lit in translation in the UK. Not just for fiction, also non-fiction. In fact, at one point I was considering reading only non-fiction for GLM XI. But quickly changed my mind, because I take non-fiction very slowly. However, here’s a challenge to myself to read and review this little lot before GLM XII.
From the bottom-up
Immune – Philipp Dettmer This is the one I have started. It’s a #germanlitmonth rule breaker, written by a native German, but in English. Dettmer is the founder of the youtube channel with 16.9 million subscribers, KURZGESAGT (In a Nutshell), which breaks down science into digestible and understandable chunks. The objective of IMMUNE is to explain the system that we used to take so much for granted in pre-pandemic times. In layman’s terms with lots of pictures. Fascinating.
Kong’s Finest Hour – Alexander Kluge (Tr. Cyrus Shahan, Kai-Uwe Webeck, Susanne Gomoloch, Emma Woelk, Martin Brady, Helen Hughes, Robert Blankenship). I’m thinking of this, which the publisher describes as the first volume of Kluge’s chronicles, as a miscellany. Comprising over 200 stories – I’m not sure if all are non-fictional – I’m looking forward to a trip through connections made by Kluge’s awe-inspiring synapses. See publisher’s blurb below.
In a world full of devils, the giant ape Kong defends what he loves the most. But who and what is this undomesticated animal? Might it reside within us? As we tread confidently, is this where the earth opens up beneath us?
In Kong’s Finest Hour, Alexander Kluge explores anew the accessible spaces where Kong dwells within us and in our million-year-old past. The more than two hundred stories contained in this volume form a chronicle of connections that together survey these spaces using diverse perspectives. These include stories about the folds of Kong’s nose, the voice of the author’s mother, the poet Heinrich von Kleist and Jack the Ripper, the indestructability of the political, and the supercontinent Pangaea that once unified the earth. Dissolving theory into storytelling has been Kluge’s lifelong pursuit, and this magnificent collection tells stories of people as well of things.
Eight Days in May – Volker Ullrich (Tr. Jefferson Chase) A title added to that expanding reading list entitled “The Tentacles of the Third Reich”. I’ll be reading this sooner rather than later. Publisher’s blurb below.
1 May 1945. The world did not know it yet, but the final week of the Third Reich’s existence had begun. Hitler was dead, but the war had still not ended. Everything had both ground to a halt and yet remained agonizingly uncertain.
Volker Ullrich’s remarkable book takes the reader into a world torn between hope and terror, violence and peace. Ullrich describes how each day unfolds, with Germany now under a new Führer, Admiral Dönitz, based improbably in the small Baltic town of Flensburg. With Hitler dead, Berlin in ruins and the war undoubtedly lost, the process by which the fighting would end remained horrifyingly unclear. Many major Nazis were still on the loose, wild rumours continued to circulate about a last stand in the Alps and the Western allies falling out with the Soviet Union.
All over Europe, millions of soldiers, prisoners, slave labourers and countless exhausted, grief-stricken and often homeless families watched and waited for the war’s end. Eight Days in May is the story of people, in Erich Kästner’s striking phrase, stuck in ‘the gap between no longer and not yet’.
The Scent of Empires: Chanel No 5 and Red Moscow – Kurt Schlögel (Tr Jessica Sprengler) History through the prism of just 3 questions: “Can a drop of perfume tell the story of the twentieth century? Can a smell bear the traces of history? What can we learn about the history of the twentieth century by examining the fate of perfumes?” That was enough to seduce me into a purchase.
Troubled Water: A Journey Around The Black Sea – Jens Mühling (Tr Simon Pare) I just have to read a novel from Ukraine and I will have “travelled” all around the Black Sea this year. The fictional journey is to be followed up next year with Mühling’s actual one.
The Heartbeat of Trees – Peter Wohlleben (Tr. Jane Billinghurst) I have no idea why I didn’t devour the latest from my favourite forester as soon as the postie delivered it. Sometime soon, I will.
Nature is Never Silent: How animals and plants communicate with each other – Madlen Ziege (Tr. Alexandra Roesch) No further explanation needed – the title says it all.
Earlier we glanced at the history of the 20th century through the story of perfume. Let’s look into space now and take a look at A History of the Universe in 100 Stars – Florian Freistetter (Tr. Gesche Ipsen)
The German Crocodile – Ijoma Mangold (Tr. Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp) Publisher’s blurb again describes this best.
In this compelling memoir of growing up different, Ijoma Mangold, today one of Germany’s best literary critics, remembers his youth in 1970s Heidelberg and the new Federal Republic, and momentous visits in early adulthood to the USA and Nigeria. His own story is inextricably linked with that of his mother, a German from the eastern province of Silesia, forced to escape as a refugee in the expulsions from 1944, and to start afresh in utter poverty in West Germany. His Nigerian father came to Germany to train in pediatric surgery but returned before Ijoma was old enough to remember him. His reappearance on the scene forces a crash collision with an unknown culture, one he grew up suspicious of, and a new complex family history to come to terms with. Mangold explores many existential questions in this lively narrative; How does a boy cope with an absent father? What was it like to grow up ‘bi-racial’ in the Federal Republic? Was he an opportunist, a master adaptor who had over-assimilated? What is the relationship between race and class? And what is more unusual in Germany: having dark skin or a passion for Thomas Mann and Richard Wagner? Ijoma shares his story with its dramatic twists and turns, not forgetting the surprises he uncovers about himself along the way.
I’ll make a start on this over the weekend, as I’m really looking forward to The International Book Club event to be attended by the translator herself on 1.12.2021. (What a perfect excuse to extend #germanlitmonth … again. 😉)