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It’s that time of year again. For the sixth consecutive year, time to bury yourselves in the delights of German (language) literature, in whatever language you choose to read it in.

I’m running a little behind the curve this year.  My reasons are explained here, but rest assured I shall do my best to get myself up to speed in the next couple of weeks.  This will include a tidy-up of the dedicated German Literature Blog where I shall post the master indices of the past 5 German Literature Months.  (I apologise in advance for the surge of pingbacks this may cause to GLM regulars, but the gain will be worth the pain.) The linky for this year is already available though.  So don’t forget to link to your contributions to ensure the greatest exposure.  Remember you don’t need a blog to participate.  Reviews on Good Reads, Facebooks, Twitter or any other social media platform all count. Just use the hashtag #germanlitmonth and I will find you.🙂 This blog is also open to guest reviews, if that’s the way you want to do it.

GLM VI is fully read-as-you-please although I’m hosting Krimi week in week two and Caroline will host a War and Literature readalong of Walter Kempowski’s All for Nothing on 25th November.

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Guess who needs more bookshelves?

Have you decided what to read yet?   As you can see, I have a problem – despite my ongoing efforts, my German literature TBR is now taller than me, so I’m spoilt for choice.  I will be reviewing the books I read on my recent trip to Germany – mostly Krimis actually, as I was dependent on the Kindle-mainly-Krimi TBR for 4 weeks. So week two is sorted at least.  As for the rest of the month, should I read books by the authors I saw at the Frankfurt Book Fair (Sebastian Fitzek, Katherina Hagena, Therezia Mora), or complete my German Book Prize reading project with Katherina Hacker’s The Have Nots, or follow through on Volker Weidemann’s inspirational Summer before the Dark by reading the works Keun, Roth and Zweig wrote during the summer of 1936? All of those? Other whimsical choices? We’ll see.  I have promised myself that I will read Volker Bräunig’s modern classic Rummelplatz. It’s a biggie, so I’d better get started soon.

As ever, I’m looking forward to this month and all the German lit chatter immensely.  Do let me know in comments if you are planning to join us so that I can add you to the German Lit Month blogroll. And, if you’ve already posted a list of reading plans, please add them to the GLM VI linky.  (I’ve been on the road so have probably not seen them.) Finally remember that for German Literature Mont,  there are only two rules.  1) Whatever you read during German Literature Month must have been written originally in German. 2)  Have fun!

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Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel , a former deputy culture minister, was on the Berlin S -bahn commuter train on her way to Ikea to buy a ‘Billy’ bookshelf when she received a call on her mobile phone  that would put an abrupt end to her peaceful retirement from a long career in public service.

The call in 2012 was a request for her to lead an investigation into the cache of artwork that had found in the Munich home of the elderly recluse, Cornelius Gurlitt.No ordinary cache this – it comprised of over 1400 paintings and drawings, with an estimated value of €1 billion! Nazi-looted art – allegedly.

I use the word allegedly because, while most – if not all – of the artwork was obtained from Jews selling their treasures to finance their escape from Nazi Germany or from the museums of vanquished nations, it is not at all certain, whether it was stolen in the  eyes of the law. If the painting was purchased – even for a pittance – it was not stolen, and, if it was sold on at a profit, then the new owner has a legal right to the painting.

Cornelius Gurlitt inherited his collection from his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Hitler’s chief art dealer.  Hickley shows, indeed proves, that Hildebrand played the rules for all their worth.  Acquiring masterpieces for Hitler’s private collection and very different pieces for his own.  Because Hildebrand had a discerning eye and was a great admirer of so-called ‘degenerate’ art – art which the Nazis condemned and would frequently destroy.  Much of the Gurlitt collection was ‘degenerate’ in that sense, and this is what enabled Cornelius to claim after seizure of his collection that it was not stolen, it was saved.

But could he prove that his father had purchased them? Difficult, because Hildebrandt had often claimed that the paperwork was destroyed in the bombing of Dresden.  And yet, Hildebrandt had previously been known to lie, which can only mean that some of his collection was obtained illegally.

These are very murky waters, not made any clearer by the ethics.  There is now an international standard which recognises that stolen artworks should be returned to their original owners, provided that their heirs have the documents proving provenance.  But where does that leave the legal rights of those who bought the paintings in good faith – in many cases, public museums in countries all over the world?   This explains the years-long lawsuits that are being contested in many countries. It will be interesting to see what transpires in the most recent lawsuit of Moll vs The National Gallery.

Law vs ethics.  The only resolution seems to be to sell the painting and split the monies between current owner and th claimants.  Which is why many museums have been raising funds to buy back paintings already hanging on their walls.  Plus there are the human tragedies that are often forgotten.  Hinckley, however, places the human stories at the centre of her book: the Jewish community who lost everything and the paintings which are the only ancestral keepsakes they can hope to retrieve. Neither does she forget the wrong committed against Cornelius Gurlitt, a man with obvious mental issues, who lived only to enjoy his art collection.  It appears that the German authorities confiscated it illegally, and now that Gurlitt has died, with no heirs, his collection remains in storage.  The authorities have no idea what to do with it.

Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction.

From Munich to Mainz

via Weimar, Erfurt and Frankfurt.

If you follow me on Facebook, you will have noticed that I’ve been on an extended trip to Germany.  The trip was part of my #gapyeartravels itinerary and, although the weather was grotty at times, at others it was glorious.  I took in the Munich Beer Festival (disappointing – what’s the point if you can’t get in the beer tents without a reservation?), the Weimar onion market and the Erfurt EGA pumpkin exhibition (both seriously quirky and fun) and the Frankfurt Book Festival (massive and exhausting). Between times the Thuringian forest and the banks of the rivers Main and Rhein put on an autumnal display of colour that has removed Autumn in New England from my bucket list.  There really is no need to travel that far.

I was reading material set in the places I stayed as I went – some of it German Literature, so I have some reviews to start off #germanlitmonth next week.  3 days and counting.  I must get organised. But I have a mass of material vying for blog space and blogging time over the next four weeks (which is when I’m heading off on the next stage of my gap year travels).  Given that I’m also in the middle of #dutchlitautumn, this will probably mean that the blog isn’t entirely dedicated to German literature during November.

Not to worry, there will be plenty of Germanic content to enjoy in the next few weeks. Let’s start with some pictures for the weekend.

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imageI have every intention of taking part in the 1947 Club, only I’m not able to do so in real time; i.e in the week hosts Kaggsy and Simon have put aside for it.  What I can do, however, is recommend a couple of brilliant reads for anyone who is looking for something exceptional to read this week.  Both authors were added to my completist reading list on the basis of their 1947 efforts. Links are to my reviews.

1) Hans Fallada – Alone in Berlin / Every Man Dies Alone

2) Patrick Hamilton – The Slaves of Solitude

I have also reviewed Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country (but I didn’t like it much).

The book originally published in 1947 that I intend reading before the end of the year is forthcoming from Pushkin Press and will be published on 3.11.2016.   In a 2002 poll, members of the Society for Dutch Literature ranked The Evenings first among works since 1900 in the Dutch canon.  Once upon a time I might have read it in the original language, but I can’t do that anymore.  I’ll just have to wait patiently for this little beauty.  (I might even review it during German Literature Month in November.  Ssssssshhhh – don’t tell Caroline.)

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My second read for #dutchlitautumn is the third novel published in English by Herman Koch, which I approached with trepidation still feeling sleazy after reading Summer House with Swimming Pool.  A make or break read if you will.  Would this reader/author relationship survive?

Koch specialises in unsavoury characters, and he doesn’t take long to hit his stride here.   The opening section is a monologue addressed to Mr M by Herman, a man with a grudge stemming from the appropriation of his adolescent self in one of Mr M’s novels. Herman is to all intents and purposes a stalker.  I have plans for you, Mr M, he says with menace.

Mr M’s novel, Payback, was based on a case in which a teacher disappeared without trace.  Jan Landzaat, married with two children, had been romantically involved with his pupil, Laura.  He struggled emotionally when she traded him in for the rather ugly and gangly, Hermann, and wouldn’t let go.  After following Laura and Herman to a remote hideout,  Landzaat disappeared without trace.  While no case was brought against Laura and Herman for lack of evidence, in Mr M’s novel Laura and Herman are guilty of murder.  It was a high profile case, and once can only imagine the resulting impact of the novel on the lives of the two teenagers.

Koch’s novel examines the events leading up to the teacher’s disappearance from the viewpoints of the main characters, and nobody comes out well:  Laura, the prettiest girl in the class, and arch manipulator; Landzaat, the teacher with form, and Herman, who owns a video camera, which he uses as a candid camera, filming people during moments of high provocation.  This is a foretaste of the stalker he is to become, as well as a delicious irony.  The  younger Herman is just as intrusive in other people’s lives as Mr M will be in his own. Is the fact that Koch gives Herman his own name a commentary on an author’s keen powers of observation? At what point does such observation become intrusive?

This is just the tip of the metafictional iceberg at the heart of Dear Mr M, which is as much an analysis and satire of the writing life as it is a mystery.  At one point Mr M is interviewed about his objectives and decision making processes. In those pages, explanations are given for the necessary simplifications and omissions in Payback which in turn clarifies the occasional bagginess of Koch’s long but clever novel.  If you look closely, this interview also hints at the solution of what really happened to Mr Landzaat.

The tone is sly and snidey throughout.  Those expecting the shock (as in horrifying) value of Koch’s previous offerings  may be disappointed, although there is a final twist which may shock some. I had seen it coming – not that it matters. It’s a satisfying ending in which loose ends are tied … apart from one.  Just what did Stella do?  The fact that both Mr M and Koch deliberately do not tell niggles the hell out of me …..  I shall ask Koch about that, if I catch sight of him at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Despite that Koch and I are once more friends and I look forward to reading more.  I notice that there is a fourth Koch novel in existence, Odessa Star.  I hope that Sam Garrett is working on the English translation as I type.

“Hell reigns”‘ he (Joseph Roth) writes to (Stefan) Zweig.  He also says there can be no compromises with the enemy.  Anyone who continues to have business with Germany,  anyone who so much as maintains a connection to Germany, is a monster.

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They resent Thomas Mann for taking so long to make himself one of the exiles, for trying not to wreck things with the regime in Germany, for not wanting to lose the German market.

(Extracts from SUMMER BEFORE THE DARK, Volker Weidermann)

Earlier this year I read Volker Weidermann’s retelling of the summer of 1936, when the exiled literati of Nazi Germany (Zweig, Roth, Keun etc.) congregated in Ostend to console and encourage each other.  I haven’t stopped thinking of it since and a fascination with the 1930’s is developing. Reading the views of the exiles about Thomas Mann quoted above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he was colluding with the Nazi state for the sake of his book sales.

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Translated by Jeannette K Ringold

“Fair criticism or not? I have been wondering, and so I decided to kick off my #dutchlitautumn with Britta Böhler’s retelling of a pivotal three days in 1936 during which Thomas Mann deliberated whether to publish an open letter denouncing the Nazi regime.

Böhler’s fictionalisation cleverly writes into a historical gap.  While Mann wrote copious diaries, there is very little covering these particular three days.  As Mann’s deliberations are not on record,  Böhler can set out his thoughts and concerns without without fear of contradiction.  I have no doubts that these are based in the realities of Mann’s mindset at that particular time: not just those of the public persona, but of the family man and the private individual.  I separate those two facets deliberately, because there were secrets that Mann kept from his wife that were written in diaries hidden in his beloved Munich home, and that had been confiscated by the Nazis.  His fear of the Nazis discovering these and the resulting damage to his reputation is very palpable.

The timeframe of the novel is extended backwards in time through Mann’s thoughts which cover his marriage to a rich Jewish heiress, the raising of his children and his early criticism of the Nazi regime.  His exile in Switzerland from 1933 was in some ways self-imposed.  Warned by friends not to return, as arrest was imminent, he took their advice, and brought his half-Jewish children out of Germany before the Nazis got hold of them.  But the Nazis wouldn’t leave him in peace. Fined for his abandonment (!), his property confiscated, they continued to persecute him from afar. And yet, as he was not Jewish, his books were not banned.  A full denunciation of the regime would result in his books being burned with unfavourable attention being directed to his Jewish publisher.  Would it also constitute abandonment of his loyal German readers?   How would he feed his family when his Nobel prize money (which he had judiciously banked abroad) ran out?

Böhler succeeds in putting Mann in the moment, on the cusp of a momentous decision, which would result in the permanent loss of not just his income and his home, but his homeland.  The result is a human portrait of a man deliberating the pros and the cons until the deciding factor tips the balance; it is a picture enabling a more reasoned and charitable assessment than that of the exiles in Ostend.

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Who would want to be without Caroline and Lizzy’s German Literature Month?” asks Sally-Ann Spencer in the 20th anniversary edition of New Books in German. The good news is that neither Caroline nor I want to be without it. So it is our great pleasure to announce that German Literature Month VI is now inked in our diaries for this coming November.

Albeit a little less structured than in previous iterations. We’ve learned that regular GLMers are not short of ideas, and love to read as they please. So that’s what German Literature Month VI is about. Fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, novellas, short stories, plays, poetry, classic or contemporary, written by male or female, the choice is yours. As long as the original work was written in German, read as you please, and enjoy yourselves!

That said, there are a couple of scheduled activities for those who like to participate in group reading.

1) I will be hosting a Krimi week during week two concentrating mainly on Austrian and Swiss crime fiction. (If anyone is looking for a cracking read to discuss that week, I recommend Ursula P Archer’s Five.)

2) Caroline has scheduled a Literature and War readalong for Friday 25 November. The book for discussion is Walter Kempowski’s All For Nothing.

We are very much looking forward to this, and hope you will join us. Don’t forget to tell us your plans. There’s often as much fun in the planning as there is in the reading!

Sent from my iPad