In Times of Fading Light

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In Times of Fading Light is the debut novel of Eugen Ruge (b. 1954 in Sosva/Ural). It is loosely based on the fate of Ruge’s own family and tells the story of the four generations of the Umnitzer family. The book was very favorably reviewed after publication; it was awarded the Deutscher Buchpreis (German Book Award) in 2011, and sold more than half a million copies on the German-language market. In the reviews it has been sometimes compared to the Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. Foreign rights have been sold to 28 countries so far.   

The book has, as I understand it, two central themes: the slow disintegration of the Umnitzer family, whose story is told in the book, and the change of attitude by the four generations of the family toward the big experiment of communism, as applied in the GDR. 

Wilhelm Powileit, the family patriarch whose 90th birthday celebration in October 1989 is one of the central events in the book, was a communist from early age on. A metal worker, party member from the time of the foundation of the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) in 1919, later involved in fighting the Kapp putsch, and during the first years of the Nazi era busy with illegal work for the party that included smuggling of people and propaganda material, but also the liquidation of ‘traitors’, felt always to be a man with a purpose and without doubt. The hardships of exile in Mexico, later a short stay in Russia and return in 1952 to East Germany even strengthened his belief in the Stalinist ideas. As a so-called Westemigrant he was viewed with suspicion by the people in charge in the Party in the GDR, and therefore he was not able to rise to a higher rank in the party hierarchy. But he develops a kind of grass root activism that earns him year after a year a new medal of honor and a visit of the party secretary with rather boring speeches. It suits the party to showcase a man like Wilhelm Powileit, with such an exemplary resume, even when some of the events mentioned in it are somehow blurred, and it is fairly obvious that the official CV is more a legend than the truth. But the most important is anyway always missing in official resumes – a truth that Wilhelm discovers surprisingly once his memory becomes very weak as a result of beginning dementia (or is it the medication that his wife is supervising?).

Contrary to Wilhelm, his wife Charlotte (divorced Umnitzer, hence the different family name of the following generations) made quite a career after returning to the GDR, in the newly founded Academy. Her marriage of convenience was based mainly on the shared belief in the communist ideal, and their long life together was always submerged to the fight for an allegedly brighter future for the working class. But for Charlotte, who had a very unhappy and abusive childhood and difficult first marriage with two children, the communist ideology was also a kind of escape, an idea that filled in a void in her life, something to stick to with all her might, because it provided the stability that was lacking in her life. 

While the oldest generation seems to have no doubt about their political convictions and beliefs, the same cannot be said for Kurt Umnitzer, Charlotte’s son and Wilhelm’s step son. Kurt is an academic, one of the leading historians of the country, and a very productive one. While he is convinced that the ideals of socialism are worth fighting for, and also that the experiment of its practical implementation is a historical major achievement, he is not blind for certain unpleasant truths. As an adolescent, he and his brother Werner were growing up in the Soviet Union to be trained as a part of the future post-WWII elite in Communist Germany (Wolfgang Leonhard or Markus Wolf come to mind), but a letter in which they voiced doubt regarding the wisdom of the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact changed their lives dramatically: as a consequence of the discovery of the content of this letter, they were exiled to different camps in Siberia; Werner didn’t survive this punishment in Vorkuta, but Kurt who was exiled to another place did, later to return with his Russian wife Irina and their son Alexander to the GDR; Irina’s mother Nadjeshda later joins, but she never feels at home in Germany and dreams to go home to her village in the Ural.

Alexander, Kurt’s and Irina’s son, is in some way the central figure of the novel. This is obvious from the fact that the book starts and ends with a chapter following his fate. The book’s first chapter describes how Alexander, just diagnosed with an obviously incurable form of cancer, takes care of his father who suffers from an advanced form of dementia. In an attempt to re-connect with the story of his family and in making sense of his life, he travels to Mexico, a place he knows from many conversations at home. But it’s not the real thing, a touristic experience with a bit of nostalgia. Alexander, who left the GDR shortly before its complete collapse, thinks about his failed career in West Germany, his inability to feel at home anywhere, his failed relationships with the women in his life, his complete failure as a father. The socialist ideal was never something that appealed to him, but he wasn’t able to find something else to occupy this empty spot in his life.

For Markus, the youngest Umnitzer, and representative of the fourth generation, the political ideas of his grandparents and great-grandparents are already history only. It’s something about which you read in the history book but with which you have no connection, despite the fact that once great-grandfather Wilhelm visited the school to tell the students about his early years in the KPD and his acquaintance with Karl Liebknecht, the party founder. 

There are other interesting elements in the book; particularly the role of the women in the family as opposed to the men. They are not just some kind of ‘sidekick’, but occupy a prominent role in the novel, and have to struggle with their own tragedies. Also the structure of the novel is very interesting and elaborated: while several chapters, including the first and the last take place in 2001, the one central event in the book is Wilhelm’s 90th birthday, a day in which almost the whole family comes together and in which the open and hidden conflicts are revealed; no less than six chapters focus on this single day; in between them there are several flashbacks – starting from 1952, the year of return of Wilhelm and Charlotte – and also returns to the present time (2001); additionally, there are various flashbacks that recount certain events in the past, so that the novel covers over all a period from 1919 to 2001. This structure is rather elaborate and may sound confusing, but I had no problem to follow it; one of the advantages of this structure as compared to a linear and chronological account was for me that it was clear from the beginning that Alexander is the main hero of the book – although as a reader you can make also a different choice.

There are a number of comical situations, and also humour in the book. The language is unpretentious and doesn’t try to impress you. Maybe that was one of the reasons why this was such a successful book: it is easy to read. No long and winding Thomas Mann sentences, no polished prose as in Uwe Tellkamp’s The Tower, the novel with which Ruge’s book has sometimes been compared. 

The title of the book is a reference to the potato harvest in the village in the Ural in early fall in which Kurt lived, but it is also a metaphor for the fading light that the communist ideal shines on the Umnitzer family and that gets weaker with every generation.

Overall this is a well-crafted novel I really enjoyed. I read it in German; therefore I cannot say anything regarding the quality of the translation. 

Eugen Ruge: In Times of Fading Light, translated by Anthea Bell, Graywolf Press 2014 

This review is published in the framework of the 2017 edition of German Literature Month, organized again by Caroline from Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. A list with links to all published reviews by the participating bloggers can be found here.

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© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Master of the Day of Judgment

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Automn 1909 in Vienna. The famous actor Eugen Bischoff has invited a few friends to his villa for a Hausmusik evening (a tradition in many cultured German and Austrian homes). Together with his wife Dina, her brother Felix, his friend Doctor Gorsky, and the narrator Rittmeister von Yosch the amateur musicians play several pieces from the classical repertoire. A rather late arrival, the engineer Solgrub interrupts unintentionally the music performance, and the friends are starting to ask Bischoff about his new role, Shakespeare’s King Lear. Bischoff retires briefly to a garden pavilion pretending to need a short preparation time for giving his friend a short performance to show them how he understands this role. Suddenly, two shots are heard from the pavilion. When the alarmed company rushes to the place, they find Eugen Bischoff dead.

Was it suicide? Was it murder, as Solgrub believes? But then, the door of the pavilion was locked from the inside…Had the narrator a hand in it? After all he had a motif: four years ago, he had an affair with Dina and was madly in love with her. While Dina and Felix suspect at least an indirect involvement of von Yosch in the death of Eugen Bischoff, Solgrub points at several similarly mysterious suicide cases in the recent past. While all four male characters start – sometimes individually, sometimes together – to investigate about what’s behind the mysterious death of Eugen Bischoff, it turns out that more shocking events are going to happen. The key to resolving the mystery seems to be an old manuscript from the 16th century that tells the tale of an Italian painter, known as the Master of the Day of Judgment, a tale that gives an uncanny explanation to the mysterious events unfolding in the Vienna of the year 1909.  

It would spoil the fun to read this book if I would give away more details here regarding the plot. I enjoyed this book tremendously, for several reasons.

Perutz writes a very elegant prose, and this together with his ability to depict situations, people and the few unexpected twists and turns in the story made me devour this book in one sitting. I found it unputdownable (I like this English word!). Perutz knew the milieu about which he was writing very well, and I had the impression that he had a fine ear also for social differences and how they affect the way how people speak in the book – the use of dialect of a taxi driver; the switching to the familiar ‘Du’, but adding the for non-Austrians funny ‘Herr Rittmeister’ by a former army officer unknown to von Yosch when he is talking to the narrator, based on the simple fact that they served in the same military unit; the servile approach of the people working in the pharmacy; the extremely polite way of speech of the Sephardic money-lender; these are just some of the pleasures of this book.

Another thing that I liked: it is difficult to say to what genre this somehow hybrid book belongs, and I think this is one of its strengths – it so unlike most of other genre books you will read. It borrows elements of the mystery genre; it is also a variation of the locked door mystery; there are elements of horror that let me think of E.T.A. Hoffmann, Edgar Allan Poe, or even Stephen King. And it has also elements of a historical novel. Additionally, the narrator is a character with more facets as meet the eye in the beginning. Below the surface of the cultured, book and music loving man with a rich emotional life, is also someone who is strictly following the military code of honor, and to him the killing of a man in a duel for a rather trifling matter is not a big deal, a fact about which even his friends have no illusion.

And one more thing: the novel is also to be read in the tradition of the literary sub-genre “The Perpetrator as Investigator” that is quite popular in German literature: the main character is investigating a crime that he himself has (possibly) committed – Heinrich von Kleist’s Broken Jug, Heinrich Spoerl’s The Muzzle, or Heimito von Doderer’s Every Man a Murderer come to mind.

The last chapter, the remarks of the person who found von Yosch’s manuscript, give the text again a new possible interpretation. The story can be read as a mystery or fantasy novel; but the biggest mystery, as the novel advances is hidden in the souls of the characters of this book, and their obsessions with the horrors they faced in a certain moment of their lives, and with the feelings of guilt they experienced in traumatic situations. To quote a word by Edgar Allan Poe: “I maintain that terror is not of Germany (or in this case: Austria – T.H.), but of the soul.”

I read the book in German, therefore I can’t say anything regarding the quality of the translation.

Leo Perutz was born in Prague in 1882; he attended the same school as Max Brod and Felix Weltsch, two close friends of Franz Kafka, who were slightly younger than Perutz. Later he worked in Trieste (in a time when James Joyce and Italo Svevo lived there) as a mathematician for the same insurance company as Kafka. A compensation formula he worked out was for a long time used in insurance business all over the world (the ‘Perutz’sche Ausgleichsformel’). Just like Robert Musil, who left a mark outside the literary world (he invented the ‘Musil color top’), he was a man with more than one talent. Perutz was very successful as an author in Vienna in the 1920’s and 1930’s, but his Jewish origin made publication after 1938 impossible, and his emigration to Palestine where he felt cut off from the culture and language to which he belonged, made his life difficult. Additionally, he was opposed to the creation of the state of Israel and was supporting a bi-national solution for Palestine as a home for Jews and Arabs as well. In the 1950’s he started to travel to Austria again frequently. He died in 1957 in Bad Ischl, while visiting his old friend Alexander Lernet-Holenia.

If you haven’t read anything by Perutz, I can heartily recommend his books. And if you don’t trust me, trust Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino or Graham Greene who loved his books. Also Theodor W. Adorno, Ian Fleming, F.W. Murnau and Alfred Hitchcock were fans of Perutz. My personal Perutz favorite is By Night under the Stone Bridge, but also The Master of the Day of Judgment is excellent in my opinion.

Leo Perutz: Master of the Day of Judgment, translated by Eric Mosbacher, Pushkin 2015

This review is published in the framework of the 2017 edition of German Literature Month, organized again by Caroline from Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. A list with links to all published reviews by the participating bloggers can be found here.

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© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hear the Wind Sing

Hear the Wind Sing is Haruki Murakami’s first book. The short novel was published in 1979.

The story takes place in August 1970 when the nameless narrator is in his early twenties. He is spending his time mostly drinking beer with his friend, the Rat (we never learn his real name) and the barkeeper J (we also never learn his real name). There is also a girl – you guessed it already: her name is never revealed – who has only nine fingers, with a mother she doesn’t like (we never learn why), and a twin sister to whom she is equally not close (not surprisingly also the reason for this remains a mystery). She works in a record store, and this leads to some references to mostly popular music of that time. The music plays a big role, there are also conversations with a radio DJ with a hiccup, and a letter of a hospitalized girl to the DJ from which is quoted extensively. Apart from that, there is a random meeting with a woman in a bar who drinks several gimlets, makes several phone calls, and goes to the bathroom several times. For some reason, the narrator and the Rat talk about books although the latter is not a reader. Containing no sex scenes and having no one in it who is dying are considered as the main characteristics of a good novel (for which reason they consider this as important is, you know it by now, not explained). The girl has an abortion, and disappears later completely. The narrator mentions the three girls with whom he had sex previously and who all committed suicide. Oh, and there are also some sentences about the pulp fiction writer Derek Hartfield and his bizarre suicide in 1938.

When this blog post seems like a mess to you, it is not my fault. Most of the things happening in this book seem to me completely pointless and not connected to each other. I didn’t understand why things were happening or what was the function of a single of the described events. The characters are shallow, the dialogues bad Hemingway. Maybe it was the intention of the author to show these young people as representatives of a counter-culture, a generation that had no intention to become part of the mainstream Japanese post-WWII society with its salarymen and consumerism. But if that was the idea, it would have been a good thing to describe a little bit more realistic characters with some depth that would have been able to attract some interest and empathy from the side of the reader, and not the flat placeholders without names in this to me pointless narrative.

This is a book for you if you are a big fan of Haruki Murakami. For all the others I can’t recommend it. Fortunately, it is a short book, I read it in one sitting. There is a sequel, Pinball, 1973, which I have also on my shelves. Not really sure if I want to read it.

It is a strange thing. So many people are raving about Haruki Murakami and his writing, he is every year on top of the list of the most probable candidates for the next Nobel Prize for Literature. But to me he seems not to be a remarkable author of literary fiction, although I tried by now already quite a considerable number of his books. The only work by him that greatly impressed me so far was his non-fiction Underground, which I have reviewed here.  

Haruki Murakami: Hear the Wind Sing, translated by Ted Goossen, Vintage 2016

Other Reviews: 
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© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Memoirs of a superfluous woman

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“Once, when I looked out of the window during the Lord’s Prayer instead of looking at the crucifix, my mother hit me in the face, so that the blood was running from my mouth and nose, and I did not get anything to eat and had to kneel on the ground during the meal.” (Als ich einmal beim Vaterunser statt auf das Kruzifix zum Fenster hinaussah, schlug mich die Mutter ins Gesicht, dass mir das Blut zu Mund und Nase herauslief, auch bekam ich nichts zu essen und musste während der Mahlzeit am Boden knien.)

This is a comparatively mild form of physical abuse and violence that Lena Christ, the author of  Erinnerungen einer Überflüssigen (Memoirs of a superfluous woman) had to endure during a big part of her childhood and youth by her mother. Verbal abuse of the most aggressive and malicious form, savage beatings not only by hand but with all kind of instruments at hand that resulted in several hospitalisations and suicide attempts; this is what Lena Christ received from her mother instead of love and care. Even more than a hundred years after the publication of this book, it is difficult and heartbreaking to read these memories of a woman that had to endure so much rage, hatred and violence from her own mother.

Lena grew up at the end of the 19th century in rural Bavaria and had a comparatively carefree early childhood in the home of her grandfather and step-grandmother. The illiterate grandfather, a kind and emotionally supportive person, and also the grandmother who was also taking care of several foster children, gave the young Lena obviously enough space to develop herself. Christ is describing the typical village childhood with pranks of children, village and church festivities, almost idyllic. Like most children, she has a keen eye for what’s going on around her and gives interesting characterisations of villagers she knew and anecdotes from this happy period of her life. The parents of Lena are absent: the father dead – his ship sunk when Lena was two -, the mother in Munich, who turns up only very rarely and who speaks not at all with her daughter when she comes for a short visit.

Lena was born out of wedlock, a so-called illegitimate child. The fate of such children was frequently rather sad. They were – like Lena – seen as a shame, and what is more: a permanent living reminder of this shame. Frequently they were subject to verbal and physical abuse, and had usually a very hard life. But while Lena’s fate may to some degree be considered as typical, the sometimes insane hatred of her mother is extraordinary.

After the first years with the grandparents, Lena’s mother sends a message that will change Lena’s life forever: she has married and from now on, Lena is supposed to live with mother and stepfather in Munich. But while the stepfather, a few years younger than the mother, shows a certain kindness and understanding for Lena on several occasions, the mother knows no limits for her rage directed at Lena, which almost costs the girl’s life. No wonder that she is running away on several occasions. Once, she convinces the bigoted mother to allow her to enter a convict, but also this experience was not a lucky one. (The Catholic church and their representatives had their fair share in Lena’s suffering, and the author mentions on more than one occasion the bigotry of priests and nuns.) Surprisingly, Lena is homesick. And who knows, maybe things have changed at home at least a little bit…but that’s an illusion as she has to learn very soon the hard way.

To avoid a wrong impression here, I should mention that Lena is despite all her bad experiences described as a quick-witted and rather self-confident young person who rules efficiently over the cuisine of the restaurant that her father is managing with growing success. Lena’s family is not poor and well-respected and a growing number of (legitimate) children is also proof for a seemingly “normal” family which is slowly climbing up the social ladder. From a certain age on, Lena attracts also a considerable number of suitors, but when a young man from an allegedly wealthy family proposes to her, she accepts although she doesn’t know the boy; she is just happy to get away from her mother – who not surprisingly curses her in even by her standards very harsh words.

Lena’s marriage is described only in comparatively summarily form: the husband turns out to be a drunkard who is permanently abusing and raping his wife (because as a husband he has legally “the right” to do so…). He is going bankrupt and becomes mentally insane, and leaves Lena with several children alone and homeless. Lena finds a temporary shelter and work as a secretary. With a slightly optimistic note that Lena tries to prove that she is a more than a superfluous, unwanted person, the book ends.

Lena Christ wrote this book in 1911 and published it after she got a very positive feed-back by the author Peter Jerusalem, who read the manuscript. Jerusalem became her second husband. Other Bavarian authors, like Ludwig Thoma and Korfiz Holm encouraged Lena Christ and helped her to find publishers for several volumes of stories and two novels she wrote. But it seems that she was haunted by nightmares and that her childhood abuse by her mother left her soul scarred for life. She left her second husband for a much younger man, started to forge paintings and got in conflict with the law. She committed suicide in 1920, only 38 years old. The cyanide was provided by her estranged husband, who later lived mainly from the royalties of Lena Christ’s writings. It seems that he more than a bit distorted the image of her personality, giving the impression that she was insane. He created a kind of legend and it took a very long time until serious research had a second look at Christ, whose work could as well be considered as an early example of feminist writing in difficult times.

The book has to my knowledge never been translated into English. One reason might be the language. Lena Christ’s book is written in a language very close to the real, spoken language of the people among whom she grew up. The Bavarian dialect that is present on almost all pages of the book may be a real challenge for any translator. But these memoirs have also a tremendous charm; Lena Christ had a great natural talent to tell her story, and the book is not only valuable as a witness of a certain historical period but is also proof that someone with comparatively little knowledge regarding literature can be an excellent author.

Emerenz Meier, Franziska Reventlow, Elisabeth Castonier, Marieluise Fleißer – these are some more remarkable female writers from Bavaria from that period. They should not be forgotten and should be read more frequently. And why not in English translation?

Lena Christ: Erinnerungen einer Überflüssigen (Memoirs of a superfluous woman)

The short quote in the beginning was translated from the German by me.

This review is published in the framework of the 2017 edition of German Literature Month, organized again by Caroline from Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. A list with links to all published reviews by the participating bloggers can be found here.

#germanlitmonth2017

Other Reviews:
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© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


The Seventh Well

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The Seventh Well by Fred Wander is a book in the tradition of the works of Primo Levi, Imre Kertesz, Elie Wiesel or Julius Fučík about the Holocaust. Although it’s a novel, it is an only slightly fictionalized account of experiences of its author as an inmate in no less than twenty Nazi concentration camps in France, Poland and Germany.

The book consists of twelve comparatively short chapters. The chapters as well as the events reported in them are not always in chronological order. The book – and this was a wise decision in my opinion – does not aim at being an exhaustive report of all the sufferings of its author/narrator; it rather focuses in each chapter on one or a small group of inmates, their characteristics, background, bits of information about their life “before” – when they were just ordinary people with all their strengths and defaults, dreams and obsessions, family life, political convictions, religious creeds, with their love of money, sex, alcohol, or literature and story-telling. And indeed, the title of the opening chapter is How to Tell a Story, and I must quote the very first sentences here:

“In the beginning was a conversation. Three weeks after the conversation, Mendel died.”

What follows this almost Biblical entry is a portrait of the above-mentioned man, Mendel Teichmann, a middle-aged Jew who would tell every other Sunday afternoon stories to the other inmates who gathered to listen to him. These first eight pages set the tune for the whole book. The other vignettes in the book are similarly impressive.

While the SS guards and their willing local helpers are indiscriminately called “jackboots” throughout the whole book and almost none of them is identified by a name or some individual characteristics (contrary to many recent books and movies about the Holocaust that are indulgent in their portrayal of sadistic, demonic and somehow charismatic Nazis, while the victims don’t play an important role; the most extreme case that I know of is Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, a book that I find highly problematic – but I digress…), the prisoners of the camp in these approximately 150 pages gain an individual stature and profile. While many things we know about the camps – the selections, the arbitrary violence and killings, the role of the Prominenten and Kapos, prisoners who made themselves useful to the SS guards and became part of the system that kept the work in the camps going, the hasty evacuation and Todesmarsch (death march) from one KZ to the next, the slow physical and psychological decline of the inmates, the permanent exhaustion and starvation to name just a few -, there are several reasons why The Seventh Well stands out in comparison to other works.

The Holocaust was such a monstrous crime, the number of victims so huge, and the extermination was organized in such a bureaucratic, industrialized and cunning manner that there is a danger that the individual victims are easily forgotten. By remembering a few of them, the author/narrator gives them a face, a fate, a story to remember. These are not anonymous victims, these are people from different countries, Jews, Christians, Jehova’s Witnesses, Atheists; there are communists or other leftists; homosexuals and Russian POW’s; people with a working-class background and intellectuals. And they all struggle to keep their human dignity against all odds by acts of resistance: for example by forming a literature club, by singing an Italian opera aria or Spanish songs from the Civil War, by protecting a fellow prisoner who is in bad physical shape from discovery, by not committing suicide, by fighting to keep their younger brothers alive (the last chapter Joschko and his Brothers is particularly touching), or – by telling stories.  

The episodic character of the chapters makes it easier for the reader not to get overwhelmed by the subject matter. While some of the chapters could be stand-alone stories, others have more the character of essays. The translation of Wander’s sparse, but beautiful prose by Michael Hofmann is excellent.

I cannot say that I “enjoyed” this book – for obvious reasons.  But I am very glad that I read it. The Seventh Well is a truly humanistic book, because it helps us to remember the humanity of at least some of those who perished and suffered in the Holocaust.

A post-scriptum: In Germany, Fred Wander is probably less well-known than his (second) wife Maxie Wander, author of the celebrated interview book Guten Morgen, du Schöne (Good Morning, Beautiful), and her posthumously published diaries. He wrote also an autobiography Das gute Leben (The Good Life), which I plan to read as well – maybe for next years’ German Literature Month, who knows?

The Seventh Well

Fred Wander: The Seventh Well, translated by Michael Hofmann, Granta Books London 2009

This review is published in the framework of the 2017 edition of German Literature Month, organized again by Caroline from Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. A list with links to all published reviews by the participating bloggers can be found here.

#germanlitmonth2017

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

German Literature Month 2017

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It is a tradition already: November is the time to read German literature! For the seventh time, Caroline from Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life host the German Literature Month again, and I will be glad to join again!

As for my reading and reviewing plans: I will keep that for myself in the moment. Better not to promise too much…

Are you joining too? That would be great! Over the years, this event has developed into probably the biggest joint event in the book blogging community, and I am looking forward to it with great curiosity again!

#germanlitmonth2017

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Reckoning

Penguin’s Little Black Classics Series introduced me to number of authors I hadn’t read before; among them Edith Wharton – admittedly a rather embarrassing omission from my reading list until now. The Reckoning, a small booklet that contains apart from the story of the same name only one more piece, Wharton’s first ever published story Mrs Manstey’s View. 

Mrs Manstey’s View appeared 1891 and marked the beginning of the career of one of the most important American author’s of the first half of the 20th century, and although Wharton was later very critical regarding her early stories – most of them are not reprinted in her Collected Stories -, it is of course very interesting to get a first-hand impression of her writing before the novels that made her famous, following the publication of The House of Mirth.  

Mrs Manstey’s View is one of the most devastating portraits of lonely widowhood I have read. When the view from the window of her rented room in a boarding house to which the title is referring and which is her only joy is threatened by the construction of an extension building, the elderly Mrs Manstey, practically forgotten by her daughter who lives far away and considered as mad by her few social contacts because of her obsession about her view and her inadequate attempts to stop the construction work that will destroy this view for good, comes up with a last desperate idea to put a halt to the extension plans, an idea with catastrophic consequences…

While the language and the setting of the story are rather conventional, and while the story is too short to get a really deep inside into the character and psychology of the protagonist, this piece works nevertheless well as a short story, and although the more mature author found certain flaws in her early stories, it is already with this first work that appeared in print that the author made a mark in literary circles in 1891, the date of the first publication. 

The Reckoning, first published in 1911, shows Wharton already at the height of her powers as an author. It is considerably longer than the first story, and is also more elaborated in more than one respect. 

The story’s main character, Julia Westall, is married to her second husband Clement since ten years. Her marriage can be considered a “modern” one: in a time when divorce was – especially for a woman – a social stigma, Julia has left her first rich husband without regrets. Too socially awkward, too “impossible” was John Arment, and the friends of the Westall’s, among them the upper-class Van Sideren’s consider this, together with Julia’s obvious disinterestedness (her second husband is moving slowly upward the social ladder, but is not a really wealthy man) as something that makes an otherwise in such circles scandalous divorce acceptable. When Westall, a verbal advocate of “modern” ideas also regarding the institution of marriage, takes a serious interest in the daughter of the Van Sideren’s, Julia finds herself from one moment to the next in a situation where her orderly and seemingly happy life collapses. The surprising climax of the story sees Julia in the home of her first husband. But I will not reveal more details here…

With its six more elaborated characters, and especially with a heroine that has considerably more depth than the protagonist of the first story, The Reckoning is a really fascinating story. It is also a strong, almost brutal analysis of the power balance between men and women in the society in which Wharton was living. Once a husband decided to discard his wife, it meant for her usually that she lost everything, including her position in society (which considered women mainly as an adornment of their husbands). What is additionally tough for Julia is the fact that she doesn’t exactly understand why it happens, the marriage having been over ten years a happy one (at least by superficial standards), and her visit at her first husband is acknowledging the fact that now she knows that he also didn’t understand what happened when she left him ten years ago…

Altogether, The Reckoning is a remarkably fresh story that resonates long in the mind of the reader. 

I am glad that I started my personal Edith Wharton Reading Challenge with this teaser; now I am curious to read not only her most accomplished novels but also her Collected Stories!

Edith Wharton: The Reckoning, Penguin Books 2015

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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fünf gedichte / пет стихотворения

In die Septemberausgabe der bulgarischen Literaturzeitschrift “Нова социална поезия”(Neue Soziale Poesie) wurden fünf meiner Gedichte aufgenommen, in der ausgezeichneten Übersetzung des Dichters und Literaturwissenschaftlers Vladimir Sabourin, der für diese Ausgabe auch Texte von Heiner Müller übersetzt hat. Herzlichen Dank, lieber Vladimir!

В Септемврийския брой на сп. “Нова социална поезия” има пет стихотворения от мен, в превод на Vladimir Sabourin на кого съм много благодарен за публикуването и отличния превод. 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My personal Edith Wharton reading challenge

A phenomenon with which every reader is familiar: no matter how much you read, there will be nevertheless always important books and authors that you will miss. A reader’s life is too short even for compulsive readers like me to have a complete overview regarding all important books and authors.

Despite this biological limitation, I am making an effort from time to time to fill in a few gaps; authors whose names are well-known to me and considered as important by authorities I usually trust; books that are on my personal TBR pile since a long time but which have constantly evaded my attention in the last moment. 

One such author is Edith Wharton, and since I have no less than five books by her on my shelves, I will read and review these books in the next weeks, and form my own opinion of this generally very well-reviewed author.

Have you read any of Edith Wharton’s books? Or are you willing to join this personal reading challenge of mine? If so, drop me a line here, or in the next weeks under one of my upcoming Edith Wharton blog posts. 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-7. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.