Tag Archives: novel

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.

#germanlitmonth2017

Other Reviews:
Lizzy’s Literary Life 
MadabouttheBooks 
James Reads Books
love german books
Tony’s Reading List
ausgelesen
Kultur oder Wissenschaft

© 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.

#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 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.

‘The Time Regulation Institute’ by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

The Time Regulation Institute

Years ago, I came across the name of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (1901-1962) for the first time. I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s book about Istanbul and Pamuk refers to Tanpinar as his most important teacher as a writer and novelist. That’s a sufficient reason to have a closer look at this author and his novel The Time Regulation Institute, first published in book form in 1962.

Tanpinar belongs to a generation of Turkish authors that grew up in the Ottoman Empire and lived through the first decades of modern Turkey with its Kemalist reforms that deeply affected every aspect of life. It is important to keep in mind that – while the book is clearly a modern novel, written by a university professor that was very familiar with modern European literature – the author was at the same time deeply rooted in the pre-modern Ottoman traditions; and the same is true for his characters in The Time Regulation Institute.

The novel is the first-person narrative of the life of Hayri Irdal, a loafer, a man who grows up in rather poor circumstances and with limited school education, but who shows at an early age a talent in repairing watches, a craft he learns at the workshop of Nuri Efendi, whose thoughts about the role of time and about how important it is to make good use of it will play an important role later in the novel.

We see Hayri Irdal being a rather weak person, with a problematic second marriage (after his first wife died early) and with children that are not really close to him. He is spending most of his time with a strange circle of friends, alchemists, spiritualists, fortune seekers, project makers. This collection of characters gives Tanpinar an opportunity to unfold his satirical talents. The first part of the novel takes place in the time before and during WWI, and this part frequently reminded me of a Karagöz performance, the Turkish version of the Commedia dell’arte; the tales of Nasreddin Hoxha came to mind as well. Not only the men are shown as objects of the author’s wit, also the female characters get their fair share of satirical treatment, particularly Hamdi’s aunt, but also his second wife and her sisters with their obsessions regarding cinema or singing.

A change of luck for Hayri happens in the moment when he gets acquainted with Doctor Ramiz, a psychoanalytic who has just returned from Vienna and who applies his newly acquired (and superficial) knowledge of modern psychotherapy to cure his patient, with analysis of dreams that the doctor “orders” his patient to have, and discussion of German-language brochures on psychoanalysis inclusive (Hayri speaks of course only Turkish). Once Hayri is released from the hospital, Doctor Ramiz introduces him to Halit Ayarci, a modern project maker who understands to utilize Hayri’s potential and who – thanks to his connections in important circles – is also able to find the funding for a revolutionary idea: the creation of the Time Regulation Institute. The institute, a (fictitious) part of the reforms in the 1920’s in Turkey is supposed to ensure that all clocks and watches in the country show the correct time, and a mechanism to ensure that – and of course also a sophisticated system of fines – is quickly developed.

A big part of the second half of the novel deals with the finding of financial backing of the project, the creation of a bureaucracy and the erection of a suitable and representative office building of the new institute, so that the big number of employees – all of them of course relatives and friends of the director, Halit Ayarci, and his deputy, Hayri Irdal – have excellent working conditions. A special task assigned to Hayri is the writing of the biography of Ahmet Zamani Efendi, an Ottoman predecessor of the idea of measuring time in the modern way; and the fact that this person never existed gives Hayri a perfect opportunity to bring his storytelling talent to good use. Too bad that a Western scholar shows up one day, who is looking for further evidence, and that on top of it, a visiting commission questions the work and the usefulness of the Time Regulation Institute…

Bureaucracies seem to have a great fascination for novelists. But while Kafka or Ismail Kadare (in his Palace of Dreams) focus on the dark, nightmarish implications of such bureaucratic institutions, Tanpinar offers his readers the satirical version, a farce. Hayri represents the old generation of people who don’t really believe in what the institute stands for, but who seize the opportunity to employ a lot of friends and relatives, or who take advantage of it in any other way; Halit Ayarci on the other hand is a ‘modern‘ character, someone who clearly understands that the institute can be an instrument to satisfy his personal ambition, and who is very clever in using his contacts in political circles to find the money and public recognition for his project. And of course, a bank and a housing project are also needed in this context…

I mentioned already that Tanpinar was very familiar with modern European literature; and I can’t help but thinking about Italo Svevo’s Zeno Cosini, or the “heroes” of the novels of Robert Walser that seem to come from the same mould as Tanpinar’s characters. Halit Ayarci and his project also reminded me a bit of the Parallelaktion, and the character of Arnheim in Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities.

What is the message of Tanpinar’s novel? Maybe this one: you cannot transform people that are deeply rooted in a medieval society into modernity just by enforcing some radical reforms, like the Kemalists did in the 1920’s and 1930’s. All these reforms will be superficial and will not change the mindset of people. Tanpinar mentions the paintings of Osman Hamdi Bey, and the tortoise of Hayri’s dervish friend is also an obvious reference to the most famous of Osman’s paintings, The Tortoise Instructor; the tortoises being a symbol for the Turkish people as seen by Osman. Can you really teach or instruct a tortoise? Tanpinar ends on a slightly more optimistic note. Hayri’s estranged son is supporting his father in the end with his construction project; and while he clearly sees his father’s limitations – and that of his surrounding -, this son who distanced himself geographically, and also by name (choosing a new name for himself), seems to look at his father with mild irony and understanding. Several generations need to pass probably until a modern Turkish society will evolve. In the meantime, Hayri, and also Turkish society in general still struggle with the Father complex that was diagnosed by Doctor Ramiz in the novel. But I am quite sure, Tanpinar had not only Turkey in mind when he wrote about bureaucracies, and about how a certain category of men is using projects like the Time Regulation Institute to re-write or plainly invent the past and turn such projects into a kind of machinery for self-promotion, generation of media attention, influence, and money. Therefore, it is easy to relate to this novel, even when the reader may not be familiar with the Turkish setting and background.

Overall, I can say that I liked and enjoyed this book very much. It is a fun read thanks to the ability of its author to combine satirical criticism, traditional ‘oriental’ storytelling, and a very accomplished use of the form of the modern novel, with an unreliable narrator. If Tanpinar had lived longer and would have had an opportunity to edit his novel more diligently, he might have cut some passages that are redundant, but that’s a very small criticism of an otherwise truly important and enjoyable book.

The translators of this edition made an obvious effort to render the author’s multi-layered style into a similarly multi-layered English. I cannot really judge the quality of the translation since I don’t know Turkish, but it was a smooth read that didn’t create any challenges for me as a reader.

Bibliographic Information:

‘The Time Regulation Institute’ by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, translated by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Publication Date: 2013

432 pages

ISBN: 978-0143106739

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar was a Turkish poet, novelist, literary scholar and essayist, widely regarded as one of the most important representatives of modernism in Turkish literature. In addition to his literary and academic career, Tanpınar was also a member of the Turkish parliament between 1944 and 1946.

The Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival (ITEF) is named in honor of Tanpınar and has been held annually since 2009. The Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar Literature Museum Library, is a museum dedicated to Turkish literature in Gülhane Park in Istanbul.  It opened in 2011.

Maureen Freely is an American journalist, novelist, professor, and translator. Born in New Jersey, Freely grew up in Turkey and now lives in England, where she lectures at the University of Warwick. She is the current President of English PEN, the founding center for PEN International. 

Her seventh novel, ‘Sailing through Byzantium,’ was chosen as one of the best novels of 2014 by The Sunday Times.  Freely is also an occasional contributor to Cornucopia; a magazine about Turkey. She is best known as the Turkish-into-English translator of Orhan Pamuk’s recent novels.

Alexander Dawe graduated from Oberlin College in 1996 with degrees in French and Classical Guitar Performance. He has translated several contemporary Turkish novels including Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s The Time Regulation Institute with Maureen Freely.  In 2010, he received the PEN Translation Fund to translate a collection of short stories by Tanpınar. He lives and works in Istanbul.

Thomas Hübner is a German-born economist and development consultant with a life-long passion for books. He lives in Chisinau/Moldova and Sofia/Bulgaria. He is also the co-founder of Rhizome Publishing in Sofia, and translates poetry, mainly from Bulgarian to German (most recently Vladislav Hristov, Germanii, Rhizome 2017). He is blogging at www.mytwostotinki.com on books and anything else that interests him.


Contempt

Riccardo and Emilia are happily married for two years in post-war Rome. While Riccardo, the intelligent and likeable, though slightly narcissistic and delusional narrator, works as a journalist writing film critics to make a living, his dream is to become a serious writer and novelist. His beautiful wife Emilia, coming from an impoverished family, dreams on the other hand of living in their own house and of creating a comfortable nest for them, something much better than the rented room in which the financially struggling couple lives. When Riccardo is offered work as a screenwriter by the film producer Battista, he decides to accept despite serious reservations. He considers this kind of work as a waste of time and talent, but since it is comparatively well paid, he can fulfil his wife’s dream and buy a small flat; at a later stage, also a car, another sign of his growing success in the eyes of society. But on his way upward in the social hierarchy, something happens to the relationship between Emilia and Riccardo: Emilia becomes reserved and grows cold toward her husband, love turns into indifference and even into hatred and contempt. Contempt is also the title of the novel by Alberto Moravia that I am reviewing here.

Moravia has been praised for his elegant prose, and I can see why, even when I read the book in German translation. The prose is flowing effortlessly, the dialogues of the tormented Riccardo who wants to find out the reason for the growing alienation between him and his wife, and Emilia sound very real and convincing. Another thing I admire especially in this book is his talent to keep the reader’s interest in a seemingly rather trivial story of alienation and estrangement between husband and wife by adding some other interesting aspects. 

One of the issues that play a major role in the novel, are the relationship between success and money, and the real needs and wishes of people; the characters are forced to do things that are in contrast with what they really want in order to make a living, or to satisfy the (vain) dreams of their partners, or to be perceived as successful and dynamic in a capitalist society. That’s not only true for Riccardo and Emilia, but also for the other two major characters of the novel, Battista and Rheingold, a German film director who is commissioned by Battista to make a monumental movie adaptation of The Odyssey. (In Jean-Luc Godard’s film adaptation of the novel, this character is played by Fritz Lang!)

Battista and Rheingold have strongly opposing approaches to the movie and Homer’s epic. While Battista wants to produce a monumental adventure movie, Rheingold on the other hand is only interested in the psychological conflict that he sees as the reason for Odysseus (Ulysses) participation in the War of Troy, and his delayed return to Penelope. According to his Freudian reading, Odysseus participates in the war because he wants to escape an unhappy relationship: he feels not loved by his wife. For the same reason, it takes him many years to come home. While Riccardo rejects Rheingold’s in his eyes simplistic psychoanalytic approach to Homer’s work, he understands reluctantly that what Rheingold says for the relationship between Odysseus and Penelope is like a mirror regarding his own and Emilia’s relationship and the reason for the obvious alienation between the partners may be a very similar one.

While Moravia is showing us a rather bleak picture of the modern Western world, where money, success, and sex serve as substitutes for a more meaningful existence, his reference to Homer seems to say that it has in principle been always like this. Emilio’s (and Moravia’s) membership in the Communist Party may be more inspired by a vague Utopian hope of a better future than by a real wish for a social revolution or dictatorship of the proletariat. In the meantime, it is best to acknowledge the mechanisms of the inherent contradictions of capitalist society. If Riccardo would have had more time to resolve the basic conflict and predicament of his life with Emilia, it would have been best to divorce and focus his future life on what he really aspires to be, a novelist and serious author. A sudden blow of fate spares him from actively taking this decision on his own.

Moravia knew the film business well; he worked also as a script writer and met probably people very similar as those described in his novel. Contempt describes an at that time thriving film industry in Italy as he experienced it, and the picture he is painting is not a particularly flattering one. Moravia had also a house on Capri similar as the one owned by Battista in the novel, where the final crisis takes place (the Godard movie was shot partly at the Casa Malaparte, another rather famous villa on Capri). And it is also known that at the time he published Contempt, his own marriage with novelist Elsa Morante was in a crisis that ended in divorce a few years later. So, while the novel is not a strictly autobiographic one, Moravia knew about what he was writing and was able to transform this into a rather short, fascinating novel. While some other so-called “existentialist” novels have not aged very well, Contempt was a surprisingly fresh book to me, and I guess I will soon read more by this author.

A word about the movie Le Mépris by Godard, which I have mentioned above: overall a good movie in my opinion, and the fact that Godard made a few major changes compared to the novel doesn’t distract from the quality of the film. The setting, particularly the scenes at the Casa Malaparte, is next to perfect for this movie. However, I had the impression that Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance were not really the right choices for two of the major roles (while Michel Piccoli is brilliant); therefore, it is for me a good movie, but not the masterpiece it could have been with a more adequate cast of characters.

Contempt was also published in English as A Ghost at Noon.

Alberto Moravia: Contempt, translated by Angus Davidson; with an introduction by Tim Parks. New York Review Books, New York 2004

© 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 21st Century Greatest Novels”

The BBC asked a number of well-known literary critics to name “The 21st Century greatest novels”. And just as I imagined it: all the 12 books on the top of the list are written in English!
 
That says little about “The 21st Century greatest novels”, but a lot about the state of (mono-) culture in the English-speaking countries, where hardly three percent of the published books are works translated from other languages.
© 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.

#germanlitmonth 2016 – Robert Seethaler: The Tobacconist

The Tobacconist (Der Trafikant) is after A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) the second novel by Robert Seethaler that was published in English translation. I read it in the original German, therefore my review cannot do justice to the English translation.

The year is 1937. Franz Huchel, the main character of the book, is a 17-year-old from the Austrian countryside, who grows up as a single child of a single mother. At the beginning of the book, Franz is very much a protected child, a namby-pamby, but after the unexpected death of his mother’s wealthy lover, the days of dreaming are over: he is sent to Vienna for work. His employer, Otto Trsnjek, is also a former lover of his mother from pre-WWI days, and is running a trafik, a shop where people can buy tobacco, newspapers, stationery. Otto Trsnjek lost a leg in the war and with his shop he is a well-known presence in the neighborhood; he is teaching Franz how to properly read and understand the newspapers, but also the psychology of the different customers of the shop, and the characteristics of the different varieties of cigars they are selling (although none of the two is a smoker); and a few lessons about life in general. Otto’s tobacco shop becomes the new home of Franz, and it is from there where he learns to adapt to the big city.

With his mother Franz stays in touch via the picture postcards they are writing each other; it is from these postcards his mother learns about the major changes in Franz’ life: Franz falls in love with Anezka, a girl from Bohemia, and he gets acquainted with an old gentleman who is a regular customer of the tobacco shop: Sigmund Freud who is living nearby in the Berggasse, is buying cigars from Otto Trsnjek.

While the buxom Anezka with the charming tooth gap is awakening Franz’ sexuality and lust, the professor, who is taken in by the persistence with which the simple country boy is asking him for advice regarding his sorrows related to love and lust, is reassuring Franz. The frailness of the old professor, his fight with old age and the illness from which he is suffering since many years – the permanent pain and the problems with his jaw prosthesis are a recurring theme -, but also his frankness about how little he actually knows about the human psyche, impress Franz very much and the moment when the professor teaches him how to enjoy the smoking of a cigar on a park bench belong for sure to Franz’ most happy moments.

What would be in other times a normal coming-of-age story gets a twist because of the political events that are taking place in Austria at the time the story of Franz unwinds: 1938 is the year of the “Anschluss”, Austria is uniting with Nazi Germany, a development that is changing things forever in the lives of many people. Professor Freud is emigrating in the last moment (thanks to the organizational skills of his daughter Anna), socialists and other leftists are arrested or forced into suicide, and the tobacco shop is vandalized, and finally Otto Trsnjek is arrested by the Gestapo, a development that is seen by some neighbors with obvious glee, particularly by the rather disgusting butcher from next door, a sadistic figure as if from a play by Ödön von Horvath.

And Franz? He is still in doubt about Anezka, who appears and disappears without note on various occasions, and who displays her naked body in a “Varieté” (a kind of music hall), finally starting a relationship with a young SS officer for whom she is deserting Franz. When Franz is arrested in the tobacco shop which he is running after Otto’s death in the hands of the Gestapo, he locks the doors of the trafik because “you never know”. But when Anezka passes by the shop in March 1945, briefly before a major bombing raid, all that is left from the previous tobacco shop are some chairs and a note on which Franz had noted a dream he had, a habit he developed after Freud convinced him of the usefulness of this practice. Obviously, Franz never came back after his arrest, and it is easy to guess why.

Did I like the book? Yes, very much! There are a number of reasons for this. Seethaler writes a beautiful, elegant, effortless prose, and I hope that also the English translation will give a good idea of his stylistic abilities. As a professional actor (you can see him here in the movie Youth), Seethaler has obviously a good ear for dialogues and for the individual way of expression of each of his characters. He succeeds with very simple means to give the reader a clear indication about how each of the major figures in the book is speaking. Anezka for example comes from Bohemia, a region whose people were famous for their problems with the German umlauts, and a very few examples are already enough to have her voice practically in your ear. Another beautiful element are the postcards between Franz and his mother which in the beginning are full of platitudes but which develop into a real correspondence parallel to the process of Franz’ intellectual and sensual awakening. The atmosphere of the growing paranoia after the Anschluss, the outbursts of personal violence and sadism on a large scale of otherwise “normal” citizens that was without precedence even in Nazi Germany; the seemingly im-probable and “impossible” friendship between the simple Franz and the sophisticated Professor Freud; and the fine characterization of the inhabitants of Vienna – all this made me enjoy the book.

Franz is a hero in the typical German tradition of the simple, good-hearted, noble fool (“reiner Tor”); but contrary to Eichendorff’s Good-for-Nothing, The Tobacconist has no ending in which “everything, everything was delightful” – the exact opposite is true in this case. A Happy End is not possible in the time of Nazism.

It was particularly interesting for me to read this book for this year’s German Literature Month after I reviewed last year The Tortoises by Veza Canetti, a work that covers the same period in Vienna. Considering the recent very strong support of right-wing extremists by the voters of those political forces in Austria who represent the ugly side of the Austrian national character in the latest elections in the country, the book had also sometimes a chilling effect on me. The mentality that showed its ugly face after the Anschluss in 1938 is still existing and very widespread in Austrian society; however, the wave of successful political movements which are based on hatred of certain groups within a society is unfortunately not limited to Austria alone these days.

 

 

Robert Seethaler: Der Trafikant, Kein & Aber, Zürich 2012; The Tobacconist, Picador 2016, translated by Charlotte Collins

#germanlitmonth

(This review is part of the German Literature Month, again hosted by my two blogger colleagues Caroline@beautyandthecat, and Lizzy@lizzysiddal, who are doing a great job promoting German literature in translation since years.)

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. 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.

 


Twilight of the Eastern Gods

Moscow, 1958. A young and talented Albanian author is sent to the centre of the Communist world in order to complete his literary education at the renowned Gorky Institute. The bustling atmosphere of the Soviet capital with all its interesting opportunities in the cultural sphere (despite the limitations that the communist ideology imposes), the chance to meet with fellow writers from diverse backgrounds, the less puritan lifestyle in Moscow compared to the more and more paranoid atmosphere in Enver Hoxha’s Albania, and its (then) backwater capital Tirana, and the elevated feeling to belong visibly to the chosen intellectual elite of the future in the communist world – all this should make this stay a pleasant experience for someone who aspires to be a professional writer.

And indeed we see our hero/narrator (who shares many experiences and characteristics with the book’s author) at a writer’s holiday retreat on the Baltic sea – a previous one at the Crimea is mentioned -, enjoying romantic infatuations with several young women, indulging in “typical” student’s activities in Moscow at that time, like getting terribly drunk on several occasions, and so on. In between, we follow our hero to lessons at the Gorky Institute, which are moderately interesting, or we read his talks, discussions or overheard rumors that usually centre around the Russian literary elite; Yevtushenko asks the hero on one occasion in the corridor of the student’s building, if he has seen Bella (Akhmadulina) – that’s the kind of every day experience the narrator has. And yet, for the main character Moscow and particularly the Gorky Institute and the literary circles become a serious disappointment, for various reasons.

When Lida Snegina, the hero’s love interest for most of the book mentions to him that she doesn’t like living but only dead authors, it sounds a bit provoking first. But somehow this casual remark is a kind of trigger for some soul-searching and analysis of the authors and would-be authors that surround the hero at the Gorky Institute: the majority of them mediocre figures, willing to sell their souls and to change their convictions immediately if a new party line requires it. And their works: books that have got almost nothing to do with the real life of the people in the Soviet Union or their respective homeland, most of them idyllic descriptions of a non-existing communist paradise without any literary value.

There is of course another literature in Russia at that time, but it’s a literature that is banned, and circulated only in Samizdat, copied secretly and handed over clandestinely from friend to friend. In an abandoned tract of the student’s building, the narrator finds an incomplete manuscript of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, the famous banned novel for which Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Once the news regarding this award is public, a ferocious, well-orchestrated, nation-wide campaign against Pasternak is let loose, a campaign that is so vicious that the narrator asks himself how it must feel when one is at the receiving end of so much hate propaganda, venom, and even threats against one’s own life. No wonder, that his opinion about most of his colleagues at the Gorky Institute becomes free of any illusions:

“At long last, after overcoming their adversaries, having accused them of Stalinism, liberalism, bourgeois nationalism, Russophobia, petty nationalism, Zionism, modernism, folklorism, etc., having crushed their literary careers and banned the publication of their works, having hounded them into alcoholism or suicide, or, more simply, having had them deported, that is to say, after having done what had to be done, they had been inspired to come to the Gorky Institute to complete their literary education.”

While this evaluation may be true for the big majority of students, there are a few of his colleagues with whom the narrator develops a distanced friendship. One of them, the Greek Antaeus, a veteran of the Greek Civil War, and by coincidence a one-time patient of a hospital in Gjirokaster, the narrator’s home town, reminds the narrator of the besa, this Albanian obsession about the keeping of a once given word under all circumstances, and even when it means to rise again from the dead, as it happens in the old Albanian legend of Kostandin and Dorutine; this legend that plays a certain role in this novel was later made the theme of The Ghost Rider, another Kadare novel. There are more references to Kadare novels that obviously are brain-childs of his stay in Moscow: The General of the Dead Army, The Niche of Shame, and The Three-Arched Bridge. The world of the Kadare novels is full of cross-references, and The Twilight of the Eastern Gods is no exception.

I mentioned it in another review of a Kadare book: it rains a lot in Kadare’s novels – as much as it does in the movies of Andrey Tarkovsky. Twilight of the Eastern Gods is no exception, but it gives a hint why this is a recurring theme in all of Kadare’s books. In the books that were typical for the Socialist Realism of the 1950s it would hardly ever rain, the sun was always shining over the Worker’s Fatherland. The insistence on rain is also an act to distance himself from this kind of fantasy literature that was expected from writers who had graduated from the Gorky Institute; at least this is how I understand Kadare.

In the end, Albania and the Soviet Union start to distance themselves; everybody seems to realize it before the narrator does it. We know what will happen: the narrator will have to return home, and experience his own, even worse dictatorship again.

Maybe Twilight of the Eastern Gods is not exactly on the same literary level as some of his masterpieces (Broken April, The Pyramid, Palace of Dreams, The General of the Dead Army, Chronicle in Stone, The Winter of our Discontent), some of the characters are a bit flat, but still it is a good novel that gives valuable insights in the world of this giant of contemporary world literature. It is his most autobiographical book and I can recommend it to anyone with an interest in Kadare’s works.

One word about the translation, and about the translations of Kadare’s books in general. The reviewed edition in English is translated by David Bellos from the French translation by Jusuf Vrioni – similarly to The Siege that I reviewed here previously. Overall not a bad effort, although I am in principle opposed to this kind of translations that are for me only acceptable when there are no translators at all for a given combination of languages; so for this edition there is no excuse based on availability of translators. There are excellent translators from Albanian to English. But the case of Kadare is a bit more complicated, and – very typical for this author – even a bit ambiguous.  

All books of Kadare that were published in Albania before 1992 were subject to censorship. Some of his books were even banned after publication in Albania, despite having undergone careful reading by the censors. At the same time, Kadare could publish some of his novels abroad or in Albania in translations. His translator in French was Jusuf Vrioni, also an author and close friend of Kadare. Kadare speaks French and worked usually closely together with Vrioni in the process of translation to French. After the fall of communism in Albania, Kadare started to review his books and included in new editions also banned paragraphs and pages. Therefore, the updated French language editions of Vrioni would contain more authentic versions of Kadare’s novels than the originally published Albanian versions. At a later stage the expanded, uncensored French versions were then published in Albanian, in Kadare’s favourite publishing house Onufri. The German translations of Kadare novels on the other hand are exclusively translated directly from Albanian, based on the versions that Kadare authorized.

There is another reason why Kadare (or his agent, Mr Andrew Wiley) usually favors a translation of his older novels from the French translation, and not from the Albanian originals, I suppose. Albania has become very late a member of the relevant international agreements on authors’ rights and copyright. As a result, authors of Albanian works that were published prior to the ratification of these agreements by Albania, have no copyright protection. Kadare wouldn’t see a penny of royalties for a translation of any of his earlier novels, unless a publisher would – for ethic, not for legal reasons – decide to compensate him. The French translation is considered according to these agreements as a new work (because it includes many changes compared to the original Albanian text), and is therefore subject to royalties. Not that it affects in any way the literary value of Kadare’s works, but this background is important to know, if one wants to understand the strange translation practice of his work in the Anglophone world.

Ismail Kadare: Twilight of the Eastern Gods, tr. David Bellos, from the French translation by Jusuf Vrioni, Canongate Edinburgh London 2015

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. 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.

Coup de Grâce

Coup de Grâce is a short novel by Marguerite Yourcenar, published a few months before the outbreak of WWII. It is the account of the tragic relationship of three people, told by one of them in retrospect.

Erich von Lhomond, the narrator, is a German officer of the Legion Condor who was wounded in the Spanish Civil War and is recovering in Italy which gives him an opportunity to look back at events that happened briefly after WWI, and that had a lasting impact on his life.

Erich and his close childhood friend Conrad took part in the fighting in the Baltics in 1919 between the Red and the Czarist Army; the so-called White Russians were supported in this civil war by German Freikorps (in which Erich and Conrad serve as officers), paramilitary groups with strong nationalist, anti-communist, and frequently anti-Semitic convictions (many later Nazi leaders served in Freikorps units); the situation was rather complex since there were already independent states in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania who were caught somehow in between. The fighting in the Baltics with its atrocities, summary executions of prisoners, or massacres of people who were just suspected of being sympathetic to the other side foreshadowed in many respects what was to come about twenty years later. It is despite its great importance for the understanding of the history of this century a today almost forgotten episode.

The action of the biggest part of the book takes place in Kratovice, the castle-like family home of Conrad and his sister Sophie whom Erich and Conrad meet again after a long time. In their youth and adolescence, the three of them formed a very close triangle, and they used to share their thoughts, dreams, and secrets. But the war and their growing-up has changed things between them. While Erich and Conrad share a homoerotic attachment to each other, Sophie falls in love with Erich and declares her feelings very openly to him – but Erich is not responding to her feelings.

Yourcenar focuses on the development of the relationship of these three young people, that are tormented by their feelings and also the political situation. An additional complication is the fact that Sophie has sympathies for the Reds, and doesn’t hide it. After being rejected by Erich, she starts a number of short affairs with other soldiers, probably in the hope to arouse Erich’s jealousy. But Erich keeps his calm at least on the outward. Only once, after another compromising short affair of Sophie, he gives her a dressing-down that destroys her last hopes in ever arousing serious interest in her:

“Toutes les réponses eussent été bonnes, sauf celle sur quoi je trébuchai par irritation, par timidité, par hâte de blesser en retour. Il y a au fond de chacun de nous un goujat insolent et obtus, et ce fut lui qui riposta:

– Les filles de trottoir n’ont pas à se charger de la police des mœurs, chère amie.”

“All responses would have been good except the one on which I stumbled by irritation, by shyness, by aiming to hurt back. Deep within each of us there is an insolent and obtuse bounder, and it was he who replied:

– Pavement princesses do not have to take on the vice squad, dear friend.”

This moment seems to mark the turning point of Sophie’s feelings; she is soon leaving Kratovice without giving note to anyone, obviously with the intention to join the Reds.

What follows is the evacuation of Kratovice and the withdrawal of Erich’s unit, skirmishes in which Conrad is mortally wounded, and a truly breathtaking last meeting of Erich and Sophie who has been taken prisoner. I prefer not to reveal more of the story here, but the title of the book gives already away a lot.

This short novel is in my opinion one of the really great works of French 20th Century literature. There are many reasons to consider this book as at least very remarkable.

One reason is the intelligent choice of the central “hero” of the book. The narrator and main character Erich is an ambiguous and therefore interesting character. With his refined and chivalrous manners and his interest in literature and art he is not the heel-clicking stereotype of a German soldier you can see in many Hollywood movies, but probably a more typical example of the old Prussian military elite that was predominantly of French-Huguenot origin – as Erich himself.

Although being historically on the “wrong” side – being part of the military machinery that was responsible for the rise of fascism in Europe and other parts of the world – he is an intelligent man able of introspection and empathy. That is self-evident in his relations with Sophie, but also in his opinion about Grigori Loew, the man with which Sophie was living while siding with the Reds. Loew is a Jew and convinced communist, but nevertheless Erich thinks more highly of him than of most his own brothers in arms:

“…il avait sur lui un exemplaire du Livre d’Heures de Rilke, que Conrad aussi avait aimé. Ce Grigori avait été probablement le seul homme dans ce pays et à cette époque avec qui j’aurais pu causer agréablement pendant un quart d’heure. Il faut reconnaître que cette manie juive de s’élever au-dessus de la friperie paternelle avait produit chez Grigori Loew ces beaux fruits psychologiques que sont le dévouement à une cause, le goût de la poésie lyrique, l’amitié envers une jeune fille ardente, et finalement, le privilège un peu galvaudé d’une belle mort.”   

“… he had a copy of the Book of Hours of Rilke with him, that Conrad also had loved. This Grigori had probably been the only man in this country and at that time with whom I could have conversed nicely for a quarter of an hour. It has to be recognized that this Jewish obsession to rise above his father’s thrift had produced at Grigori Loew these beautiful psychological fruits like the dedication to a cause, the taste for lyric poetry, the friendship toward a fiery young girl, and finally the somewhat overused privilege of a beautiful death.”

In retrospect, Erich realizes that the communist Russian Jew Grigori Loew was in a way his own mirror image; he also realizes that Sophie’s last wish to which he had complied was indeed an act of revenge that overshadowed Erich’s whole future life. His life after the catastrophic events seems to matter very little to him; he is also aware of the fact that his engagement in diverse conflicts all over the world (Manchuria, Latin America, Spain) have turned the once honourable soldier into a mercenary and adventurer (who will in all probability be soon part of the Nazi aggression in WWII).

There are many other reasons to estimate Yourcenar’s book very highly: the crisp and elegant language, the deep psychological insights in the motivation and the different psycho-sexual orientations of the characters, the dialogues and atmospheric depth of the setting in the family castle of the de Reval family – I enjoyed this gem of a book very much. It made me curious to read more by Yourcenar.

I read the book in the original French; it turned out to be a surprisingly easy read.

An interesting movie is based on the novel: Der Fangschuss (1976), by Volker Schlöndorff (cinematography: Igor Luther).


Marguerite Yourcenar: Le Coup de Grâce, Folio 2016
Marguerite Yourcenar: Coup de Grâce, translated by Grace Frick, Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1981
The text quotes in this blog post are translated from the French by Thomas Hübner.
© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. 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.

Woman of the Dead

I have seen several favourable reviews of Woman of the Dead by Austrian crime fiction writer Bernhard Aichner. Therefore I expected something at least entertaining, maybe even well written. However…

Let me not bother you with the plot and come straight to the point: this is pulp fiction of the lowest class. The writing consists of strangely clipped sentences, and a pseudo-literary style that reads unintentionally funny at times, especially in the German original. The development of the story is entirely predictable, and the author seems to be a big fan of graphic descriptions of completely unmotivated violence. The more disgusting, the better, seems to be the credo of this author.

I didn’t enjoy this book even a little bit, and after I read a truly revolting FB posting of Herr Aichner in which he is inviting his FB friends to describe an “efficient, creative and spectacular torture method”, and which was promptly answered by more than a hundred obviously sexually aroused resident FB perverts who describe with obvious glee and sadistic pleasure in all graphic and sick details the contents of their demented torture fantasies (the most “creative” and disgusting will be used by Herr Aichner in his next book), I realized that this author writes not for me, but for that part of the population with strong anal-sadistic predisposition – people who would torture me or you to death with orgiastic pleasure, if they just had an opportunity. His books are obviously meant as arousal templates and masturbation help for those sick people, pornography for sadists. It seems that he is very successful in servicing to the needs of this lower segment of humanity.

My apologies for the explicit language in this blog post, but I was rarely more disgusted by any book or author and I strongly recommend you not to waste your time with the poorly written shmutz Herr Aichner is producing.

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Bernhard Aichner: Woman of the Dead, translated by Anthea Bell, Orion 2015

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-6. 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.