Robert Seethaler ‘A Whole Life’

This last weekend I accompanied Marie-Claude to the French National translators annual conference (ATLAS) in the historic town of Arles, and whilst there I spent a couple of hoursimage exploring the Actes Sud bookshop, a famous French Editor based in Arles who incidentally publishes both Mathieu Enard (the recent winner of the Prix Goncourt) as well as the French translations of Svetlana Alexievitch (the recent Nobel Prize winner). Amongst other hauls, Marie-Claude came away with the latest Asterix ‘Le Papyrus de César’ and I with ‘Une Vie Entière’ (A Whole Life)

The best adjective I can find to describe Robert Seethaler’s book ‘A Whole Life’ would be gentle. Andreas Egger born in the closing years of the 19th century lived his whole life (with the exception of the war years) in a single mountain valley, without complaining, his poor life in this village seems so hard that his capture and six year detention in Vorochilovgrad with many prisoners dying around him from hunger, illness or exhaustion does not seem so different from his normal way of life.

He is brought up by a brutal farmer who continually beats him using a willow branch imagecausing him permanent damage to his leg, until he rebels and leaves home at 18 to live in stables, outbuildings or huts surviving doing any work in the valley he could be payed for, he tragically knows love for a short period, lives through the slow opening up of the valley to tourism and to his eventual demise and death living in yet another hut in the mountains.

I read this book in one sitting about this way of life so different from today’s but so recent.

First published in German as Ein ganzes Leben by Carl Hanser Verlag in 2014
Translated into French by Élisabeth Landes and published by Sabine Wespieser in 2015
Translated into English by Charlotte Collins and published by Picador in 2015

7 thoughts on “Robert Seethaler ‘A Whole Life’”

  1. Would you be interested in looking at a book that celebrates the life of Octavia Hill and in particular the concept of a ‘noble life’?


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  2. I read a review of this book on a German blog and it said how unusual the thought of a life in the same place seems to be nowadays, although a couple of generations ago, it was the norm. (My grandparents were pretty much like that, except for the war). The danger of course with a book like that is that it seems dull.

    1. Hi MarinaSofia, you are right, but I believe Seethaler avoided this trap by two main points, the complete innocence of the main character who lived through periods of great change and the fact that the book is relatively short, a hundred or so pages.

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