German lit target for 2016

Following the German lit Month hosted by Caroline and Lizzy this November which to all involved seemed a great success and then the announcement by TJ of his twelve Germans, I decided to post my own German reading plan for 2016 and if any of you wish to read along either, any of the books or anything else by these authors, let me know.

Herta Müller, Heute Wäre Ich mir lieber nicht begegnet (The Appointment ) to be read in English 02/11/2016


Heinrich Steinfest, Die Feine nase der Lilli Steinbeck (Le Onzième Pion ) to be read in French 25/12/2015


Marion Poschmann, Schwartzweissroman, to be read in German


Angelika Klüssendorf, Das Mädchen, (La Fille sans nom ) to be read in French 01/11/2016


Monika Zeiner, Die Ordnung der Sterne über Como, to be read in German


Terézia Mora, Das Ungeheuer, (De rage et de douleur le monstre) to be read in French


Ulrich Peltzer, Das bessere Leben, to be read in German


Merle kröger, Grenzfall, to be read in German 13/01/2016


I guess I just have to do it then!


Michael Köhlmeier ‘Two Gentlemen on the Beach’

Michael Köhlmeier artfully mixes fact and fiction in this comparative life of Churchill and Chaplin, tying them together by their dark secret, depression.image

Two Gentlemen on the Beach is my last post for the fifth German Literature Month hosted by Caroline and Lizzy.

Chaplin and Churchill meet at a party given in California and Churchill immediately recognises the depressed state of Chaplin and proposes to him that they walk a little along the beach where they discover a strong empathy toward each other and discover amongst other things that

“they shared Nietzche’s opinion that the very idea of suicide was a strong comforter which helped them over many a difficult night”.***

Chaplin explains during this walk that

“I suddenly saw myself as a man moving forward as best as I could over the last twenty eight years launching thousands of projects just not to hang myself from the first tree or jump from the nearest bridge or even buy a revolver”***

Churchill in turn explains that when Samuel Johnson described his own illness which he called the Black Dog, Churchill recognised himself in the description. There and then they agree that wherever they are or whenever they are called they will hurry to the other to save him from the Black Dog. So begins the book.

Köhlmeier uses the correspondence between the narrators father and William Knott a “« very private Private Secretary to a very prime Prime Minister » ” as his source of material for the book. The narrators father had met Chaplin as a child when Chaplin had visited his town’s school for clowns and later wondered if the man accompanying him for the visit was not Churchill who had been in Germany on a family holiday at the time.

The story takes us through key events for each of the protagonists at the time leading to meetings in L.A., New York, London and Biarritz, events such as the first talking movie and Churchill’s being run over in New York. The story naturally funnels towards the war years with an initial discovery

“Chaplin relates that an English statesman had told him that at the beginning of the 1930’s, a friend of Hitler’s had told him that Hitler had been tempted to commit suicide when he was six years old. Chaplin then answered his friend – I quote : “Winston, unfortunately we can’t choose the members of our club.””***

Both Churchill and Chaplin had to struggle to be able to fight against Hitler with their respective arms,

“Charlie playing two roles, that was the idea of genius behind the film –Charlie as the ridiculous dictator and, at the same time, as the Jewish barber, that was the blow dealt to the monster. One man hit back as hard, but not with the weapons of a clown: Winston Churchill.”***

Finally we learn the true role of William Knott, but I will leave that to you!

First published in German as Zwei  Herren an Strand by Hanser Verlag in 2014
Translated into French by Stéphanie Lux as Deux Messieurs sur la Plage and published by Actes Sud in 2015
Translated into English by Ruth Martin as Two Gentlemen on the Beach and to be published by Haus Publishing in 2016
*** my translation

Gilda Piersanti ‘Roma Enigma’

Gilda Piersanti’s police series involving Inspector Mariella de Luca are well known here in France, Piersanti has won a number of awards including the Prix Polar dans la Ville 2005, Prix du Polar Méditerranéen 2007, Prix SNCF du polar européen 2007image

Onto Roma Enigma, – this book is set in the Garbatella, a Roman garden city  with distinctive architecture and affordable housing – enough of the explanations and on to the story!

The reader is in on the know of the enigma from the outset when a young student girl is shot dead at the local patisseria, no weapon is located, no credible suspect found and nothing in the victims life that would lead to an assassination. Inspectors Mariella De Luca and Silvia Di Santo are torn between a crime related to the date or to much older political murders or a crime with no motive ( but no of course not this is an enigma). Piersanti’s uses the story to study the culprits character, he is of course a sociopath drawn towards the dead student he didn’t know rather than the living, stopping at no limits to get to know more about her.

His one mistake was eating a cake, and this had nothing to do with weight watchers!

Did Mariella De Luca solve the Enigma? Well what do you think?

Exclusively for audiobook in the car and why not, I feel I would have wasted reading time otherwise.

There are seven other De Luca mysteries in the series! No! No! No! No! Well I never was a series reader.

First published in French Roma Enigma by Le Passage in 2010

Wulf Dorn ‘Cold Silence’

Wulf Dorn’s psyco-thrillers have been translated into French, Italian and Spanish amongst others but as yet not into English.image

This is a thriller whose dénouement is explained by one of its protagonists as a quote from Nietzsche “Normally he said I like so start my lectures with a quote, the words of Nietzsche Seem to me in this instance to be quite appropriate ‘history belongs to the living in three ways: it belongs to him because he is active and has ambition; because he preserves and he worships; because he suffers and needs release’.”***

1985: – Jan Forstner, 12 years old, witnesses the drowning of his 18 year old neighbour Alexandra who, scantily dressed and full of fear whilst escaping from the psychiatric clinic near his home in Fahlenberg falls through the thin ice covering the lake near his home.

Two days later, late at night, Jan slips out of his house with a tape recorder to try to capture the sound of the spirit of Alexandra, he is followed and then accompanied by his younger brother Sven. As Jan is caught short and needs to pee behind a tree his brother is abducted. The next day without explanation his father leaves the house in his car and dies in an accident. Jan is then sent away to study in a boarding school.

So begins this book!

2010: – Jan now a psychiatrist like his father returns to Fahlenberg for the first time in 20 tears to accept a position in the clinic where his father worked and Alexandra had been interned.

Dorn then leads us through this thriller as Jan, never completely recovered from his brother’s disappearance for which he feels guilty, seeks the answer to his hidden demons, against the background of numerous deaths from suicide in Fahlenberg. (It would seem an advantage not to know Jan!).

You will quickly guess that Jan is ‘he who suffers and needs release’, but who is ‘he who preserves and worships’

Wulf deserves a translation into English.

First published in German as Kalte Stille by Bertelsmann in 2010
Translated into French by Joel Falcoz as Nos Désirs et Nos Peurs and published by Cherche Midi in 2014
*** my translation

Juan Gabriel Vázquez ‘The Sound of Things Falling’

imageJean Gabriel Vázquez’s ‘The sound of Things Falling’ is a story about Colombia and about the inevitability of our actions and their consequences. The story is told by Antonio Yammara who, looking back, tells us about his life and his brief friendship with a self effacing older man Ricardo Laverde in the mid nineties, who, we understand, had spent some time in prison and whom he had grown to know superficially when they were both regulars in his local billiard hall in Bogota. Antonio, who had led a life avoiding responsibility and seducing his female students, was beginning to get his life together with Aura who had lived outside of Colombia as an adolescent and they were expecting a baby.
Then one day at Ricardo’s request Antonio arranges for him to be able to listen with headphones to a tape, Ricardo cries emotionally and as they then walk down the road, two men on a motorbike execute Laverde at close range and seriously injure Antonio.

Unable to come to terms with the event, Antonio’s relationship with his world around him slowly deteriorates as he becomes more and more detached from his wife and child over a two year period, then one day Antonio is contacted by Maya, Ricardo’s daughter, and so begins the unravelling of the mystery.

We learn that the tape was the black box recording of the last conversations, remaining calm but knowing they had made a mistake, of the flight crew of a tragic accident in which Ricardo lost his wife, as the recording advances we feel the inevitability of fate, we know they will crash, we can do nothing but we have to listen.

We then learn about Ricardo and his American wife Elen living in Colombia in the seventies, she a Peace Corps volunteer and he a light aircraft pilot, as they move to a much bigger and more secluded mansion in the countryside near Medellin and as Ricardo spends weeks at a time away before coming home with large Quantities of cash, then comes the parallel, we again feel this inevitability of fate, we know he will be caught and sent to prison, we can do nothing but we have to listen.

We learn of key events in Colombia’s violent drug related history and understand better why Antonio unlike Aura, having grown up in such violent times, should experience such a deep state of trauma.

After twenty years in prison, and after the death of Escobar why would anyone want to kill Ricardo for events of yesteryear, but of course! old habits die hard, a pilot is always a pilot and easy money….

Well worth the 2014 IMPAC award.

First published in Spanish as El ruido de las cosas al caer by Alfaguara in 2011
Translated into English by Anne McLean as The Sound of Things Falling and published by Bloomsbury publishing in 2012
Translated into French by Isabelle Gugnon as Le Bruit des Choses qui Tombent and published by Seuil in 2012

Yasmina Khadra ‘The Angels Die’

This is the story of Turambo, his whole life, from his village of Turambo, wiped out in a landslide to the absolute poverty of the Ghetto of Graba where exploitation, living in the streets and survival by any means are the way of life (his big hope at this time is to become an apprentice shoe shine image– but he must pay for his own equipment). This is Colonial Algeria in the twenties, not a French Territory but an integral part of France, Turambo’s destiny is sealed at his birth, there is no way to escape it. “No one escapes their destiny. Destiny? Only exceptional people have a destiny, the rest make do with fatality.”*** But Turambo has a left hook, noticed by a European, boxing is his way out!

From this outline, Khadra draws us a picture of the time and in particular of Oran, of the rivalry between the Arab and Berber communities and their impossible relationship with the Europeans. Turambo as a boxer is no more than an investment for The Duc, a local legend, a well connected half business man, half crook who is the real winner of Turambo’s fights.

But the central story is of Turambo, the story opens at the supposed end with Turambo on death row waiting for the guillotine and as we then flash back we discover his journey from child in misery through to boxing phenomenon, and onto prison, he was never mentally equipped for these changes, he discovers small things at first, (His village was not called Turambo but Arthur Rimbaud explain the Europeans laughing) and we live his three impossible loves as his career unfolds, a cousin whilst living with his family, a prostitute who shows a little compassion when his career begins and a European whose father was a boxer, who explains to him how futile she sees his boxing “Take a look at the statue of the general over there. What does it tell you? It tells you quite simply that you can rebel and burn villages and countryside whilst massacring the inhabitants, claiming victory as much as you like using widows tears to fuel your actions, hero’s end up on marble plinths with pigeons shitting on them”*** and who turns him against his sport.

The final tragedy is almost Shakespearean as it develops which I will not detail here, but even here the outcome suggested at the beginning of the book would have been better than the actual ending.

“hope? What a rip off! There are two kinds of hope. The hope inspired by ambition and the hope which relies on miracles. For the first you haven’t a chance, and for the second I wouldn’t hold my breath, neither represent a way out only death offers this.”***

First published in French as Les Anges Meurent de nos Blessures by Editions de la Loupe in 2013
To be Translated into English by Howard Curtiss and published by Gallic Books in 2016
*** my translation

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