Heinrich Steinfest ‘Die Feine Nase der Lilli Steinbeck’

This book is the first of my 2016 German lit target.

Heinrich Steinfest is an Austrian Crime novel writer who is a multiple winner of the Deutscher Krimi-Preis

This book written in 2007 begins with a peculiar kidnapping, the victim, Stransky, who lets himself be kidnapped, turns out to be the eighth of ten pawns in an elaborate game, organised by a neutral referee, between two teams with the the life of the pawn in play. The pawn is always a German who has worked in Athens. IMG_0010

“A neutral referee, let’s say. Someone whose role consists of organising the kidnapping, without emotion but not without fantasy, and transporting the victim to his starting point….And then the referee withdraws leaving the man alone”***

one team tries to bring the man home whereas the opposing team tries to kill him. Police inspector Lili Steinbeck, when investigating Stransky’s mysterious disappearance, then finds herself confronted with this well oiled routine.

Steinfest’s dry humour is very particular, and most of the people presented in the story are caricatures, it could almost be a cartoon book story. Take for instance the French leader of the team trying to kill Stransky, summed up in the following quote

“…..Greenpeace’s best moments. We can safely say that Desprez publicly condemned these people : crusaders, but far too hypocritical to admit it, preferring to present themselves to the world as saviours. If the whales hadn’t existed they would have protected three legged tables. But whales, of course, were better. They couldn’t answer back, they couldn’t protest either against their own massacre or against the people, too bored to stay at home, that instrumentalised them. That was Deprez’s opinion, full of the latent hate of the French towards Greenpeace.”***

We are presented with two opposites, the very rich people who run the game, shaping the world to their wishes and the very direct Lilli Steinbeck illustrated by the following quote.

“I took in on myself to repatriate your colleague, M. Kallimachos. He is at present my house guest.
What? Of his own free will?
It could be said that to want to is to be able to. The opposite could also be said that when one can then one does not need to want to. There is then no longer a question of free will.
So you’ve kidnapped Kallimachos then?”***

Does Lilli Steinbeck save Stransky? Well you will just have to read the book (In German or French, not yet translated into English). Against my initial leanings I did finish the book and if you like a mix of fantasy and crime, you may become part of Heinrich Steinfest’s cult-like following. I on the other hand am glad I read this book but will probably not read any others.

First Published in German as “Die Feine Nase Der Lilli Steinbeck” by Piper Verlag in 2007
Translated into French by Corinna Gepner and published as “Le Onzième Pion” by Carnets Nord in 2012
***My translation

Ursula Krechel ‘Landgericht’

It took me 20 minutes of Ursula Kretchel’s 2012 German book prize novel ‘Landgericht’, read in French as ‘Terminus Allemagne’, to feel my eyes moisten for the first time.

Krechel won the German book prize with this fiction investigating post war Germany. She came upon a war reparations file for a “victim of Fascism”,  the claim ultimately failed with the victim receiving nothing.

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From a few pieces of biographical information Krechel Imagines the life of this Richard Kornitzer, a German Jew who had had his nationality revoked, had sent his children away for safety to England and who then had later fled to Cuba. The book begins with him arriving back in Germany as the train pulls into Lindau, sent back by the Red Cross after relentless work by his wife to locate him, and then meeting his wife who he has not seen or heard of for ten years.

When he first tries to reintegrate society he goes through the German authorities but is told that they only treat German victims of fascism and as he is not German…….

He is then given a job via the French occupying force in his old profession as judge at the high court in Mainz taking on the unpopular job no one else wants handling the denazification process. We have to imagine that this involves millions of people and so nothing can really be done in detail, no one will testify against anyone as they all need the positive testimony of the people around them. He watches powerless as the previous Nazi’s reintegrate their jobs after a couple of months suspension. Examples include He the demonstrations in the courts during the ‘Auerbach case’ of these former Nazi’s continuing anti-Semitic activities (no one can imagine that the previous endemic situation was changed or wiped out over night).

When they finally get to visit their children, they find young adults who no longer speak a word of German.

A section of the book handles the escape from Germany, all of his wealth is confiscated yet he must still find money to bribe a crossing and then on arrival in Cuba these displaced people need then to bribe their way into Cuba and out of the camps, as well as a study of the industry grown around fleecing the displaced persons.

The book then looks at the impossibility to receive reparations, an example is given of an “Aryan” woman who had followed her husband working for a resistance movement (her husband died in a concentration camp) the judgement said “The plaintiff recognises that she was not personally exposed to National Socialist Violence and that she could have quite simply have separated from her husband, but that she nonetheless followed him into illegality, it was thus due to her free will and not caused by any National Socialist measure carried out against her.”*** Full details are also given of Kornitzer’s own catch 22 situation.

The last portion of this book handles the degradation in healthy of both of the Kornitzers due to the all of the previous events up to Kornitzer coming back to Germany from Cuba, but also due to his isolation and continual battle with bureaucracy to gain reparations over a 15 year period (and he is pushed to reply, the Nazis did not give them receipts when they seized his worldly goods)

This book covers the difficult subject of the impossible return. In order to properly understand the effect of time as a wearing medium some sections of this book are long and required perseverance from my part.

First published in Germany as Landgericht by Jung und Jung in 2012
Translated into French by Barbara Fontaine and published as Terminus Allemagne in 2014 by Carnets Nord
***My translation