Martin Suter ‘A Perfect Friend’


“The scents of Jasmin, rose, lily of the valley, ylang-ylang, amber and vanilla penetrated the darkness. The left half of his lips felt something soft. A mouth? Fabio jerked his eyes open.img_0029Before him, so close that he couldn’t focus on it was a woman’s face.
“Norina?”
The face pulled back. Now he could make it out.
High cheekbones, big blue eyes, a small mouth with full lips, short blond hair. Mid twenties.
“Hello Fabio”, she said smiling. Bravely, it seemed to Fabio.
“Hello”, said Fabio. He had never seen the woman before.***


In this book, read for German Literature month, Fabio wakes from a coma with post traumatic memory loss, as the doctor tells him, six days after incurring a severe head injury for which he has no memory. Things begin to get complicated when a woman he doesn’t know comes to visit him, as illustrated in the opening quote. He quickly comes to the realisation that he can no longer remember fifty days of his life, and in these fifty days he slowly comes to understand that his life has been turned upside down, he has left his job and his girl friend, Norina, and taken up with a new set of friends, as he confesses to his memory specialist:


“Have you already once had a case like me?”…
“All cases are different.”….
“but not so completely. Before, I’d written about people like Fredi Keller. And then I’m going all over these bling-bling clubs in the city with him. I live with a lady who is fully engaged in the struggle against exploitation of women in the sex business. And then I become a regular in a strip club. I make fun out of the lying press releases that arrive at my desk everyday. And then I get involved with one of these women that writes them. I’ve become the exact opposite of myself.***


Fabio is visited by his closest friend Lucas, whom he remembers and who works at the same newspaper as Fabio, Lucas, by ommission, neither tells Fabio that he had left his job at the newspaper before his accident nor that he had left his girlfriend Norina, he also omits to tell him that he himself is now living with Norina. Fabio leaves the hospital with his new girl friend Marlen, is a stranger to him, and who also doesn’t tell him he has lost his job. So after his first visit to his memory specialist who tells him he should slowly begin to live his life in a settled manner in order to regain his missing memory, he goes in to work where he find someone else installed at his workplace. He then learns of the last subjects he had been working on, that he had published an article about the suicide of a researcher who had thrown himself in front of a train. Fabio also learns from his bosses secretary that he had been working on a secret story and that in the time span lost from his memory he had changed entirely from the Fabio he had been to this new Fabio. On a personal basis, Fabio cannot understand why Norina will not answer his calls, until he sees Lucas entering her appartment.

The scene is now set as Fabio tries to retrace the secret story he had been working on, discovering that someone had deleted his electronic data and his backups, and that that person could only be Lucas.

The intrigue he is chasing is linked to the date the book was published, Prions and Suter’s home country, choclate from Switzerland and of course corruption. Could somebody change so entirely in such a short time? What was Lucas’ role in this story? Is Fabio the person he remembers himself to be or the person preople think he has become? Who is the person he will be from now on? For this and many other questions watch the film in French or read the book in German or French, No English translation available.

First Published in German as “Der Perfekter Freund” by Diogenes Verlag in 2002
Translated into French by Olivier Mannoni and published as “L’Ami Parfait” in 2003 by Seuil.
Film in French directed by Antoine de Caunes and released in 2006
*** my translation

The quotes as read in German before translation

In die Dunkleheit Drang der Duft von Jasmin, Rose, Maiglöckchen, Ylang-Ylang, Amber und Vanille. Die linke Hälfte seiner Lippen spürte etwas Weiches. Einen Mund? Fabio schlug die Augen auf. Vor ihm, so dicht, daß er es nicht fokussieren konnte, war das Gesicht einer Frau.
“Norina?”
Das Gesicht wich zurück. Jetzt konnte er es erkennen.
Hohe Backenknochen, große blaue Augen, kleiner Mund mit vollen Lippen, blondes kurzes Haar. Mitte Zwanzig.
“Hallo Fabio”, sagt sie und lächelt. Tapfer, wie es Fabio schien.
“Hallo”, sagt Fabio. Er hatte die Frau noch nie gesehen.

Hatten Sie schon einmal einen Fall wie mich?…
“Alle Fälle sind verschieden.”…..
“Aber nicht so radikal. Gegen Leute wie Fredi Keller Habe Ich früher geschrieben. Und dann ziehe ich mit ihm durch die Schickimicki-Lokale der Stadt. Ich lebe mit einer Frau zusammen, die sich gegen die Ausbeutung de Frauen durch das Sexgewerbe engagiert. Und dann werde ich zum Stammgast in einem Striplokal. Ich mache mich Lustig über dir verlogenen Presseinformationen, die auf meinem Schreibtisch landen. Und dann lasse ich mich mit einer dieser Tanten ein, die sie schreiben. Ich habe mich ins pure Gegenteil meiner selbst verwandelt.”

Martin Suter ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’


‘Dr. Fluri was no more under the illusion for this point than the other participants. img_1412-1His only thought was to save face, the same one Urs Blank would have happily slapped that same afternoon.***


Welcome back to the Swiss author, Martin Suter, once again read for German lit month VIII. Urs Blank is a successful corporate lawyer specialising in mergers and acquisitions, we discover him at the beginning as he prepares and helps to negotiate a deal that is a merger only in name, Dr. Fluri’s company is to be taken over. The narrator lets us know of Urs’ frustration at the pompous Dr. Fluri as illustrated in the opening quote. As then Urs is given the opportunity to ruin Fluri and takes it we understand that Urs has a surpressed “dark side”. We are not the only ones to see this, Pius Ott, A multimillionaire and hunter (he hunts both rare and dangerous wild animals including both a rare lynx early in the story and had at one time hunted and killed a man eating lion) who is the money behind the takeover of Fluri’s business, appreciates Urs’ killer instinct and thinks he recognises a kindred spirit. Ott is the character Urs could become, Ott was never interested in Fluri’s business, only in destroying the man which Urs did for him.

But Urs is dissatisfied with his well ordered life, lunch same time, same place each week with his friend, the psychiatrist, Alfred Wenger, his life without love with his companion, Evelyne Vogt and wants to change something, and so he does. What at first seems a banale middle-age crisis as Urs takes up with a young hippy girl, Lucille, swings out of control when she persuades him to come to the countryside with some friends and to try some psychedelic mushrooms. Urs has a severe reaction to the mushrooms which release his dark side, he no longer feels guilt which we discover as he kills Lucille’s cat with his bare hands and puts it in his briefcase or as he causes the death of a random impatient motorist who wants to overtake him:


‘The car behind was  bumper to bumper with his Jaguar, lights on full beam. Blank showed no reaction, coming out of the next curve the car set to overtake him…. it was a two seater sports car….it wasn’t a match for his twelve cylinders. The more the other accelerated, the more Blank accelerated….the lights of the car coming in the opposite direction shone on the sports car next to Blank….Blank accelerated. Behind him he heard the impact, like an explosion.
Then there was silence, he could only hear the hum of the air conditioning. Blank turned on the radio. A classical music channel, Haydn..***


After talking to his friend Wenger and thinking back to his experience with the mushrooms Blank realises that there was a mushroom different than the others in those he took, he then sets out to search for this mushroom. Blank retreats into the forest over several months, the only place he feels really safe, where he learns to live in total self sufficiency in the wild. An incident with Pius Ott, finishing with Blank punching him and walking away leads to the hunter detesting him, soon after, to escape from the police (there were other murders), Blank successfuly fakes his own suicide, living then entirely hidden in the forest. When Ott discovers that Blank is still alive and could thus be killed without being missed then the hunt begins between the hunter with no concience and the proficient forest dweller with no concience and builds up to the final crescendo.

This was really a fun book, a well written psycological thriller for which a 2016 film by Stephan Rick exists, a shame that it hasn’t been translated into English yet.

First Published in German as “Die Dunkle Seite des Mondes” in 2000 by Diogenes Verlag.
Translated into French by Olivier Mannoni and published in 2000 by Christian Bourgeois
***My translation

Martin Suter ‘Allmen And The Dragonflies’


—Never before in his life had he known a woman throw herself at him with the hunger shown by the platinum blonde from the opera. 63ED61CD-00E9-4E8E-B710-CA2DF2B00E28On the back seat of the limousine, in full view through the chauffeur’s mirror, he had just been able to fight off Jojo’s attacks. But on arrival in the  entrance hall of the large lakeside villa, he let himself be pulled, without resisting, first up the  large staircase, then into the diva’s bedroom as if he had been a prey brought back by a lioness.***


Martin Suter’s Allmen and the dragonflies, read for German lit month, is the first book in a series concerning Allmen, a completely decadent Swiss gentleman, who has inherited wealth but, due to his lifestyle, is unable to hold onto it. Allmen owes everyone money but holds back enough to keep up appearances, for instance his opera-house membership from before he had delapidated his fortune gives him access to two cheaper tickets , one of which he sells on to a rich banker for profit and is the starting point for this book’s adventure.

The book gives us a short easy to read and slowly unravelled mystery in which Suter’s character descriptions stand out, such as the opening quote about Joëlle (Jojo), fourty something, Rohypnol taking woman who turns up at the opera with the rich banker’s ticket illustrated in the opening quote, or Carlos the resourceful Guatemalan gardener come man servant who has become indispensable to Johann Friedrich Von Allmen and who he adresses as Don John:


—The evening when he told Carlos that he would have to sell the villa, move to the gardener’s house and let him go, Carlos just  nodded his head and replied ‘very well Don John’ and went back to the house in question
But the next day, whilst Allmen was seated before his breakfast and Carlos was serving him coffee, he said in his usual stiff manner:
‘Una sugerencia nada más’***


Almenn then, who becomes involved in petty art thefts which he sells to his local fence, one evening at Jojo’s father’s villa on the lake, crosses the line from anonymous petty larson to more serious theft when he finds and steels an art nouveau glass with a dragonfly decoration, one of a set of five and sells it to his local fence for 20000 Swiss Francs. All seems well until he returns with Jojo for a second torrid night hoping to get the other four glasses and to his surprise discovers all five glasses in place once again.

Before the end of the book we discover, that the glasses are worth considerably more than the 20000 Swiss Francs, murder, insurance swindles, blackmail and more. Allmen with no small thanks to Carlos skates over the thin ice and of course comes out on top. Is he more of a gentleman thief or more on the side of the law? I guess only Simon Templar would know.

First published in German as ‘Allmen und die Libellen ‘ by Diogenes  in 2011
Translated into French by Olivier Mannoni as “Allmen et les Libellules” and published by Christian Bourgeois in 2011
*** My translation

Martin Suter ‘The Chef’

-The world outside was looking pretty ugly. The day of reckoning had finally come for the financial markets, who had been dealing for years in fool’s gold. Unsinkable banks were now sending out SOS calls as they listed heavily. Every day, more and more sectors of the economy were getting sucked into the vortex of the financial crisis……img_0964
And, as if it could survive this imminent hurricane by retreating under its diving bell, the small Alpine country started to shut itself off again. It had barely opened up.

This is the first book I have read by the Swiss author Martin Suter, read here for the German lit month VI, the way he manages here to blend the local, personal story of the Sri Lankan chef living in exile in Switzerland, with the global situation in 2008 to 2009, using the former to illustrate the latter is to me more reminiscent of world literature, often written in English, than of my experience to date of the currents I have discovered from German language writers, hardly surprising then that it is marketed as an international best seller.

The local story is that of Maravan, a Sri Lankan exile and exceptionally good cook trying to survive in Switzerland where his status does not let him work as a chef. The global story is that of the Sri Lankan civil war which coming to its climax can find no place in the press due to world events that year, centred mostly around the world financial meltdown illustrated in my opening quote.

As Maravan and his business partner, Andrea, set up and run a two person catering services with their successful concept of’Love meals’ at private residences, based on Maravan’s mastering of Ayurvedic (aphrodisiac) cuisine, Maravan, against his will, gets sucked via blackmail, in order to prevent his nephew still in Sri Lanka from becoming a boy soldier, into financing the LTTE the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in their civil war with Sri Lanka. He is however unable to stop the inevitable and after his nephew’s death learns that one of ‘Love meals’ customers, Dalman was a middle man in bending Swiss law to allow arms to be sold to both sides in the Sri Lankan civil war.

-So it was true, Dalman was involved with people supplying arms to the army and the Liberation Tigers, why would he have anything to do with them if he was not caught up in their deals. Sambalar was right, the money he was sending his family may have been coming from the profits made by someone helping one of Maravan’s compatriots to kill each other and the money he sent to the LTTE possibly came from the LTTE who in turn were getting it from people like Maravan.

So, provided with an opportunity to eliminate Dalman, a small fish, but as is pointed out, their small fish, what should the peace minded Maravan do? Well if you want to know you will have to read the book!

First Published in German as “Der Koch” by Diogenes Verlag in 2010
Translated into English by Jamie Bulloch as ‘The Chef’ and published by Atlantic Books in 2013

Bernhard Schlink and Walter Popp ‘Self’s Punishment’

Having read some of Schlink’s later works such as ‘The Weekend’ for example, I wanted to try a back to the roots look at one of his earliest works, written in association with Walter Popp ‘Self’s Punishment for German Lit Month V. The title in itself misses out on the ambiguity of the German title ‘Selbs Justiz’.

image

This book published in 1987 and set at about the same time was released as a TV film in 1991 in Germany as ‘Der Tod Kam Als Freund’. This is a crime novel about people and motives, not a procedural thriller.

The book begins as an early story on computer manipulation affecting the RCW (Rhine Chemical Works) for which the company president Korten calls in his brother in law Selb, a 68 year old detective, to investigate discretely. After discovering that this is an early case of outside intervention over phone lines, Selb writes his report and part 1 of the book ends.

Part two begins with the seemingly accidental death in a road accident of Mishkey, the man Selb had confronted and denounced to RCW in part 1 and the following investigation leads into the murky pasts of RCW and eventually Selbs and Korten.

The essence of this book is about how people can come through a criminal regime, in this case Nazi Germany, and react so differently. Selb was a court prosecutor during the war, a believer in the regime ‘At the end of the war I was no longer wanted. I’d been a convinced National Socialist, an active party member, and a tough prosecutor who’d also argued for, and won, the death penalty. There were some spectacular trials. I had faith in the cause and saw myself as a soldier on the legal front’. After the war when so many of his colleagues went back to their previous jobs after temporary suspension Self could not accept this ‘Around the time of the Monetary Reform they started to draft incriminated colleagues back in. I could have returned to the judiciary then, too. But I saw what the efforts to get reinstated, and the reinstatement itself, did to my colleagues. Instead of feeling guilt they only had a sense that they’d been done an injustice when they were expelled and that this reinstatement was a kind of reparation. That disgusted me.’ He then began a lifetime of coming to terms with his past until awoken by the events in his investigation he says ‘I had planned to live at peace with my past. Guilt, atonement, enthusiasm and blindness, pride and anger, morality and resignation –I’d brought it all together in an elaborate balance. The past had become abstract. Now reality had caught up with me and was threatening that balance.’

In contrast his brother in law, Korten, who is quoted in the book as saying ‘It’s not reprehensible to use people, it’s just tactless to let them notice’ became the head of the RCW (Rhine Chemical Works), determined to keep the lid on his previous criminal actions during the regime. As Korten replies when questioned about events ‘Actually I don’t have to comment on that. The years between nineteen thirty-three and nineteen forty-five are supposed to remain a blank –that’s the foundation on which our state is built.’

The book slowly builds up to a confrontation between these two characters and their beliefs.

This is a well written crime novel, as with ‘The Reader’ revisiting aspects of Nazi Germany, peoples actions and how the consequences play out in their lives following the war. There are two other books in the series, both translated into English, Self’s Murder and Self’s Deception, although I am not a great reader of series I will read these at a later date.

First published in German as ‘Selbs Justiz’ by Diogenes Verlag in 1987.
Translated into English by Rebecca Morrison and published by Random House in 2005.