Juli Zeh ‘New Year’


From his youngest age, Henning had become used to considering everything he did, said or even thought as an attack on his mother’s happiness. He often regretted being alive.***


As the book starts, Henning is on holiday with his family in Lanzerote. We’ve all been on these holidays, on one side of the divide or another where you just have to get away from the people you came with, to get some fresh air, to calm down or whatever. Henning without thinking too much about it gets on his bike and starts peddling outside of their rental, he doesn’t take anything with him, such as water or whatever and heads uphill. This is Lanzerote in the summer, and when you set off uphill, well it just keeps going up. Henning is young still and needs to use up energy. Young children can be so frustrating, his wife isn’t happy having Hennings sister staying at theirs whilst they are away, keep peddling!

As he eventually runs out of steam and just makes it to the top he feels foolish not having any water and stops to knock on an isolated door to ask for some. Then something strange happens to him, he slowly recognises this house and deep seated memories come back to him, he is a child and slowly an event no body has ever spoken to him about comes back to him:


The next morning mum and dad are no longer there. When Henning gets up, Luna is still asleep. He crosses the corridors which, in the light of day have found their normal size, and the main room bathed in sun. As often at this time of day, the wooden door is open to let in the cool breeze. Henning continues through to the kitchen – in the morning there is a sweet smell with a bitter trace of coffee, and mum is usually washing plates in the sink or laying out the crockery on a tray for breakfast. But there is nobody in the kitchen, he can smell nothing. When this happens his parents or on the patio. Henning walks back across the main room his naked feet going flip flop on the cold tiles. He walks outside through the wooden door it’s very hot and the light is blinding. He walks around the edge of the patio, one edge of which is protected from the wind by a wall and from the sun by a wooden roof where there is a large table with stone benches, that’s where they usually have breakfast. The table is empty. No sign of mum or dad.***


He and his baby sister were found abandoned after several days alone in the house, a harrowing experience that has and still unbeknown to him effects his life today, his feelings for his mother well up in him, epitomised by the opening quote.

This experience brings him to speak to his mother, why had she never mentioned this? And to begin to understand the mess his sister’s life has become and that he must stop protecting her at last if she is to flourish.

As good as ever from Juli Zeh, why she is translated so little into english beats me.

First Published in german as “Neue Jahr” in 2018, by Random House
Translated into french by Rose Labourie and published as “Nouvel An” by Actes Sud in 2019
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Dès son plus jeune âge, Henning avait pris l’habitude de considérer tout ce qu’il faisait, disait ou seulement pensait comme une atteinte au bonheur de sa mère. Il regrettait souvent d’être en vie.

Le lendemain matin, papa et maman ne sont plus là. Quand Henning se lève, Luna dort encore. Il traverse les couloirs qui, à la lumière du matin, ont retrouvé leur taille normale, et la grande salle baignée de soleil. Comme souvent à cette heure de la journée, la porte en bois est ouverte pour laisser entrer l’air frais. Henning continue jusqu’à la cuisine – le matin, il y a une odeur de sucré avec des traces amères de café, et maman est généralement en train de laver des assiettes dans l’évier ou de disposer la vaisselle du petit-déjeuner sur un plateau. Mais à la cuisine, il n’y a personne, ça ne sent rien. Dans ce cas, c’est que les parents sont sur la terrasse. Henning retraverse la grande salle, ses pieds nus font floc-floc sur les dalles froides. Il franchit la porte en bois et se retrouve dehors, il fait très chaud et la lumière est aveuglante. Il longe le parapet de la terrasse, dont une des extrémités est protégée du vent par un mur et du soleil par un toit en bois. Une grande table avec des bancs en pierre y est installée, c’est là qu’ils prennent d’habitude leur petit-déjeuner. La table est vide. Pas de trace de papa et maman.

Fernanda Melchor ‘Hurricane Season’

Booker International Prize 2020: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“Hurricane Season”: In order of reading book number 6.

In order to follow this event, I have managed to write articles on all six of the short listed books and will propose my winner before the official announcement.
Visit the official site for more details: Booker International Prize 2020


Lagarta, you little shit-stirrer, you’re sick in the head, only you could come out with such a rotten, disgraceful pack of lies, aren’t you ashamed of yourself, whoring around and then pointing the finger at your cousin? There’s only one thing’ll stop you wanting to leave the house, you wicked little tramp. Grandma had cut off all her hair with the poultry shears while Yesenia sat motionless, as still as a possum in the headlights, terrified of being slashed by those icy blades, and afterwards she’d spent the whole night out in the yard, like the mongrel bitch that she was, and Grandma had said: a stinking animal that didn’t deserve so much as a flee-ridden mattress beneath its fetid coat.


As the story begins, the body of the witch is found in an irrigation canal on the outskirts of Matosa. To help us make sense of this discovery, chapter by chapter we follow what has happened through the eyes of one or the other of the protagonists. In sentences, rivalling Proust for length, through these different accounts we get a feeling for the town, Matosa:


They say that’s why the women are on edge, especially in La Matosa. They say that, come evening, they gather on their porches to smoke filterless cigarettes and cradle their youngest babes in their arms, blowing their peppery breath over those tender crowns to shoo away the mosquitos, basking in what little breeze reaches them from the river, when at last the town settles into silence and you can just about make out the music coming from the highway brothels in the distance, the rumble of the trucks as they make their way to the oilfields, the baying of dogs calling each other like wolves from one side of the plain to the other; the time of evening when the women sit around telling stories.


In this desperate town where the women seem to live from prostitution, and the men from the women we get a feeling of hopelessness, take for instance Lagarta from the opening quote, brought up harshly by her grand mother, as are so many of her cousins, nephews and nieces when their young parents runaway or are jailed. The hopelessness of their situations are drowned in Aguardiente, drugs or religion with dreams of having enough money to get a bus away from here.

The story is of machism and homosexuality, and the fine line between the two, of young girls discovering their power and becoming women too soon and preys of the men and of the age old solutions to unwanted pregnancies, with the witch central to both of these conflicts.

A second South American book in the selection, set 150 years after the first, The Adventures of China Iron , but treating many of the same subjects but this time through a realist vision, of the two, I preferred the first.

First Published in Spanish as “Temporada de huracanes” in 2017, in Mexico by Literatura Random House.
Translated into english by Sophie Hughes and published as “Hurricane Season” by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2019
Translated into French by Laura Alcoba and published as “La saison des ouragans” by Grasset in 2019

Gabriela Cabezón Cámara « The Adventures of China Iron »

Booker International Prize 2020: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“The Adventures of China Iron”: In order of reading book number 3.

In order to follow this event, hopefully I’ll manage to write articles on all six of the short listed books and propose my winner before the official announcement.
Visit the official site for more details: Booker International Prize 2020


Many said there was no need to spare the blood of gauchos, but he did spare it: he considered the gauchos every bit a part of the estancia as any one of the cows and he wouldn’t let a single one die without good reason.


Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s China Iron (thanks to the translators notes) is a story very loosely based on the 19th century balad, “La Vuelta de Martín Fierro” about life as a Gaucho on the Argentinian Pampas, except that Cámara bases this story around Fierro’s wife, unnamed in the balad.

A female gaucho, a “gaucha” is know as a china, and as the story begins Fierro, as in the balad, wins china from El Negro in a card game and fathers her two children before her fourteenth birthday, Fierro kills El Negro “because he can” before the army catches up with him:


When they conscripted Fierro along with all the others, they also took Oscar, who was what Fierro laughingly called (in his famous song) a ‘Jimmy-gringo’ from Britain.


His wife just ups and leaves on a wagon with Liz, Oscar’s wife, on a 19th century Pampas road movie, a voyage of discovery of herself and the country she lives in. When Liz asks her her name, she realises that she doesn’t have one, people have only ever called her china like all the other women, and so she begins by naming herself, keeping the China and using the English translation of her husbands name, Iron.

They leave the Pampas and cross the dessert following an old Indian, well trodden, earth path as she and Liz get to know each other, China falling in love with Liz during torrid nights in the wagon, and as China gains an outsider’s view of Gauchos:


Liz – who believed in work more than in God the Father – was right about gauchos being parasites on cows and horses. She was right about my people’s life of meat and water; we didn’t grow squashes or beans, we didn’t weave or fish, we barely hunted, didn’t use any wood other than fallen branches, and then only to make fire.


In the second part of the trip, China discovers the creation of the “New Argentina” as they stop over at José Hernández’s Hacienda, the José Hernández that wrote the balad. She sees the cruelty of the land owners to the Gouchos, using the army to control them, with his view of them illustrated in the opening quote. A normal punishment was to be staked out in the sun using four stakes for several days. But if the Gauchos were second class citizens they were better treated than the Indians:


I’ve already told you, Liz: Argentina needs that land in order to progress. And as for the gauchos, they need an enemy to turn them into patriotic Argentines. We all need the Indians.


China and Liz escape to Indian country where they meet up with the “real” balad writer Martín Fierro who as in the original balad had run of with a deserter, Cruz, but not for quite the same reasons as imagined by Cámara in this version of the poem, translated marvellously in A B C C C B by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh:


Like Jesus rising from the tomb
In two days I was well:
The third day dawned, he kissed my lips
His salt-sweet mouth mine did eclipse
He mounted me, he held my hips
To heaven I came from hell.

The sun shone on my arse that hour.
My spurs I cast away,
A moment more I couldn’t wait
To suck him dry and with him sate
My lust for him, then lie prostrate;
Such freedom I knew that day.

To you in words I can’t explain
The pleasure that I felt
To have his prick come into me
In paradise I seemed to be
Through flesh was God revealed to me
And at his feet I knelt.


This was a fun story of awakening in a cruel world (slavery, the indusrial revolution and the creating of Argentina), well worth its place on the Booker International shortlist.

First Published in Spanish as “Las aventuras de la China Iron” in 2017, in Argentina by Penguin Random House Group.
Translated into english by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh and published as “The Advetures of China Iron” by Charco Press in 2019

Juli Zeh ‘Unterleuten’


“The land rent for ten wind turbines is fifty thousand euros a year. You work it out for a hundred turbines. Just to see what sort of a retirement that pays.”….
“Gombrowski’s going to wind up Ökologica. He doesn’t need it any more. Finished, over.”
The effect was immediate. Kron cut short all muttering with a movement of his hand.
“Think a bit. Ökologica hasn’t been profitable in a long time. Why is Gombrowski so set on the wind park? To pay himself a tidy pension.”
This time he let them mutter. Except for Ulrich, they all had family that worked at Ökologica: daughters, nephews, sons and sons in law; Björn’s grand-daughter had just begun an apprenticeship in agronomy. In Unterleuten to lose your job was the equivalent of a professional death sentence.***


Juli Zeh takes the time to set the scene in this delicious rural thriller, where the events that take place are blurred by the form, they are seen from the viewpoints of each of the many protagonists living in the village of Unterleuten in Brandebourg about fifty kilometres from Berlin, there are no truths only different perspectives. There are the new arrivals, moving in from the city and the villagers who have lived the tumultuous times of the twentieth century, the disenfranchisement of the land owners, the collectivisation of the land followed by targets set in Berlin that didn’t take account of the seasons and the capability of the land, the flight of villagers to the West, The Stasi’s spying of the people, the wall falling and coming to terms with Capitalism. The villagers all know each other or are related and old contentions run deep. Each of the protagonists, as the events unfold, is persuaded to be acting justly as the village’s fine balance is knocked out of equilibrium.

There is the mayor, Arne Seidel, who best represents the arbitrariness of the past fifty years, once the vet trained in The DDR, but whose training was no longer recognised after re-unification. Arne is then left a broken man when his beloved wife dies of a short illness only to discover that she had been a Stasi informer, writing page after page about him every week, before he is then coaxed by Rudolph Gombrowski into becoming Mayor.

There are the two long term enemies, Kron, a one time convinced communist who regrets the passing of the DDR and the privatisation of the collective farm, and whose wife ran away to the West years during the Cold War leaving him with a young daughter to bring up. There is Gombrowski the man who had taken the collective farm in hand after unification and created a private company, guaranteeing employment for a large part of the the local population but making himself rich at the same time. We soon learn that problems are handled locally without outside interference, police or lawyers as opposed to the West, Gombrowski and Kron had opposed each other as Gombrowski tried to take over the collective farm and had a meeting in the forest during a storm from which one person died and Kron suffered broken legs as Gombrowski was then able to take over the farm. But what really happened that day? Whose interest is it to leave a doubt?

For many years Seidel and Gombrowski have acted in tandem, both believing this is the best for the community with the excesses from Gombrowski’s company Ökologica GmbH, more or less subsidising the village.

Then there are the newcomers, of which two stand out, the highly manipulative, stop at nothing Linda Franzen, who wants to set up a ranch for sick horses but needs money and land, and there is “The Bird Protector”, Gerhard Fließ, who wants to restrict any human activity that will threaten the presence of the Ruffs that feed in the region during their annual migration, Gerhard uses his power to prevent Linda from building an enclosure for the horses. Neither of which understand the old antagonisms present in the community.

To this state of affairs, set in 2010, Juli Zeh throws in a private company, Vento Direct with a project to install a wind turbines park in the local countryside, where no single land owner has quite a large enough patch of land without the small patch which Linda Franzen discovers she owns….
This was a magnificent read which I highly recommend.

First Published in German as “Unterleuten” in 2016 by Random House GmbH.
Translated into French by
Rose Labourie and published as “Brandebourg ” in 2017 by Actes Sud
*** My translation

The quote as read in French

“Le fermage pour Dix éoliennes, c’est cinquante Mille euros par an. Á vous de faire le calcul pour cent éoliennes. Histoires de voir quelle retraite ça donne.”….
“Gombrowski va fermer l’Ökologica. Il n’en a plus besoin. Fini, terminé.”
L’effet fut immédiat. Kron coupa court aux murmures qui s’élevaient d’un geste de la main.
“Réfléchisez un peu. Ça fait longtemps que l’Ökologica n’est plus rentable. Pourquoi est-ce que Gombrowski tient tellement au parc éolien? Pour se faire une jolie pension de retraite.”
Cette fois, il les laissa murmurer. Á part Ulrich, ils avaient tous de la famille qui travaillait á l’Ökologica: fille, neveu, fils et gendre; la petite fille de Björn venait de commencer un apprentissage d’agronomie. Á Unterleuten, perdre son travaille était l’équivalent d’un arrêt de mort professionnel.

Lexie Elliot ‘The French Girl’’


Looking back, the most striking thing is that she knew I didn’t like her and she didn’t care. That type of self-possession at the tender age of nineteen—well, it’s unnatural. Or French. She was very, very French.


Six university friends spend their summer holidays in a Dordogne farmhouse, Kate, the narrator and her best friend Lara “, Lara picks up men like the rest of us pick up newspapers. She puts them down in the same way, too.” Caro, Lara, Tom, Seb, Theo, Kate, did I say friends…what group of six students, wouldn’t have tensions build up between them living together over their holidays, throw in some drugs and a catalyst, the nineteen year old neighbour, Severine, who uses their pool, see the opening quote, and I guess they would never be friends the same way afterwards, if they ever were. A banal story and life goes on, but then ten years later Severine’s body turns up at the bottom of the well in that same farmhouse.

Kate, who has started her own legal personnel head hunter company and in trying get established lives on a a daily diet of adrenaline and worry, gets a call out of the blue from one of the four, Theo was killed in Afghanistan. Tom tells her about the discovery of the body and of the French policeman, Modan, that would be questioning her. Severine, who had been seen leaving the area, at the bus station, on the morning of their own departure had never been seen again.

As the story advances and Kate’s memory of events proves at first rusty, and then she realises there were things happening that she didn’t know about, Severine begins to appear to her beginning as her dead bones:


One morning I find those very bones, bleached white and neatly stacked in a pile with the grinning skull atop, resting on my kitchen counter; blinking does not remove them, though I know they’re not there.


Somebody wants Kate to carry the can and her previous friends clearly know things she doesn’t, Kate had been there with her then partner Seb and she was the only one of the six who didn’t know that their relationship was coming to an end.

A not too memorable crime thriller where the narrator, seeing a dead girl following her seems the most “normal” of the bunch.

First Published in English as “The French Girl” in 2018 by Corvus

Don Winslow ‘The Power of the Dog’


–And yet the guns will have to come through America and not Mexico, as crazy as the Yankees are about drugs coming across their border the Mexicans are even more fanatic about guns, IMG_1246as much as Washington complains about narcotics coming across from Mexico Los Piños complains about guns coming in from the United States. It’s a constant irritant in the relations between the two countries that the Mexicans seem to feel that fire arms are more dangerous than dope, they don’t understand why it is that in America you will get a longer jail sentence for dealing a little marijuana than you will for selling a lot of guns.


I read Mario Puzo’s Godfather in 1971, two years after its release (waited for the paperback) and have never read anything like it since, well not until now. Don Winslow does for the Barrera’s and their Mexican Cartel what Puzo did for the Sicilian Mafia in New York, and with style. Winslow takes away the decor and shines the harsh cold light on America’s war on drugs. The opening quote explains these two goverments just don’t understand each other.

Winslows book is a sweeping saga over a thirty year period of the Barrera family at the head of the Mexican drug Cartel and the DEA’s war against drugs, against the background of America’s relentless war against communist regimes in South and Central America. His main characters are Art Keller from the DEA a half Mexican American who had learned from a young age to be a YOYO (your on your own) and Adán Barrera, who becomes the leader of the Cartel. The story begins with the Mexicans, with the “tactical” help of America wiping out the Marijuana plantations in Mexico and Art, with the help of Adán’s father, the police head Michael Angel Barrera, capturing the head of the drug trade. Thus leaving the way free for Barrera to create the Cartel.

This is a book spanning many events and many years as Art tries to chase down the Barreras and early on Arts colleague Ernie Hidalgo is captured and tortured to death  for information only Art has. As the book progresses we understand First of all that Adán can turn almost any event to profit:


–Between the DEA and the Mexican Cartel there is a blood feud still from the killing of Ernie Hidalgo, Art Keller sees to that, and thank God for that Adán thinks for while Keller’s revenge obsession might cost me money in the short run in the long run it makes me money and that is what the Americans simply cannot seem to understand that all they do is to drive up the price and make us rich. Without them any bobo with an old truck or a Leakey boat with an outboard motor could run drugs into El Norte and then the price would not be worth the effort but as it is, it takes millions of dollars to move the drugs and the prices are accordingly sky high. The Americans take a product that literally grows on trees and turn it into a valuable commodity without them cocaine and marijuana would be like oranges and instead of making billions smuggling it I’d be making pennies doing stoop labour in some California field picking it and the truly funny irony is that Keller is himself another product because I make millions selling insurance against him.


The second truth we learn is that the war on drugs is high on the political agenda but low on the real covert agenda of the CIA, fighting communism, and as the Head of the CIA program “Red Mist” which was the code name for scores of operations to neutralize left wing movements across Latin America and which needed covert funding, points out to Keller:


–Hobbs stares at him then asks
what do you know about red mist what the hell is red mist Art wonders, Art says look I only know about Cerberus and what I know is enough to sink you
I agree with your analysis now where does that leave us
with our jaws clamped on each other’s throats art says and neither of us can let go
let’s go for a walk
they hike through the camp past the obstacle course the shooting range the clearings in the jungle where cammy clad soldiers sit on the ground and listen to instructors teach ambush tactics
every thing in the training camp Hobbs says was paid for by Michaël Angel Barrera
Jesus
Barrera understands.
understands what
Hobbs leads him up a steep trail to the top of a hill Hobbs points out over the vast jungle stretching below what does that look like to you he asks
Art shrugs, a rain forest
to me Hobbs says it looks like a camels nose you know the old Arab proverb once the camel gets his nose inside the tent the camel will be inside the tent. That’s Nicaragua down there the communist camels nose in the tent of the central American isthmus not an island like Cuba that we can isolate with our navy


I guess you can say that sending GIs to fight communists in the Americas was no longer possible after Vietnam, instead a whole generation was sacrificed knowingly to Crack Cocain in order to provide, via the Cartel, the secret funding to continue the war on communism.

There are dozens of well constructed characters in this impressive thriller of which I have not even scratched the surface, if you have not read it you must, and like the Godfather there is a sequel to avoid you going cold turkey!

First Published in English as “The Power of the Dog” in 2006 by Random House Inc

Marisha Pesl ‘Night Film’

Five years ago, the highly respected journalist Scott McGrath had tangled with the film director Stanislav Cordova, as a result he had lost his job, his reputation and his marriage. imageAs the book begins, a figure in a red coat, Cordova’s daughter? appears fleetingly to Scott in Central Park and is later found dead at the bottom of a disused lift shaft with her clothes found neatly folded at the top of the shaft. McGrath won’t be able to resist locking horns once again with Cordova’s.

So begins Night Film by Marisha Pesl, a book where we will be navigating in total paranoia

The first mystery in this story is Stanislav Cordova himself, who hasn’t been seen for decades and who produces ‘realistic‘ horror films, so realistic that there are many rumours of true horrors on the film set.

‘That day they were shooting a driving sequence in the woods with two actors in the woods, they had been shooting for a few hours when a stranger, a young teenage boy, came running into the shot screaming, after much confusion it was discovered that the boy was the directors son who had been servicing a motor boat on a lake nearby and he had accidentally severed three of his fingers, the boy was holding the bloody fingers in his hand s reaming in pain asking his father if he could call an ambulance. The director said no, instead he fired one of the actors and made his son play the part. The director had his son shoot sixteen complete takes before the boy went unconscious. An ambulance was then called, but by then too much time had elapsed to reattach the fingers.’

Scott sets off, originally on the trail of Ashley Cordova, with an unlikely  team consisting of Ashley’s one time boy friend and petty criminal, Hopper, and a homeless cloakroom girl and would be actress, Nora. From an interesting mystery story, this slowly slips into the mystical as we follow Ashley’s last weeks into a Dennis Wheatley world of devils, curses and black magic. Now if you like this sort of thing that’s fine, just be warned.

‘You need to visit a real practitioner of black magic
I don’t know a real practitioner of black magic, I only know you so you’re getting to the bottom of this even if it means we sit here for two weeks figuring it out.
I leapt to my feet, the folding chair falling backwards with a crack as I raced to the back of the room, the counters were disordered, burnt candles and ashtrays scraps of papers scribbled with recipes for spells, battered notebooks, plastic sachets of powders marked yes and no, jars of black ashes, shelves were crammed to the ceiling with musty texts……you’ll make it worse Cleo said potent black magic around an unstable mind is like enriched uranium near a fuse’

From partial paranoia and black magic  we then move into the realm of total paranoia as Scott and his team try to find Stanslav who is surrounded by more layers of people and mystery than an onion. After breaking into the remote high security Cordova house and grounds, wandering around decades old unused film sets and erring in miles of underground tunnels for what seems to the reader like an eternity. Scott is then captured and tortured without having seen his assailants. As Cordova’s assistant puts it :

‘whatever wild nonsense you’ve come to believe, curses and satan the bogeyman, though honestly I’d have expected a grown man, a veteran reporter to be a little more sceptical’

The story ended with a well written continuation of the book’s mystery, but this was too little too late for me.

First Published as “Night Film” by Random House 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.