Friday, November 28, 2014

Flight Without End by Joseph Roth

Flight Without End by Joseph Roth;  translated by David Le Vay, in collaboration with Beatrice Musgrave.
(translation information taken from Library of Congress record for edition published by  Owen, London, 1977. The copy I read is a reprint of the Owen edition by Overlook Press, Woodstock, New York, 1977. No translation credit given.)
 Library book.

 I was not especially impressed but that could be because I couldn't stay with it for very long at a time. My allergy to certain old books kept kicking in. (see my comments in Sneezing with Steinbeck)

There are some wonderfully witty descriptions of people but not much plot.

The protagonist wanders through Europe guided by chance, not plan. He is an Austrian officer who, at the end of World War I, is in a camp in Siberia. From there he just sort of "goes with the flow" falling into things (such as fighting in the Russian Revolution, working in Baku, returning to Vienna, visiting his brother in the Rhineland and eventually ends up impoverished in Paris.

I don't think it was a very good introduction to Roth. I'm going to try some of the short stories next.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Flights of Love : Stories by Bernhard Schlink

Flights of Love : Stories
by Bernhard Schlink, Translated from German by John E. Woods
Pantheon, 2001, 320 pages

(Originally published by Diogenes Verlag AG, Zurich, in 2000 as Liebesfluchten : Geschichten)
Copy from local public library.

Girl with Lizard; A Little Fling; The Other Man; Sugar Peas; The Circumcision; The Son; The Woman at the Gas Station.

All seven of these stories are about German men. The first is about a young man discovering his parent's past through searching the history of a painting that hung in his father's study.

Relationships between a West Berlin man and an East Berlin couple before and after the Fall of the Wall are examined in A Little Fling, a story of betrayal.

The Other Man and Sugar Peas both deal with infidelity. In the first it is a wife's affair (discovered by the husband after her death); in the second a husband's affairs overwhelm him. Both are stories of sly revenge with strange, sometimes questionable, twists and turnings. These two are lighter in mood than the other stories in the collection.

In The Circumcision a German man studying in New York falls in love with a Jewish American. This is the post war generation--his father served in the Germany military in World War II; her aunt and uncle survived the concentration camps. The relationship is somewhere between walking on eggs and zig-zagging through a minefield as the two try to understand their prejudices, family histories, and apprehensions about their future together.

The Son takes place in an unidentified Latin American country where a German is part of an international election observation team. When the team is stranded overnight, the German man meditates on his life's shortcomings and his failed relationship with his son. The Woman at the Gas Station is the story of a long time marriage that is trying to rejuvenate itself. The men in both of these stories are world weary.

Schlink is a skilled storyteller. His characters are well developed and interesting. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shorter Days by Anna Katharina Hahn

 Shorter Days
 by Anna Katharina Hahn, Translated from German by Anne Posten
 Frisch & Co, 2014, 270 pages, Kindle ed.
(Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2009 as K├╝rzere Tage)

One day, when my daughter and I came home from a shopping trip, my husband asked, "How did it go?"

My daughter replied, "Well, we saw a part of Stuttgart we'd never seen before."

"What part was that?"

"The part you see when you are lost."

This book took me back to those streets, that same neighborhood. I had such a good time with this. I followed the characters around town with Google maps, happy that Stuttgart is one of the German places that still has street view.

Hmmm, getting lost these days is a lot different than it was back in 1986 when I drove around in circles with no GPS, no cell phone, and a knowledge of German that seemed to vanish when I needed it most.

I had no problems with this book. I found the characters and their situations every bit as interesting as the setting. But the reading was such a  personal experience that it is difficult to be objective. And it wasn't just the setting.

The description of Judith as a Waldorf mother took me even further back than my time in Germany. I was briefly involved with a Waldorf School, in California, years ago. I remember being alternately impressed, intrigued, and appalled by the "Waldorf Method," the "Waldorf Movement," the "Steiner Theosophy," etc. Hahn really nails it with her description of the ridged rules and routines that Judith tries to follow.

Then there's Leonie, the working mother with all the emotional baggage that goes with that. I've been there, too. And Luise, a much older woman facing the end of a long marriage. Again, Hahn gets it right.

So this turns out to be more of a reverie than a review. So be it. That's one of the many things that reading can be.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Fall of the Wall

In commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall (and the Iron Curtain), I am currently reading the Words Without Borders anthology The Wall in My Head.  Published in 2009 by Open Letter Books, it's been sitting in my to read pile for nearly a year. The selections are from many Eastern Bloc countries and authors and there are translations from several languages (including German). It includes a selection from Peter Schneider's The Wall Jumper which I read back in 1983 when it was first published in English. Nice to revisit one of my favorites.

I am also working on writing up one of my own memories from the 1980s concerning a day in East Berlin. I'll try to complete it this month. Notes! Where are my notes?

Online reading:
The fall of the Berlin Wall: what it meant to be there  by Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian web site. Memories and musings on the fall of the Wall and it's meaning from an eye-witness.

Berlin’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Part 1 by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, The Paris Review web site, November 6, 2014 (part 2 to be published November 7, 2014). Discussion of Karl-Marx-Allee, then and now. With photographs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Three Novellas; by Thomas Bernhard

Three Novellas; by Thomas Bernhard;
Peter Jansen (Translator), Kenneth J. Northcott (Translator)
Brian Evenson (Foreword)
University of Chicago Press, 1989, 174 pages.
Copy from local community college library.

The book jacket features a quote from a Los Angeles Times review by  Thomas McGonigle  which includes the sentence "Reading a book by Bernhard is a painful and frightening experience."

Consider yourself warned.

It is difficult to read, both in content and form.  The stories are stream of consciousness, first person, and, in the second two stories, no paragraphs. There is dark comedy as we descend into madness, but it takes a very careful reading to appreciate it.

The first novella, Amras, concerns two brothers hiding out in a tower after the suicide of their impoverished parents. The brothers are survivors of a family suicide pact. Compared to the other two novellas, it is fairly straightforward and not to difficult to read.

The other two novellas, Playing Watten and Walking, are maddening to read. Even though they are short (48 and 60 pages), the lack of paragraphs and the often complex sentences make them non-stop tours de force into the minds of their narrators. It also makes it difficult to pull out a quote that can stand alone. The  writing is glorious, flowing (I almost drowned in it), overwhelming and rewarding if you can stick with it.

The introduction is helpful as it explains the Tyrolian politics in the background of these stories.

In My Brother's Shadow: A Life and Death in the SS

In My Brother's Shadow: A Life and Death in the SS
by Uwe Timm; Translated from the German by Anthea Bell
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005, 150p

(Originally published in 2003 by Kiepenheuer & Witschas as Am Beispiel meines Bruders)

Copy from local community college library.

Uwe Timm leads us through a reading of his brother Karl-Heinz' wartime diary interspersed with Uwe's thoughts on the war and his brother's and his father's participation in it. The diary is not particularly unique or illuminating. The brief entries deal mostly with the everyday boredom of soldiering and shed no light on whether Karl-Heinz took part in the atrocities of the Russian front where he served in the Waffen SS. Only the final cryptic entry leaves a small clue.

This book is as much about Timm's relationship with his father as it is about his brother. That's where it's value lies.

          Writing about my brother means writing about my father too. My likeness to him can be 
          seen in my likeness to my brother. To get close to them in writing is an attempt to resolve
          what I had merely held on to in my memory, to find myself again.

Timm offers some insight to the attitude toward the war of children who came of age during the 1950s (Timm was born in March 1940). On the collective guilt of the Germans:

          They were deadly silent, and that was worse than the wordy speeches of those 
          who tried to exculpate themselves by protesting that they knew nothing. The latter
          repelled young people--as I remember very well--when they started to enumerate 
          the reasons why they couldn't have known, as if under a compulsion to justify
          themselves, often unasked

Timm's parents never recovered from the loss of their elder son. His father did little after the war. he was depressed, drank too much, and had little to do with the running of his failing business.

The tragedy of a nation trying to come to terms
with its past is reflected in this memoir of a man
trying to come to terms with the tragic consequences
the war had on his family. Definitely worth reading.