Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Zeh, Juli "The Method"

Zeh, Juli "The Method" (German: Corpus Delicti. Ein Prozess) - 2009

I read a few books by German author Juli Zeh, none of them have been translated into English. I liked them all and was surprised to see that she also wrote a dystopian one.

In this futuristic novel, we suppose that there are no more illnesses but that the state has taken over everything, something a lot of conservatives think the communists already did but this goes a lot further.

Being healthy is something you have to be, you can't even be a little depressed and you certainly shouldn't do anything that might make you sick. If you don't, that's considered treason. The biggest question is, however, does complete health make us happy?

Quote: "Health is a state of complete physical, spiritual and social wellbeing - and not the mere absence of disease."

I couldn’t agree more.

I have read more interesting dystopian novels but this one certainly gets you thinking.

From the back cover:

"Mia Holl lives in a state governed by The Method, where good health is the highest duty of the citizen. Everyone must submit medical data and sleep records to the authorities on a monthly basis, and regular exercise is mandatory. Mia is young and beautiful, a successful scientist who is outwardly obedient but with an intellect that marks her as subversive. Convinced that her brother has been wrongfully convicted of a terrible crime, Mia comes up against the full force of a regime determined to control every aspect of its citizens' lives.

The Method, set in the middle of the twenty-first century, deals with pressing questions: to what extent can the state curtail the rights of the individual? And does the individual have a right to resist? Juli Zeh has written a thrilling and visionary book about our future, and our present."

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Kaminer, Wladimir "Russian Disco"

Kaminer, Wladimir "Russian Disco" (German: Russendisko) - 2000

I read another book by Wladimir Kaminer recently (Ausgerechnet Deutschland. Geschichten unserer neuen Nachbarn" [Germany of all. Stories of our new neighbours]) but since that hasn't been translated, I couldn't review it here.

However, it reminded me that I read another book by this wonderful author that I haven't reviewed, yet. Well, here we go.

The author is one of the many Russian-Germans that came to Germany shortly after the wall came down. This is a book about all of his compatriots who - like him - ended up in Berlin. His short stories tell us how he got to know his new country by exploring Berlin and finding his way into the discos that were often led by Russians.

It's a funny way of trying to understand our new fellow citizens. While his stories often exceed our imagination - he is a master of sarcasm - they all make us laugh.

From the back cover:

"Born in Moscow, Wladimir Kaminer emigrated to Berlin in the early '90s when he was 22. Russian Disco is a series of short and comic autobiographical vignettes about life among the émigrés in the explosive and extraordinary multi-cultural atmosphere of '90s Berlin. It's an exotic, vodka-fuelled millennial Goodbye to Berlin. The stories show a wonderful, innocent, deadpan economy of style reminiscent of the great humorists. [Several of his European editors make a comparison with current bestseller David Sedaris.*] Kaminer manages to say a great deal without seeming to say much at all. He speaks about the offbeat personal events of his own life but captures something universal about our disjointed times."

* I'm not really a fan of David Sedaris, as you can see in my review about "Me Talk Pretty One Day", so I don't see a connection.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"In the end, we all become stories." Margaret Atwood

"The story is truly finished - and meaning is made - not when the author adds the last period, but when the reader enters." Celeste Ng

"He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger ... Men of superior mind busy themselves first getting at the root of things; when they succeed, the right course is open to them." Confucius

"It is books that are the key to the wide world; if you can’t do anything else, read all that you can." Jane Hamilton

Find more book quotes here.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

And the Nobel Prize for Literature 2018 goes to ….

Word cloud made with WordItOut

As every year, many people look forward to hearing who received the Nobel Prize for Literature this time around. So, today would probably have been the day when they would have announced the newest laureate. Would - if they had elected one.

I will not go into the details why there is no winner this year, I bet everyone has read enough of it in the news. But - what a shame for that to happen to such a prestigious prize. Alfred Nobel is probably turning in his grave.

I love the Nobel Prize for Literature, I have found many great authors that way. What a pity we will not have one this year even if they announced they might choose two in 2019.

Because I was so disappointed, my thoughts were that I have lots of Facebook friends who love reading, so I asked them which would be their choice for a laureate. And here is the list - strictly in alphabetical order. I was happy that someone else also chose my favourite nominee, JCO. I added the books I read of my friends' choices in brackets.

So, Nobel Prize Committee, if you read this, take head.

Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale; The Blind Assassin)

Coelho, Paulo (Brida, The Alchemist)

Gaiman, Neil

Hays, Edward

Irving, John (A Widow for One Year)

Nesbø, Jo

Oates, Joyce Carol (Big Mouth & Ugly Girl, A Book of American Martyrs, Carthage, Dear Husband, The Falls, The Gravediggers Daughter, Jack of Spades, The Man Without a Shadow, Middle Age, Mudwoman, The Sacrifice, Sexy, We Were the Mulvaneys, A Widow's Story)

Ruiz Zafón, Carlos (The Angel's Game, Gaudí in Manhattan, The Labyrinth of the Spirits, Marina, The Midnight Palace, The Prince of Mist, The Prisoner of Heaven, The Shadow of the Wind, The Watcher of the Shadows)

Of course, I am always happy to add other authors that anyone who reads this might put on their list!

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Weidermann, Volker "Summer Before the Dark"

Weidermann, Volker "Summer Before the Dark: Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth, Ostend 1936" (Ostende - 1936, Sommer der Freundschaft) - 2014

This is a highly interesting book about German authors before and during World War II. Two very famous and important German (Austrian). Stefan Zweig was rich and successful, Joesph Roth was an alcoholic and on his way to destruction, even without the help of the Nazis. Both of them were in big danger, they were Jewish.

Stefan Zweig had spent a summer in Ostend, at the Belgian coast in the summer of 1914. In 1936, he goes back there again and invites many of his friends and colleagues to join him. Besides Joseph Roth, there are many other authors and editors, Irmgard Keun, Egon Erwin Kisch, Ernst Toller with his wife Christiane Grautoff, Arthur Koestler, Hermann Kesten, Émile Verhaeren, James Ensor, Štefan Lux, Soma Morgenstern, Annette Kolb, most of them refugees, most of them banned from publishing in Germany, but also non-authors, political activists like Willi Münzenberg, Otto Katz, Etkar André, Géza von Cziffra, Olga Benário Prestes.

In this novella, the author tries to retell the story of their meeting, their hopes and their despairs. He manages to build a picture about the end of a civilization and how it was hurtling down its own destruction. How many good and brilliant people have ended in this war, how much could they have told us, how much could they have discovered?

We can follow the writers in their view about the political situation, how different people try to do different things about it - or not. A totally interesting way to look at history from within.

Quite a few of them met later on in Sanary-sur-Mer in the South of France where many of them were interned as enemy aliens and some of them even sent to Auschwitz. Today, there is a commemorative plaque for the exiles.

From the book cover:

"It's as if they're made for each other. Two men, both falling, but holding each other up for a time.

Ostend, 1936: the Belgian seaside town is playing host to a coterie of artists, intellectuals and madmen, who find themselves in limbo while Europe gazes into an abyss of fascism and war. Among them is Stefan Zweig, a man in crisis: his German publisher has shunned him, his marriage is collapsing, his house in Austria no longer feels like home. Along with his lover Lotte, he seeks refuge in this paradise of promenades and parasols, where he reunites with his estranged friend Joseph Roth. For a moment, they create a fragile haven; but as Europe begins to crumble around them, they find themselves trapped on an uncanny kind of holiday, watching the world burn."

The author has also mentioned many many books by all those interesting authors:

Auden, W. H. "No more Peace"
Brecht, Bertolt "The Threepenny Opera" (Dreigroschenoper)
Hašek, Jaroslav "The Good Soldier Švejk" (Der Brave Soldat Schwejk)
Hesse, Hermann "Heumond" (no translation)
Huxley, Aldous "Brave New World"
Kesten, Hermann "Philipp II." (König Philipp II.)
Keun, Irmgard "After Midnight" (Nach Mitternacht)
Koestler, Arthur "Darkness at Noon" (Sonnenfinsternis)
Mann, Heinrich "Im Schlaraffenland" (no translation), "Weg zum Hades" (no translation)
Mann, Klaus "Mephisto" (Mephisto)
Mann, Thomas "The Magic Mountain" (Der Zauberberg)
Maupassant, Guy de "Bel Ami" (Bel Ami)
Neumann, Alfred "Das Kaiserreich" (La Tragédie impériale, trilogy)
Rilke, Rainer Maria "The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke" (Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke)
Roth, Joseph "Confession of a Murderer" (Beichte eines Mörders, erzählt in einer Nacht), "Weights and Measures" (Das falsche Gewicht), "The String of Pearls" (Die Geschichte der 1002. Nacht), "The Legend oft he Holy Drinker" (Die Legende vom Heiligen Trinker), "Erdbeeren" (Fragment) (no translation), "Job" (Hiob), "The Ballad oft he Hundred Days" (Die Hundert Tage), "The Wandering Jews" (Juden auf Wanderschaft)
Schnitzler, Arthur "Der Ruf des Lebens"
Zweig, Stefan "Anton", "Das Buch als Eingang zur Welt", "Maria Stuart", "The Royal Game/Chess Story/Chess" (Schachnovelle), "Decisive Moments in History" (Sternstunden der Menschheit), "Beware of Pity" (Ungeduld des Herzens) (his only novel). Most of these stories are short stories or novellas. They might have been translated but I didn't find many of them.

He has also mentioned many other authors without listing any of their works which are all worth reading:
Honoré de Balzac, Paul Claudel, Richard Dehmel, Fyodor Dostojewsky, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Gernard Hauptmann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Gustav Mahler, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Friedrich Nietzsche, Leo Tolstoy, Frank Wedekind, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde

Monday, 8 October 2018

Grass, Günter "The Tin Drum"

Grass, Günter "The Tin Drum" (German: Die Blechtrommel. Danziger Trilogie 1) - 1959

Günter Grass is one of my favourite Nobel Prize winners, certainly one of the best German authors we ever had. His style is unique, his language superb.

How to describe this book? To even try would be like rewriting the whole story which is, of course, impossible.

Why is it so important? The story represents not only a part of our history that is told from a completely different perspective than most books of the war, it also describes how many things could have been through the magic realism genre.

Oscar Matzerath was born in the then free city of Danzig (now the Polish city Gdańsk). When he is three years old, he decides not to grow anymore. He tells us the story of his grandmother and through his narration we go through WWII, the occupation of Poland and the post-war life of many refugees who went to West Germany.

Oscar incorporates many different characters, the grown-up child, the obsessive drummer, the evil of this world, the actor who wants to show us how it's done. He is many people in one, hard to grasp but so much one of us that we seem to know him.

This is certainly not one of the easiest books to read but it is totally worth it. It is a story you will never forget. I will continue reading the two other books of the "Danzig Trilogy": "Cat and Mouse" (Katz und Maus) and "Dog Years" (Hundejahre).

Like many other successful books, "The Tin Drum" was made into a film and received the Academy Award for best Foreign Language Picture.

From the back cover:

"Meet Oskar Matzerath, 'the eternal three-year-old drummer.' On the morning of his third birthday, dressed in a striped pullover and patent leather shoes, and clutching his drumsticks and his new tin drum, young Oskar makes an irrevocable decision: 'It was then that I declared, resolved, and determined that I would never under any circumstances be a politician, much less a grocer; that I would stop right there, remain as I was - and so I did; for many years I not only stayed the same size but clung to the same attire.' Here is a Peter Pan story with a vengeance. But instead of Never-Never Land, Günter Grass gives us Danzig, a contested city on the Polish-German border; instead of Captain Hook and his pirates, we have the Nazis. And in place of Peter himself is Oskar, a twisted puer aeternis with a scream that can shatter glass and a drum rather than a shadow. First published in 1959, The Tin Drum's depiction of the Nazi era created a furor in Germany, for the world of Grass's making is rife with corrupt politicians and brutal grocers in brown shirts: 

There was once a grocer who closed his store one day in November, because something was doing in town; taking his son Oskar by the hand, he boarded a Number 5 streetcar and rode to the Langasser Gate, because there as in Zoppot and Langfuhr the synagogue was on fire. The synagogue had almost burned down and the firemen were looking on, taking care that the flames should not spread to other buildings. Outside the wrecked synagogue, men in uniform and others in civilian clothes piled up books, ritual objects, and strange kinds of cloth. The mound was set on fire and the grocer took advantage of the opportunity to warm his fingers and his feelings over the public blaze. 

As Oskar grows older (though not taller), portents of war transform into the thing itself. Danzig is the first casualty when, in the summer of 1939, residents turn against each other in a pitched battle between Poles and Germans. In the years that follow, Oskar goes from one picaresque adventure to the next - he joins a troupe of traveling musicians; he becomes the leader of a group of anarchists; he falls in love; he becomes a recording artist - until some time after the war, he is convicted of murder and confined to a mental hospital. 

The Tin Drum uses savage comedy and a stiff dose of magical realism to capture not only the madness of war, but also the black cancer at the heart of humanity that allows such degradations to occur. Grass wields his humor like a knife - yes, he'll make you laugh, but he'll make you bleed, as well. There have been many novels written about World War II, but only a handful can truly be called great; The Tin Drum, without a doubt, is one. - Alix Wilber"

Günter Grass "whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history" received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999.

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

When visiting Lübeck a couple of years ago, I was happy to be able to visit the house where he lived. You can read about my experience here.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Book Quotes of the Week

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." Marcus Tullius Cicero 

(Una stanza senza libri è come un corpo senz'anima.)

"When you learn to read you will be born again … and you will never be quite so alone again." Rumer Godden

"Poetic language is a way of giving the sense of an answer, just a sense of one, that the story itself is unable to provide." Emily Ruskovich

"A book is like the Tardis - it's bigger on the inside." N.N.
[If anyone can tell me the originator of this quote, I'd be very thankful and would happily include the name.]

Find more book quotes here.