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.

I have read this book again in 2021, at least a decade after I read it first. It was still as hilarious. His stories about his beginnings in Germany, life of many Russians in Germany and particularly in Berlin, are both delightful and superb. I love the author's quirky sense of humour and how he takes the micky both out of his former and new compatriots. Nobody has such a power of observation as he does. One could call him the "German" Bill Bryson.

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, Oryx and Crake)

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, Joseph 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.

Thursday 4 October 2018

Wolf, Christa "They Divided the Sky"

Wolf, Christa "They Divided the Sky" (aka "Divided Heaven") (German: Der geteilte Himmel) - 1963

I grew up with the "Iron Curtain". And just as those on the East side of the curtain couldn't come to us, we in the West couldn't go there. Mind you, we always considered ourselves the lucky ones and I remember the day the curtain was torn down, the fall of the Berlin Wall and all that, as if it was yesterday.

The author Christa Wolf grew up in the East, she was a big supporter of socialism but not the regime in her country. I can understand that quite well, I would probably say that my political views are similar to hers.

In this novel, one of her first, we meet Rita and Manfred, a young couple living somewhere in East Germany shortly before the wall was built. We learn about their problems in the new state, their different views about what can be done and what they do themselves.

They are torn between their relief of having survived the war and their desire to move on. But what is better? Capitalism or socialism. A difficult question, even today.

A brilliant book that describes how Germany was divided in two halves for almost half a century. For those of us growing up with it, a reminder of what was and what could have been. An insight into the other side. For those who were born later and/or don't remember it themselves (or haven't lived in Germany), a good history lesson.

From the back cover:

"First published in 1963, in East Germany, 'They Divided the Sky' tells the story of a young couple, living in the new, socialist, East Germany, whose relationship is tested to the extreme not only because of the political positions they gradually develop but, very concretely, by the Berlin Wall, which went up on August 13, 1961.

The story is set in 1960 and 1961, a moment of high political cold war tension between the East Bloc and the West, a time when many thousands of people were leaving the young German Democratic Republic (the GDR) every day in order to seek better lives in West Germany, or escape the political ideology of the new country that promoted the "farmer and peasant" state over a state run by intellectuals or capitalists. The construction of the Wall put an end to this hemorrhaging of human capital, but separated families, friends, and lovers, for thirty years.

The conflicts of the time permeate the relations between characters in the book at every level, and strongly affect the relationships that Rita, the protagonist, has not only with colleagues at work and at the teacher's college she attends, but also with her partner Manfred (an intellectual and academic) and his family. They also lead to an accident/attempted suicide that send her to hospital in a coma, and that provide the backdrop for the flashbacks that make up the narrative.

Wolf's first full-length novel, published when she was thirty-five years old, was both a great literary success and a political scandal. Accused of having a 'decadent' attitude with regard to the new socialist Germany and deliberately misrepresenting the workers who are the foundation of this new state, Wolf survived a wave of political and other attacks after its publication. She went on to create a screenplay from the novel and participate in making the film version. More importantly, she went on to become the best-known East German writer of her generation, a writer who established an international reputation and never stopped working toward improving the socialist reality of the GDR."

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Armstrong, Alexander; Osman, Richard "The 100 Most Pointless Things In The World

Armstrong, Alexander; Osman, Richard "The 100 Most Pointless Things In The World" - 2012

If, like me, you love quiz shows and are lucky to live in a country where you can watch "Pointless", you will certainly have watched it and love it. For those unfortunate enough who don't, here's a short information.

"Pointless" is a quiz show where you have to find obscure answers to questions that were put to a hundred people before and the fewer people answered it, the fewer points the teams get. The aim is to find as many "pointless" answers, i.e. answers nobody knew, because the fewer points you have, the better. So, if asked for, let's say, a capital in Europe, London would certainly not be the best answer as most British people might know that.

The show is hosted by British comedian, actor and singer Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, a TV presenter and comedian. They are both hilarious and have the best chemistry ever. Even if you don't like quiz shows, you might want to tune in and I promise, you'll fall in love with it.

One of my main subjects is when they ask the contestants about geography and Richard mentions, as always "and by 'country' we mean a sovereign state that is a member of the UN in its own right".

Anyway, this was the concept of the show. The book is something else, although not entirely. Both Alexander and Richard talk to us about what they think are the 100 most pointless things in the world. I must say, when it comes to things like "restaurants advertising themselves when you're already eating there" or "explaining rules on episode 400 of a quiz show", I totally agree, even though there are worse things in life, like "war" and "over-complicated hotel showers", two points that are also mentioned and that I would certainly have listed myself.

And then it comes to some of the really hilarious ones like "being 14" or "dictators' pets". Just Richard and Alexander as we all love them.

Plus, they enter some of their pointless quiz questions. What's not to like?

From the back cover:

"The world is full of pointless things. From rail replacement bus services to chip forks. From war to windchimes. From people who put cushions on beds to people who read the bit they write about the book on amazon. Look around you right now. Just about the only thing that isn't pointless is you. You look amazing. Join Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, the hosts of BBC1 quiz show Pointless as they take you on a journey through The 100 Most Pointless Things in the World. Filled with play-along quiz questions and unlikely facts, their hilarious collection of musings on some of the most pointless things found in everyday modern life is the perfect blend of the obscure, the fascinating and the downright silly."

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Backman, Fredrik "A Man Called Ove"

Backman, Fredrik "A Man Called Ove" (Swedish: En Man som heter Ove) - 2012

If you are looking for a hilarious book, this is the one for you. A friend recommended it to me - thank you very much!

There is not too much to tell without spoiling it for anyone. Only this. Ove is a man in his early sixties but he behaves like a hundred-year-old. He is grumpy, he makes his neighbours' lives difficult if not unbearable - depending on how much he dislikes them.

Or is he? He certainly is in his sixties, he certainly is grumpy but if you look behind the façade, you see the reason for his behaviour and start liking him …

In any case, whether you like Ove or not, you will definitely love the book.

From the back cover:

"Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots-joggers, neighbours who can't reverse a trailer properly and shop assistants who talk in code. But isn't it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be and a lifelong dedication to making it just so? In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible..."

Monday 1 October 2018

Happy October!

Happy October to all my friends and readers

New Calendar picture with this
beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch

"Party am Strand"
"Party at the Beach" 

October is definitely autumn and I love the colours of the leaves on the trees. Not as colourful as the Indian summer in New England, I am told, but beautiful nevertheless.
There are many special events in this month. Breast Cancer Awareness is just one of them. My church (the Roman Catholics) celebrate the Month of the Rosary, my country German Unity Day, my Australian friends celebrate Labour Day, my Canadian friends Thanksgiving. So, lots to celebrate.

 And to my great delight, daylight saving time ends.
However, they only give us back one hour and not the 218 they have stolen from us all over the summer.

The birthstone for this month is the opal which can come in many colours and therefore it's supposed to bring luck.

Enjoy this month with this beautiful watercolour painting by Frank Koebsch. 

You can find many more wonderful pictures on their website here.