Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category
Before you even think of reading Erik Larsonâ€™s latest masterwork, clear your calendar, call in sick, send the kids to grandmaâ€™s, and place all your evening plans on hold. You will not want to come up for air until youâ€™ve reached the last pages. Itâ€™s that good.
In his preface, Larson writes, â€śOnce, at the dawn of a very dark time, an American father and daughter found themselves suddenly transported from their snug home in Chicago to the heart of Hitlerâ€™s Berlin. They remained there for four and a half years, but it is their first year that is the subject of the story to follow, for it coincided with Hitlerâ€™s ascent from chancellor to absolute tyrant, when everything hung in the balance and nothing was certain.â€ť
Husbands and wives who work together either end up with their marriage in trouble or being the best of friends. In German author, Thomas Pletzingerâ€™s novel, FUNERAL FOR A DOG, itâ€™s the first scenario for journalist Daniel Mandelkern. Mandelkern is an ethnologist who is supposed to be writing â€śabout anthropological concepts like matrilineality and male childbed,â€ť but instead heâ€™s been getting a series of shit assignments from his boss/wife Elisabeth. Mandelkern is beginning to wonder if thereâ€™s an underlying message to these assignments and then heâ€™s told to interview the reclusive Dirk Svensson, the author of a wildly successful illustrated childrenâ€™s book â€śThe story of Leo and the Notmuch.â€ť Mandelkern protests against the assignment, and with his marriage in crisis, he storms out of his apartment on the journey to interview Svensson.
The “Girl,” who ponders these questions, is one of the protagonists in Jenny Erpenbeck’s innovative and powerful novel VISITATION. Memories of innocent excitement and happiness of youth, of arriving, settling down, and then having to leave again and of families and people loved and lost form the core of the story. People and events are centred around a lake-side summer house surrounded by expansive woods and gardens in the region just east of Germany’s capital, Berlin, affording it the role as the central character and integrating force of the narrative. Using her zooming lens, the author condenses many decades of twentieth century German history into time-specific, intricate and intimate glimpses into the lives of twelve different residents and their families living on the property. While the owners build and add to the house, change it and its grounds over time, leaving visible marks and impressions, they are in turn impacted by the environment and the historical events occurring beyond it.
In the original German version, so Iâ€™ve been told, the title of this book is Die Mittagsfrau, or â€śThe Noonday Witch.â€ť According to legend, the witch appears in the heat of day to spirit away children from their distracted parents. Those who are able to engage the witch in a short conversation find that her witch-like powers evaporate.
In Julia Franckâ€™s brilliant English version (translated by the very talented Anthea Bell), Helene gradually retreats into silence and passivity, losing her ability to communicate effectively. We meet her in the bookâ€™s prologue as the mother of an eight-year-old boy, leading her son towards a packed train in the direction of Berlin. Before the train arrives she tells him a white lie, abandoning him at a bench, never to return. In the succeeding 400 pages, the reader gains a glimpse as to what drove Helene to this most unnatural act.
What is the relationship between persecutors and their victims? In THE DEATH OF THE ADVERSARY â€“ poised on the brink of what soon will be one of the worldâ€™s most horrific tragedies â€“ an unnamed narrator in an unnamed country reflects on an unnamed figure who will soon ascend to power. Although the figure (â€śBâ€ť) is never revealed, it soon becomes obvious that he is Hitler and that the narrator is of Jewish descent.
Even in these dramatic opening lines, British author Grantâ€™s first novel, THE VANISHING OF KATHARINA LINDEN, has a beguiling, self-absorbed, coming-of-age tone well suited to its appealing 10-year-old narrator, Pia Kolvenbach. Pia is actually recalling these events from young adulthood, seven years later; a distance that allows a certain wry humor in her approach to her younger self, while retaining the immediacy of her traumatic experiences.
Daughter of an English mother and German father, Pia has enjoyed an uneventful childhood in the tiny, ancient, comfortably hidebound town of Bad Munstereifel. This comes to an abrupt end when her grandmother accidentally sets herself on fire lighting the last Advent candle at the family celebration the Sunday before Christmas.