German Literature Month – Final Wrap up and Hans Fallada Giveaway

It’s hard to believe but German Literature Month is already over. I enjoyed it a lot. I’ve read quite a few books I liked, I discovered many others. I’ve read a few incredibly great reviews. I also discovered some blogs that I will be following in the future.  I hope all of you did enjoy it as much as I did. Judging from the amount of posts, readalong participants and comments I think it was a success and I would really like to thank all of you for the enthusiasm and support. Including all the introductory and readalong posts we have had over 170 contributions.

Some of you have been very prolific. The three participants with the most posts are Tony (Tony’s Reading List), Emma (Book Around The Corner) and Amateur Reader – Tom (Wuthering Expectations). While Tony was focusing on novellas, Emma has read a novel for each theme and Tom has delighted us with some very funny and unusual posts on plays. I’m sorry that some of the books Emma chose where not to her liking. Thanks to the discussions with her and others I discovered that while German literature is not all “dead people and WWII”, German literature in translation could really give this impression.

I’ve seen more than one contribution that stunned me. If I had to name all the great posts I would have a hard time.

Melville House Books who have already been very generous have given us the great opportunity of a final giveaway of four books by Hans Fallada. Since we wanted this to be a bit of special giveaway, we have already chosen the winners.

We decided that we will pick four posts, each from another group of posts, and give each of the writers one of the books by Fallada.

The first book will go to the person who has written the most amazing post. When we saw this contribution we all went “Wow” and “Blimey!”

The second book will go to Lizzy’s favourite Effi Briest readalong contribution.

The third book goes to the person who wrote The Silent Angel review I liked the most.

The last book goes to the person who has written the most original post on Kleist as we considered “Kleist week” to be some sort of readalong as well.

Seeing Tony’s dedication, his creativity and his very funny re-interpretation of Kafka’s The Castle (Das Schloss – The Play Act One – Das Schloss – The Play Act Two  – Das Schloss – The Play Act Three – Das Schloss – The Play (Director’s Cut) ), it was evident from the start that he should be a winner – only Tony likes his German books to be in German and not in translation. This is why he will get his present on Lizzy’s blog. I hope it’s fine by him.

Courtesy of Melvillehouse Publishing

Hans Fallada’s

Little Man, What Now? goes to

Vishy (Vishy’s Blog) for an absolutely astonishing post that can be read like an introduction to the most important writers of German Literature German Short Stories.

Every Man Dies Alone goes to

Fay (Read, Ramble) for a wonderful interpretation of Heine’s Sea Spectre in Effi Briest On Heine’s Sea Spectre in Effi Briest.

Wolf Among Wolves  goes to

Rise (in lieu of a field guide) for having written the review of The Silent Angel that I would have liked to have written and which gives a feel for its poetical qualities The Silent Angel by Heinrich Böll.

The Drinker goes to

Richard (Caravana de Recuerdos) for his enthusiastic and unorthodox review of The Duel that involved the much-loved expression “primal ambiguities”,  the discovering of Kleist’s rock star potential and, at the same time, imitated Kleist’s meandering style.

Last but not least I have a personal giveaway title which is from an author I love and who is often compared to Fontane. Thomas Mann considered him to be one of the finest German writers ever. When I read his book Wellen I thought it felt as if Schnitzler and Fontane had met to write a book together. It’s one of my favourite books ever. The author is Eduard von Keyserling. Apart from his early novels his books have not been translated into English but I’m sure that the winner will manage to read him in German. For those interested, his books are available in German and French.

Eduard von Keyserling’s Wellen goes to

Lizzy for having been a terrific co-host.

I really wonder if it will not feel strange, all of a sudden, when I realize tomorrow that the month is really over. Hmmm… Will I feel sad? A little bit. But I’m already making new plans…

Please send me your address via beautyisasleepingcat at gmail dot com.

Please do not miss Lizzy’s wrap up and giveaway.

Theodor Storm – Bulemanns Haus -The House of Bulemann

I often return to Storm’s short stories and novellas in autumn and winter. Not many know how to create an atmosphere like he does. His stories are either set in one or the other Northern town with their narrow, winding little alleyways, flanked by high houses with pointy gabled roofs and small, dark gardens or near the marshes and the dykes along the coast. His stories are realistic and eerie at the same time. Stories of unhappy love can be found as well as fairy tales or ghost stories. Many of his characters have become odd, whimsical and embittered through misfortune and loneliness. Two days ago, rummaging in my book shelves, I found a collection of short stories entitled “Katzen – Texte aus der Weltliteratur“, classic stories with a cat theme. When I looked through the contents I discovered a story by Storm called Bulemanns Haus. Should you like to read it in German here is the link Bulemanns Haus. I couldn’t find an English translation but it’s a very typical Storm story and can give you an impression whether you’d like to read him.

Bulemanns Haus is a story that reminded me a lot of A Christmas Carol only it is more sinister. In a German town, somewhere in the North, stands an abandoned old and dilapidated house. People pretend that they often see a face behind the dirty windows and at night they hear a scurrying sound as if huge colonies of mice were running through the house. The house used to belong to Bulemann, a bachelor who inherited the house from his father, a pawnbroker. He inherited the house, including all the objects people had left. Bulemann had been on a ship for many years and was said to have sold his black wife and their children and chosen to come back, accompanied by two cats only.

The first thing he did upon his return was selling all the objects in the house and making a fortune. The money was hidden everywhere. He was rich and avaricious and treated people in a mean and nasty way. Even his cats were frequently abused. When his impoverished sister turned up with his sickly nephew to ask for charity, he turned them down promptly and didn’t even care, some time later, when it looked as if the child was going to die. His sister who asked for help once more, was turned down again.  Before she left the house, she cursed her brother and soon afer her departure something weird was going on with Bulemann’s cats. It looked as if those two animals were growing. They got bigger and bigger daily and were finally capable not only of fighting back their master but of keeping him in check and finally imprison him.

The years went by, the cats were hunting mice at night and Bulemann was shrinking until he wasn’t much more than a helpless gnome, condemned to spend all eternity in an empty house with two giant cats.

Storm wrote a poem with a similar title In Bulemanns Haus which you can read here in German.

I thought this story was quite eerie, reminiscent of some of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tales. My favourite Storm story so far was Immensee. But The Dykemaster aka The Rider on the White Horse is equally good. Vishy reviewed them recently here and here and Lizzy has written a review of a lesser known collection Carsten the Trustee.

When it comes to 19th century German writers I would say that from a language point of view Fontane and Storm are two of the most accomplished writers, only surpassed by The Brothers Grimm who have written the most beautiful German you can find. Should you never have read anything by The Brothers Grimm, Mel U found a great online resource for 19th Century German stories which he shares here.

Do you have a favourite story by Storm?

Bulemanns Haus und andere Geschichten   Theodor Storm 32825 Blomberg Bild 1

Heinrich Böll: The Silent Angel – Der Engel schwieg (1951) Literature and War Readalong November 2011 Meets German Literature Month

Written between 1949 – 1951 Der Engel schwieg  or The Silent Angel is unique in many ways. Unique for German literature but also in Böll’s work. I have already written about it in my post on Sebald’s The Natural History of Destruction. Böll’s novel, which is one of the rare to depict a German city after the massive bombings by the Allies, had to wait 40 years for its publication. For this reason many of the chapters have been re-used in other books and if you are familiar with Böll the one or the other scene or description may appear familiar. All the important themes of Böll’s work can already be found here. Criticism of post-war Catholicism, compassion with those who have nothing, with those who suffer. His books often circle around the same elements, motives and themes and although he doesn’t always use the same style, this gives the impression of a very organic work that, read in its entirety, gives an excellent panorama of Post-war Germany.

The Silent Angel is one of the most important works of the so-called “Trümmerliteratur” (the literature of the ruins). The story as such can be told in a few sentences. It’s May 8 1945. Hans, a deserter, returns from the war without a passport. He tries to find the woman of a comrade who died instead of him. While walking the bombed and destroyed city he meets a woman who lives in an appartment in a house that is almost a ruin. He feels a strong connection to her and asks her if he can stay with her. She has lost her baby in an air raid, his wife has died as well and so, like two castaways, they are stranded together in this apartment. At first they both envy those who died but slowly they find their way back to love, hope and some kind of livable future.

It isn’t said but we know that the city which is described is Köln, Böll’s hometown. The description of the despair of the people, how tired they are physically and psychologically is impressive. The way he depicts their struggle to find bread, their fight to survive in those ruins is powerful. There is one scene in which Hans tries to visit someone and to walk a distance which used to take him ten minutes, he takes an hour because of  all the debris and the rubble. As I said before, Catholicism is an important theme in Böll’s work and in this novel, in which the greed of some Catholics is shown in all its ugliness, the description of the bombed churches becomes a very significant additional meaning.

What impressed me the most apart from the descriptions of the ruined city is how tired these people are. They spend days and days on end in their beds, staring at their walls. Finding something to eat, moving about the city, coming to terms with was has happened, takes an unimaginable effort, drains them of all their energy. All they have left is exhaustion.

This must sound very depressing but Böll isn’t only a writer of despair. He describes hopelessness but his characters overcome it, they find hope and the courage to go on living. The negative people have their positive counterparts. The greedy Dr. Fischer who doesn’t care for anything but money and for whom Catholic artifacts are just collectible items finds his counterpart in the gentle priest who helps Hans. The priest is the embodiment of a pure, compassionate Catholicism.

I was wondering while reading The Silent Angel whether I thought it was well written. I think he could have improved the structure, some passages read like short stories, some elements could have been left out, all in all it feels a bit loose at times which isn’t the case in his later work. His later novels are much more condensed but Böll has a gift for description which is rare. And he represents a rare model of moral integrity, he is an author who wrote for those who have nothing, who tried to unmask hypocrisy and uncover everything that was fake and phony in post-war Germany. I don’t know all that many authors who are so humane.

I have read The Silent Angel before. It isn’t my favourite Böll novel but since it’s an excellent example of “Trümmerliteratur” it seemed a great choice for the readalong. I’m very interested to know what others thought of this book.

Other reviews

Christina (Ardent Reader)

Danielle (A Work in Progress)

Fay (Read, Ramble)

Lizzy (Lizzy’s Literary Life)

Rise (in lieu of a field guide)

Tony (Tony’s Reading List)

Eduard Mörike: Mozart’s Journey to Prague – Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag (1855)

This is one of those books that I had meant to read since years. Now that I have read it, just after reading Kleist, I must say, I couldn’t imagine another classic as far from Kleist as Mörike. Mozart’s Journey to Prague is a truly lovely piece of writing. Sunny, cheerful but still profound, thoughtful and with a melancholic undertone. All in all one could say the sunniness is deceptive.

It’s the year 1787 and Mozart and his wife Konstanze are on a journey to Prague for the opening of Don Giovanni. They are cheerful but not without worries. Money is a big issue in Mozart’s life. Money and his health. He never rests, never stops running from one invitation to the next, working till the early morning, hardly sleeping.

His needs were various, above all his passion for all the pleasures of society were extraordinarily strong. Honoured and sought out as an incomparable talent by Vienna’s noblest families, he seldom or never declined invitations to dinners, parties and soirées. In addition he would entertain his own circle of friends with befitting hospitality. The Sunday musical evening, a long-established tradition in his house, or the informal luncheon at his well-furnished table with a few friends and acquaintances two or three times a week, were pleasures he refused to forgo. Sometimes, to his wife’s dismay, he would bring unannounced guests straight in off the streets, a very varied assortment of people, dilettanti, artistic colleagues, singers and poets. The idle parasite whose sole merit lay in an untiring vivacity, ready wit and the coarser sort of humour was made as welcome as the learned connoisseur or the virtuoso musician.

They talk about a few of these things but they are enjoying themselves as well. Mozart steps out of the carriage in a forest and gets all enthusiastic about the trees, the beauty of nature of which he hardly sees anything in Vienna.

A little later they stop at a village and Konstanze rests in a guest house while Mozart goes for a walk in someone’s garden. Lost in his thoughts he carelessly snaps an orange from a little tree and halves it with his knife. He immediately gets arrested by the gardener and brought in front of the noble man whose park he has entered. Lucky for him they recognize him and are delighted to have him there.

The little tree is very dear to the daughter of the noble man. It has once been a gift from Mme de Sévigné herself. The little tree was about to die but thanks to a skillful gardener has recovered. His oranges were counted and the tree was meant as a gift for the daughters engagement.

Mozart and his wife are invited to spend the day and the evening of the engagement with the family. He plays the piano, sings, introduces them to Don Giovanni.

There is a lot of cheering, drinking and laughing but towards the end the daughter of the family feels a chill. She is convinced that Mozart is burning from an inner fire, that he consumes himself too fast and will not live much longer. The novella finishes with a sad poem by Mörike that ends the book on a melancholy note.

Mörike wrote this novella as an homage to Mozart whose music he adored. He tried to capture the beauty and the cheerfulness of his music and the man himself but did not omit the fact that Mozart wasn’t able to refrain himself. He couldn’t live in a moderate way, was excessive in everything, burned the candle on both sides and did, as we all know, not live very long.

Reading this novella felt at times like watching a painter paint a very colorful painting, drawing flowers and trees, a sunny blue sky but in the upper left corner of the painting we can see a dark cloud slowly starting to spread.

Mozart was without any doubt a genius and there is always a mystery surrounding them. One could wonder whether he was living and working so excessively, as the novella wants us to believe, because he knew deep inside he was going to die young or whether his excesses led to his untimely death.

It’s a very visual novella, lovely and enchanting but profound as well.

The review is part of German Literature Month – Week IV Kleist and the Classics

Wednesdays are wunderbar – Pick and Mix Classics

Since it’s classics week the giveaway will be a classic. Classics is something many people already own. In order to make sure that you can win books you do not already own One World Classics offers to two people to pick and mix any two classics from their catalogue.

Interested? Then hop over to Lizzy’s blog for details .

The giveaway is part of German Literature Month.

Heinrich von Kleist: The Duel – Der Zweikampf (1811)

Today is the bicentennial of Kleist’s death. I had a few different ideas for this post but finally, after having read The Duel – Der Zweikampf, one of the very few of his novellas I hadn’t read before, I decided on focusing on that. The initial idea was to write about his death. Since his death and the novella The Duel have elements in common, it’s only fair, to at least mention it.

Kleist shot himself on November 21 1811, near the Kleiner Wannsee, after having shot his friend Henriette Vogel. This suicide was premeditated and even announced. He wrote letters to different people mentioning it and so did Henriette. It has been argued that one of the reasons why his grave is hard to find and almost hidden isn’t that he was a suicide but that he was also a murderer. I don’t think we can call him that, what he did was assisted suicide. Henriette wanted to die with him and, as was found out later, had reasons. The autopsy showed that she suffered from terminal cancer. In any case, what is striking, is the violence of their deaths which leads me back to The Duel. One of the most striking features of Kleist’s prose, apart from being very unique, and at times challenging to read, is the omnipresence of violence. Rape, abuse, murder, fights, duels, you name, it’s there. The novella The Duel is no exception. The story that is set in the 14th century starts with a murder. From the beginning there is a suspect only he seems to have an alibi. He indicates to have spent the night with a noble woman, a widow. In order to save himself, he reveals her name which has severe consequences. Upon hearing what their sister has done, her brothers beat her up and chase her from their home. She seeks refuge at the castle of another noble man, one who had asked her to marry him before. Convinced of her innocence he wants to duel with the man who has brought shame upon her and in doing so prove that she is not guilty. Since he is convinced she is innoncent, he is convinced the other one will die.

For those who will still read this novella I’m not going to reveal the outcome of the fight. What struck me is that it is believed that a duel equals a judgment of God and that the outcome isn’t only a means to get satisfaction but will show the irrevocable truth. The duel should help clarify who is lying. It’s aim is not a payback for an inflicted injustice or a libel but it will, through God, reveal the truth.

The story felt very archaic, and as I already said, I was, as always with Kleist, amazed how violent the story is. I’m far less familiar with his plays. I think some of them are even comedies. Kleist is a fascinating writer because there is something mysterious in what he writes. His characters react in a very intense way and one of the predominant themes is always sexuality which is linked to violence. The aggression between men is intense but it’s far more intense between men and women.

The Duel is one of Kleist’s shorter novellas and not a bad starting point if you have never read him. My favourite is The Marquise of O. An incredible story of a woman who doesn’t know how she got pregnant and is looking for the father of her child.

The Duel is part of The Art of the Novella series by Melvillehouse Publishing and in this series part of The Duel set of five novellas with the same title from different authors.

Have you read any of them and which one did you like? How do you think Kleist’s book compares to other duel stories?

For those who read German, I attached this link where you can find his letters. Alle Briefe

The review is part of German Literature Month – Week 4 Kleist and other Classics

German Literature Month Week III Wrap-up and The Winners of the Friedrich Glauser Giveaway

When I did the wrap up for the first week I was amazed about the contributions and thought that the enthusiasm might die down further into the month. I’m glad I was wrong with this assumption. The number of reviews and the variety of authors and books that have been chosen is as great as during week I and II. I would really like to thank all of you who contributed and help making this event a huge success.

The complete links and participants list can be found HERE.

Lizzy contributed two posts, one in which Publisher’s and Authors recommend their favourite German books and the other is a review of Julya Rabinowich’s Splithead which sounds like a most unusual book.

The Magic Mountain of German Literature 3 (Publisher and Author Recommendations)

Splithead by Julya Rabinowich

I reviewed a short story collection by Peter Stamm that I liked a lot and also reviewed Vicki Baum’s classic bestseller Grand Hôtel. While it isn’t as refined as Joseph Roth’s Hotel Savoy it is still a surprisingly interesting and character driven book.

In Strange Gardens and Other Stories by Peter Stamm

Grand Hôtel – Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum

Danielle (A Work in Progress) reviewed The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel which she found a fascinating and unusual crime story in the vein of Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Emma (Book Around the Corner) read Short Stories by Stefan Zweig. The stories had all a historical theme. She did enjoy it but maybe not as much as his non-historical stories.

Ted (BookeyWookey) read The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun and liked it a lot. The review captures the frothy playful tone that covers a dark undercurrent very well. The many quotes included in the review give a good impression of the novel (a favourite of mine).

Grace (Books Without Any Pictures)  re-read The Trial by Kafka which she thinks a most unusual and absolute must-read book. She likes it better than most of his short stories.

Richard (Caravana de Recuerdos) read Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann after having been urged by a few people. He appreciated it a lot but liked it more for its ideas than its style. His review gives an excellent impression of the many interwoven themes of this complex book.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) came to the conclusion that neither Jelinek’s Piano Teacher nor Grass’ The Tin Drum are to her liking. On Jelinek’s the Piano Teacher and Grass’ The Tin Drum. Judging from the comments, she is far from alone.

Guy (His Futile Preoccupations) read and reviewed Where Do We Go From Here? by Doris Dörrie which seems to have been a very good read, in typical Dörrie style “With piercing wit and a generous view of human nature.” Guy also read and reviewed  The Snowman by Jörg Fauser. A cult classic of gritty German crime which – to quote Guy – “is strongest in its depiction of the seedy underbelly of life –the cheap hotels, the filthy toilets (…).  There’s an intense authenticity to these scenes, and a sour truth to Fred’s realization that he’s small-time for a reason.”

Rise (in lieu of a field guide ) underlined in his review of Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter how crystal clear Stifter’s prose is. A captivating story written in a flawless style, concrete and precise like poetry, as he writes.

Fay (Read, Ramble) read Poems by Rilke which impressed her or in her own words “One reading of selected poems gives a sense of striking imagery and intense artistic purpose but not enough mastery of Rilke’s art to make further commentary worthwhile. Rilke is a poet who deserves several careful readings. All I know is that the more I came to know Rilke’s voice, the better I liked him, after a hesitant start. It is a voice to listen to again.”

Rikki (Rikki’s Teleidoscope) read Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig in German. She writes “I read this is German and I don’t think I have ever come across a writer who writes in such a precise way and who conjured such a clear picture of what is going on.”

Scott W. (seraillon) reviewed  Beautiful Days – Schöne Tage by Franz Innerhofer. In his in-depth review he writes about the unusual combination of a seemingly cheerful title with the topic of child abuse. The book seems to be well worth reading, complex and arresting.

Priya (Tabula Rasa) liked Hotel Savoy by Joseph Roth a lot and recommends it highly.

Alex (The Children’s War) rediscovered and reviewed an old children’s classic Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner and reviewed A Song For Summer by Eva Ibbotson. Ibbotson’s book offers a wide variety of unusual, typical Ibbotoson characters and despite a WWII topic stays light and hopeful.

Parrish (The Parrish Lantern)  introduced a great book on German poetry, including authors like Else Lasker-Schüler as well as Jan Wagner. The Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems. He included the whole list of poets, a poem by Elke Erb and a lot of other information.

Anthony (Time’s Flow Stemmed) calls Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard a flawless book. It seems also a very interesting book and one that was echoed by two other reviews (in lieu of a filed guide and seraillon). Bernard’s character criticizes Austrian art and artists, among them Stifter. The book could be called a rant but Anthony chooses to call it a tirade.

Tony (Tony’s Reading List) What happens when someone reads Kafka’s The Castle and participates in German Literature Month? Given he is an imaginative person it might look a little bit like this Das Schloss – The Play Act One  – Das Schloss – The Play Act Two  – Das Schloss – The Play Act Three Das Schloss – The Play (Director’s Cut). Tony writes his own “Castle Play ” and adds a review of Kafka’s book.

Liz (Tortoisebook) liked the sad but beautiful  The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe. She says “This book is a lovely read, beautifully told and achingly heartbreaking.”

Vishy (Vishy’s Blog) reviewed the original sheep crime novel Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann which read as if “Agatha Christie had rewritten The Wind in the Willows“.

Poor Daryl (Who Killed Lemmy Caution?) was ill but is recovering. Soon we will read her review of Klausen by Andreas Meier. Review on Its Way

Week three gives us a slightly puzzled Tom (Wuthering Expectations ) who after having read Wedekind’s Spring Awakening during week II thought he had seen the height of Austrian treatment of  sexuality in plays but no – he hadn’t read the La Ronde/Der Reigen by Arthur Schnitzler yet. He was quite amused by the use of … to cover up the ongoing activities and wonders how they handled this during the play.

Effi Briest Readalong

Week III










And here are the winners of the Friedrich Glauser giveaway courtesy of Bitter Lemon Press.

One copy each of In Matto’s Realm goes to

Neer from A Hot Cup of Pleasure and

Richard from Caravana de Recuerdos

Happy reading Neer and Richard!

Please send me your address via beautyisasleepingcat at gmail dot com.

The giveaway is part of German Literature Month.

The next giveaway will take place on Wednesday 23 November 2011.