Angelika Overath – All the Colors of Snow – Sent Diary – Alle Farben des Schnees

Have you ever dreamt of moving to the place where you spend your holidays? That’s exactly what German journalist and writer Angelika Overath did in 2007. She, her husband, and their youngest child moved to Sent, a small village in the Engadine region of Switzerland. Before that, they lived in Tübingen, Germany, where her husband was a professor at the university. Her two older children stayed in Tübingen.

Shortly after they moved, Overath was asked whether she wanted to write something for a local newspaper about moving to her holiday home. That article was the starting point to this book— a diary of a little more than a year in her new home Sent.

I read a few of the diary entries in an anthology and liked them so much that I wanted to read her whole book. As a child, we used to spend many holidays in the Engadine region. My mother had a Swiss friend whose family owned a holiday home there. The scenery is spectacular and I was always fascinated to see how differently the seasons changed in the mountains. I never spent a Christmas there, only New Year, but it must be lovely as the parts I read in the anthology, and now reread, take place during Christmas and Overath describes so many wonderful things and interesting customs.

The descriptions of the changing seasons are some of the best parts in Overath’s “diary”. That and her joy to be somewhere she loves as much as she loves the Engadine. She describes what it takes to change status, to move away from being a tourist and become a local. In her case, it’s not that easy because, as you may know, the Engadine region is the Swiss region, where the fourth Swiss language – Romansh (Rätoromanisch) is spoken. People speak some German and Swiss but they distinctly prefer to speak their own language and in order to get fully accepted it’s better to learn to speak the local language.

While her son, who is only seven when they move, picks up Romansh easily at school, and her husband has a greater facility to learn Romansh, it’s not that easy for Angelika Overath to learn the language. But since she’s so enthusiastic, she uses a special way for herself, which I found quite ingenious and well-worth copying. In order to familiarize herself with the language, especially the nuances of the vocabulary – many words sound similar but have  a completely different meaning – she began to write poetry in Romansh. The result is quirky and playful. It’s a brilliant way to learn a new language.

I enjoyed this book a lot because of the beautiful descriptions of the landscape, and the many interesting people that populate these pages. The Overaths have a rich social life and meet many fascinating people. Sent seems to be a place that attracts a lot of foreigners, artist, writers. It’s also a place people seem to return to after having stayed abroad for a while.

My only small reservation concerns the term “diary”. In my opinion, this is rather a notebook than a diary. Angelika Overath herself, her interior life is almost completely absent from these pages. One can sense it was meant for an audience and not as personal as diaries normally are. But that’s a tiny reservation. It’s such a rich and diverse book that has a lot to say about moving to another country, learning a new language, new ways of living. It also describes beautifully the charm of living in a small community. And her love for the mountains, the short but intense summers, and the long, cold, snowy winters, can be felt on every page.

Sadly, so far, none of the books by Angelika Overath have been translated into English. This book would be interesting for American readers as there are several entries set in the US, during the summer, when both she and her husband teach at a college in Vermont. Since I liked the way she wrote, I might try one of her novels next.

Did you ever want to move to a place where you spent your holidays? I know I did. I often dream of moving to the South of France. It wouldn’t be a challenge language-wise, so, maybe, that doesn’t count.

16 thoughts on “Angelika Overath – All the Colors of Snow – Sent Diary – Alle Farben des Schnees

  1. I suppose I did move in a way to my dream holiday location when I lived outside Geneva – but sadly only for a limited period of time. I used to have such a feeling of joy when the plane came in to land, over Lac Leman and with a view of Mont Blanc if you were lucky. It made me give a huge sigh of relief and whisper: ‘Ah, you’re home!’ I think I might enjoy this book – although I am cross at you for tempting me…

    • Sorry for tempting you. 🙂 I’d love to hear what you think of it. Although I speak three Latin languages and can understand/read some Portuguese and Catalan, I find Romansh very difficult, I would like to know it’s for you.
      I’m sorry you had to leave Geneva. I didn’t think it was your choice to move there.
      I would be able to live in Sent. Too cold. Im even struggling here, although temp is hardly under zero.
      But I wouldn’t mind experiencing a year in the mountains.

      • I didn’t choose to live in Geneva originally, but loved it when I did. I guess I chose to move to England a long time ago, for my postgraduate studies, but no longer love it (nowadays, but maybe things will change…)

  2. This sounds good. My wife tends to read a lot of these narratives about families that move to these peaceful but interesting places. Sent seems like such a great place to live. I would at least love to visit.

    • It sounds very great. Small but such a diverse community. There are small villages in Switzerland where one would really not want to live. Too narrow-minded. One advantage they have us that they are freelancers.

  3. I can totally understand the appeal of this book. It made me think of a couple of close friends who used to have a holiday home in Brand, Austria. They loved it over there and may well have considered moving permanently had it not been for their children and grandchildren in the UK. It sounds like a very absorbing read.

    • It was very absorbing. Although it’s in Switzerland, I learned a lot. I think it would be too small for me. I’m usually drawn to bigger places or then landscapes like the South of France, South of England. I’m nit so keen on mountains. I know quite a few people who dud something similar but they all returned.

  4. We vacationed in San Diego and moved here one year later, but didn’t have to learn a new language. That would be pretty daunting.
    Is Romansh anything like German? I’ve never heard it spoken so am curious.
    I too would love to live in Provence, but will settle for an occasional vacation there. I wouldn’t want to be so far from our families.

    • That’s similar, even without the language. Just easier to adapt. Romansh is aLatin language but one I can hardly understand, even though I speak or u derstabd nist Latin languages. I get wird’s but not the overall meaning.
      I guess in your case, Provence would be quite a change.

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