Welcome to German Literature Month

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Finally it’s November. Those of you who follow my blog might have noticed I was a bit quiet in the last weeks. With good reason. I was busy reading German, Austrian, and Swiss literature.

As you know, Lizzy and I have decided to do a “Read as you please month” with only two themed weeks.

A crime week during week two, hosted by Lizzy.

All For Nothing

The Literature and War Readalong on November 25, in which we read and discuss Walter Kempowski’s WWII novel All For Nothing – Alles umsonst.

For those who are still looking for titles, here are the books I have already read and those I’m still planning to read.

Weit über das Land

Peter Stamm’s latest novel. I must admit, I might not review it. It’s the worst book I’ve read this year. I can still not believe he wrote something like this.

letti-park

Judith Hermann’s new short story collection Lettipark. I’ve not finished this yet but I can already see that it’s a mixed bag.

karen-kohler

Karen Köhler’s short story collection Wir haben Raketen geangelt.

I bought this collection a while ago but haven’t read it yet. When I was looking for reviews of Judith Hermann’s book I saw it mentioned a few times. Most critics came to the conclusion that readers would do better to read Köhler instead of Hermann. I’ll let you know what I think.

in-my-brothers-shadowam-beispiel-meines-bruders

I’ve only heard great things about Uwe Timm’s memoir In My Brother’s ShadowAm Beispiel meines Bruders. As far as I can tell, (I read the beginning), it’s amazing.

almost-like-springfast-ein-bisschen-fruhling

Almost Like SpringFast ein bisschen Frühling, is my first Alex Capus and if the rest is as good as the beginning, it won’t be my last.

fivefunf

Last year I read Ursula Poznanski’s Erebos and was pretty much blown away. While I liked Five – Fünf a bit less, it’s still a really gripping book. You may have noticed that her adult crime novels are published under another name, Ursula P. Archer, in English. If you’re still looking for a page turner for crime week and are not too squeamish, you’ll enjoy this.

denkbilder

These are my plans so far. I might add some Walter Benjamin and one of the fantasy novels by Nina Blazon Der Winter der schwarzen Rosen (not translated yet).

der-winter-der-schwarzen-rosen

I hope you’re all busy making plans and wish you all a great month. I hope you’ll discover a lot of great books. Happy Reading!

 

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There will be a few giveaways.

Here’s a sneak peek.

montaignea-bell-for-ursli

 

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Please add your reviews to this site German Literature Month.

Arthur Schnitzler: Short Fiction – Lieutenant Gustl (1900) and Fräulein Else (1924)

Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler was one of those whose books were burned in Nazi Germany. Hitler considered him to be a typical example of what he called ‘Jewish filth’. What infuriated the Führer and created a lot of controversy among other readers of the time was, among other things, how outspoken Schnitzler wrote about sexuality, notably in his most famous play Round Danca aka La Ronde (Der Reigen). La Ronde is easily one of the best plays to convert people who don’t read plays,  as it’s such a stunning piece. It’s a play about promiscuous and venal love in which we always see one of the two characters from the preceding scene in the next one too.

Schnitzler was highly influenced by Freud, a fact that is most apparent in Dream Story aka Dream Novella (Traumnovelle) on which Stanley Kubrick’s last movie The Eyes Wide Shut. While I liked the movie a great deal, I was pleased to find out the novella is even better.

I have read both The Dream Novella and La Ronde some years ago and wanted something else and finally decided to re-read Lieutnant Gustl and (after Tony’s suggestion) added Fräulein Else. Both are available in the collection Short Fiction.

They are both written entirely as interior monologues, a technique which was very new at the time and also influenced by Freud’s theories. At 35 pages, Lieutenant Gustl is the shorter of the two, Fräulein Else is twice that size.

Both monologues show young people in distress. Both are victims of their society. The effect of listening to their hidden fears and desires, their hopes and wishes, their silliness and despair, is spellbinding.

Lieutenant Gustl takes place in Vienna during one night. Gustl is a young officer and has a history of duels to show for. When we are introduced to him during a Oratorioum which bores him to death, we also learn that this is the evening before another duel with a doctor will take place. Gustl is all about honour and reputation. All that is on his mind are girls and the hope people will respect him. When on the way out of the theater, a master baker insults him, he feels there is only one way to save face – he has to kill himself. As the man is below him, he couldn’t ask for satisfaction in a duel. He spends the whole night debating, looking at pros and cons of his decision, imagining the reaction of the people he knows when they will find out about his death, remembers similar cases like his. At the same time he displays how much he loves life.

Fräulein Else’s story is similar but far more tragic. Else is a young girl from a rich family whose father, a gambler, again and again maneuvers the family into impossible situations. While she stays in Italy at a hotel with her aunt, her cousin and a few other people she knows, her father has lost a lot of money, some of which belongs to his charges. Because he has lost such a lot of money before, he owes most of his family and acquaintances already a fortune and there is nobody left he could ask this time. Else’s mother decides to write to her and begs her daughter to save her father. There is a rich man, Dorsday, staying at the hotel with her, someone who fancies her and the mother thinks if Else asks him, he will lend her the money. This puts Else in a very delicate situation. Not only is she deeply ashamed, she also senses that asking a man like Dorsday for money will lead to complications and most certainly he will want something in exchange. The story is quite upsetting as we get the feeling the parents know very well that this request is as if they were asking her daughter to prostitute herself. Else, like Gustl, contemplates suicide, sees herself dead, imagines escape routes and hopes for help.

What finally becomes of Else and of Lieutnant Gustl is for you to find out. I would really encourage you to read these stories, if you haven’t done so already. I liked them a great deal and think Schnitzler may be one of my favourite authors. What impressed me a lot as well was how fresh the stories and the language are. The society has changed but the things that are at stake are still the same: love, death, money. And the style is precise and emotional without ever being sappy or sentimental.

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

Andrew

Caroline

Danielle

Eibhlin

Fay 

Iris

Lizzy

Tony

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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.

Vicki Baum: Grand Hôtel – Menschen im Hotel (1929)

Vicki Baum was an Austrian novelist most famous for her Berlin novel Grand Hôtel aka Menschen im Hotel published in 1929. Although this book made her one of the early bestselling novelists and is still widely read in German it seems a bit difficult to find English copies. But since her far lesser known book Life and Death in Bali has just been reissued I hope that her other books, especially Grand Hôtel, will be republished as well. In any case, it is possible to find used copies. Part of the long-lasting success of the novel comes from the fact that it was made into a movie starring Greta Garbo Grand Hôtel (1932) and later into a German movie Menschen im Hotel (1959) starring Michèle Morgan and Heinz Rühmann. Vicki Baum wrote far over 50 novels, 10 of which have been made into movies.

Grand Hôtel is set in a luxurious hotel in Berlin between the wars. It’s walls shelter a microcosm of German society. The novel draws a panorama of the society and the times, reading it is fascinating and gives a good impression and feel for the time and the people. Vicki Baum includes a wide range of characters, the porter who waits for his wife to give birth to the first child, the aristocratic head porter Rohna, the many drivers and maids as well as some very interesting guests. Including the employees of the hotel gives the book a bit of an upstairs-downstairs feel and permits insight into the lives of the “simple people” who earn just enough not to starve.

The main characters are the guests. Dr. Otternschlag is the first to be introduced and he will also be the one closing this novel as he is almost part of the establishment. He stays here year in and year out, sits in the lobby and does nothing much. Badly wounded in Flanders, half of his face is just a scarred mass with a glass eye, he has lost interest in life. Wherever he goes his little black suitcase travels with him. The suitcase is packed for his final trip. It contains a large amount of morphine vials which he intends to inject should he be finally too disgusted by life. For the time being, he endures living but eases it with a regular nightly shot.

The Russian ballet dancer Grusinskaja is another important character. She is an aging beauty who is less and less successful. Her dancing lacks spirit and the public punishes her by leaving the theater almost before the final curtain. Once the lover of a Russian aristocrat, she is now still admired for her looks but not many fall in love with her. She reminded me of Gloria Swanson in the movie Sunset Boulevard or Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

The astonishingly handsome Baron von Gaigern is one of the most joyful characters. He is easy-going, always happy, a womanizer and a con artist. Nobody knows that all he has left is his title and that he is without any financial means. He too was in Flanders but apart from a tiny scar on his chin he seems unharmed.

The industrialist Preysing has come to the hotel for an important meeting. If the business men he will meet, will not sign the contract, he is done.

And there is the terminally ill accountant Kringelein, one of the many employees of Preysing.  Kringelein hasn’t done much else than save money all his life. He has never treated himself to anything and now, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, he has left his wife in some little provincial town and travelled to Berlin to spend all his savings and to finally live.

Flämmchen (little Flame) is Preysing’s temporary secretary. She is very young, as good-looking as Baron von Gaigern, good-natured but without much luck. Because she can’t find work, she started to model and sells her company to business men.

During the course of three days these people meet and interact. Some fall in love, some help each other, one kills one of them and at the end it’s not entirely clear who is a winner and who is a loser.

The character portraits are the strength of this novel. And the variety of themes. I was amazed about the range. It isn’t only about aging, the loss of success and fraud, but it also shows the aftermath of WWI. The war has left its mark on the people, their faces and their souls and changed the society forever. These people are very frivolous and venal. The meaning of life for them equals having a good time. If you want to have a good time you need money. And so another of the central themes is money. There is a whole chapter in which Preysing and his consultant discuss how they want to raise the value of the stocks of Preysing’s factory. What they do to achieve it, sounds so modern.

It’s interesting that the characters can be divided into two diametrically opposed groups. One group embraces life fully and greedily while the other one is weary and suicidally tired of it.

When you read a novel like Grand Hôtel that isn’t only set in the 20s but has been written at the time, you see the whole difference of a historical novel and one that depicts it’s time. Vicki Baum has an insider’s knowledge that is hard to achieve through research. I would really recommend this novel to anyone interested in the era, to those, like me, who love novels set in hotels and to all those who like a character driven story.

I would be very interested to know if anyone has read this one or any of her other novels. The way she described the society of the 20s is a very anthropological one. I’m not surprised, after reading it, that Life and Death in Bali was suggested reading at university in a course on Balinese culture. Our professor said the book was so well written that it was as good as non-fiction in its detailedness and exact observation.

The review is part of German Literature Month – Week III Switzerland and Austria

German Literature Month – November 2011

Finally I am allowed to let you know what Lizzy and I have been planning in the background for quite a while now.

I’m happy to announce that Lizzy Siddal from Lizzy’s Literary Life and I are co-hosting a German Literature Month in November.  Ever since Iris from Iris on Books hosted her Month of Dutch Literature it’s been on our minds to do something similar for the literature of the German-speaking countries. We both share a passion for the literature of Austria, Germany and Switzerland and hope to find many like-minded and interested people to join us.

We have prepared a programme, including two readalongs and a lot of giveaways that generous publishers like Melville House, Bitter Lemon Press, Pereine Press, And Other Stories, Portobello Books and One World Classics have kindly contributed. The giveaways are international with the exception of a few which are UK only.

The official kick off will be on November first,  from then on we will post on alternating days. Lizzy will post on Tuesdays and Fridays, I will post on Mondays and Thursdays. Wednesdays, starting already in October, are reserved for giveaways. The readalongs will take place on Saturdays. Sunday will be weekly wrap up day and the time for announcing the winners of the giveaways.

The first readalong is dedicated to  Effi Briest. It will run for three weeks. Details and exact dates are given below.

The second readalong is my monthly Literature and War Readalong that I will shift to Saturday and I have also changed the previoulsy announced title. We will read Heinrich Böll’s The Silent Angel. This book is unique for reasons that I will reveal in a later post. On a more personal note it is important to me as Böll is my favourite German author.

The programme will look as follows

Week 1 German Literature

Maybe you like Thomas Mann or you are a fan of Genazino. Now’s the time to share this.

Week 2 Crime Fiction

There are a lot of crime novels written in German out there. Whether you like it gritty or rather go for psychological suspense, you are sure to find something.

Week 3 Austria and Switzerland 

You could either read some of the 19th century Swiss classics like Gotthelf, Keller or Meyer or finally read the Roths and Zweigs you have had on your TBR pile for years.

Week 4 Kleist and Other German Classics

Kleist died 200 years ago. We are going to read some of his novellas and give away some of his books but we will also read other classics.

Week 5 Read As You Please and Wrap Up

Wrap up week is a chance to read and review whatever you like. I’ll go for something that hasn’t been translated yet.

Three Week Readalong on Saturdays  (5th chapters 1-15, 12th chapters 16 – 24 and 19th chapters 25 – 36, 280 pages)

Literature and War Readalong 2011 on Saturday 26th November

The Silent Angel (184 pages)

Giveaways

These are some of the possible titles for the giveaways. The exact titles will be announced on the giveaway days.

We will post a few times in the upcoming weeks sharing reading suggestions, as we hope that many of you will read and review with us.

The idea is that you link your posts in the comment sections of our posts. The Sunday will be wrap up day in which we will give an overview of everything that has happened through the week.

Get your copies out, enter the giveaways, or buy a few books and join us.

Feel free to use the button and spread the word.

I’m looking forward to November.

Visit the German Literature Month Page for regular updates.