Announcing German Literature Month VIII – November 2018

German Literature Month is eight years old this year, and part of the literary calendar. Lizzy and I know that because of the chatter that continues throughout the year about books purchased and set aside for the event. And that makes us very happy.  We’re even happier when you read them during November.

For those though who are wondering what this is all about, and may wish to join us for the first time, November is the month for reading works originally written in German: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, essays, comics, graphic novels.  Anything you fancy really, in any language you fancy, as long as the original language was German. Then tell the world about it: on your blog, facebook, twitter, instagram, goodreads, amazon, wherever. It all adds up to one great banquet of Austrian, German and Swiss literary goodness. This, for example, was last year’s menu. https://lizzysiddal.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/german-literature-month-vii-author-index/

The last couple of years have been entirely read as you please, but this year Lizzy and I wanted to introduce new themes and add in more social reading opportunities. So we’ve devised the following plan.

Week 1: Children and Young Adult Fiction (November 1-7)

November 7 – Readalong with Lizzy: The Book Jumper – Mechthild Glaser

Week 2: Crime Week (November 8-14)

November 14 – Readalong with Caroline: Blue Night – Simone Buchholz

Week 3: 1918 Week (November 15-21)

November 21 – Readalong with Lizzy: The Emperor’s Tomb – Joseph Roth

Week 4: Swiss Literature Week (November 22-28)

November 28 – Readalong with Caroline: A Long Blue Monday – Erhard von Büren

Week 5: Read as you please (November 29-30)

As always, you may read as you please for the month, or you may choose to join in any (or all) of the specific themes and readalongs.  It’s entirely up to you.  The main thing is to enjoy yourself!  Will you join us?

Final Thoughts on German Literature Month 2016

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I know that some of you, including my co-host, are extending German Literature Month through December. I am not keen on extending events, so this is my goodbye to GLM.

A usual, the event was a success. There have been 119 reviews so far. Normally I try to read as many reviews as possible but November was too hectic and upsetting to do so. I still hope to visit a few of you. In any case, thank you so much for participating.

I’ve done quite well with my reading plans this year, but I haven’t reviewed everything I’ve read. Tony wrote about Judith Herrmann’s collection Lettipark here. I felt pretty much the same about the book, so I skipped the review. I’ll return to some stories, but overall it left me rather cold.

I never got to reading the fantasy novel I intended to read nor another short story collection but that’s OK. I’m especially glad I read Walter Kempowski and Uwe Timm.

I loved Capus’ novel when I read it but it’s already fading. Not the best sign. I enjoyed returning to Ursula P. Archer aka Ursula Poznanski and will read more of her crime and YA novels.

Thank you again for participating.

 

Alex Capus: Almost Like Spring – Fast ein bisschen Frühling (2002)

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I wanted to post every other day during German Literature Month as I’ve read so many books in advance but last week was such an awful week. First the shocker election, then Leonard Cohen’s death, then the death of the brilliant Austrian writer Ilse Aichinger. So depressing. I’m sure many people feel the same way. Despondency may not be helpful but sometimes it needs room and needs to be acknowledge before we can move on.

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I’ve not read any books by Alex Capus so far. I thought I wouldn’t like his writing but I’m glad to say, he’s so much better than I expected. I picked Almost Like Spring – Fast ein bisschen Frühling because it’s set in Basel, Switzerland. As many of you know, I live in Basel. There aren’t a lot of books set in this city, so I was curious because of that too.

As Capus writes at the beginning of his novel, Almost Like Spring tells the true story of the German bank robbers Kurt Sandweg and Waldemar Velte. Fleeing from Wuppertal, Germany after having robbed a bank and killed someone, they arrived in Basel in the winter of 33/34. The plan was to flee to India but one of them fell in love with a shop girl, Dorly Schupp, who was working in the record department where the two robbers bought Tango records. Dorly worked at Globus, a department store that still exists and is known because it’s one of the rare Jugendstil buildings in Basel.

globus

Sandweg and Velte are depicted like two rebels and compared to Bonnie and Clyde. At any other time, one would have simply called them anti-social, but the way Capus depicts them, they were victims too. They robbed a bank because they were desperate, without a job and seeing no future in a Germany where the Nazis were taking over power. Sandweg and Velte are a peculiar pair; they are so close that people think they might be lovers but what they share is rather a bit like a folie à deux. In their heads, they’re on a mission – fighting poverty and injustice. One of them falls in love with Dorly, the other one with one of her colleagues— Alex Capus own grandmother. While the pair is in Basel, they buy a Tango record every day and go for long walks through the old town and along the Rhine, accompanied by the two young women.

The descriptions of these walks are lovely. The way Capus describes the weather, the cold winds from Siberia, and how it can get warm again, all of a sudden, in the middle of winter, because those winds change course and warm winds from the south arrive, is so spot on. The four young people don’t do much on these walks, but all four of them feel free. Dorly lives with her elderly mother, while Capus’ grandmother is engaged and will soon marry a man she never really liked. The two women don’t know that the men are criminals and when they finally leave Basel, they are disappointed.

Unfortunately, the plan to take a ship to India doesn’t work and a couple of weeks later, after having stayed in Spain, the two men are back in Basel and the real tragedy begins. They rob another bank, kill people, and are hunted down.

Most critics haven’t found anything good to say about this novel. I’m not sure why. Is it the tone? Capus mixes fact and fiction. He stays outside of his character’s heads, which makes it sound like a report at times, but the book is rich in mood and atmosphere. He captures the times and women’s fates so well. What choices did they have back then? Dorly’s actually living a relatively independent life, but Capus’ grandmother, who isn’t from Basel, is expected to return home soon and get married. While the storytelling is a bit dry, the mood is anything but.

I’m not sure about the descriptions though. Readers who haven’t been to Basel may be able to picture the department store Globus but the city? I don’t think so because he mentions street names but doesn’t really describe them.

Be it as it may, sometimes I agree with critics, sometimes I don’t. In this case I don’t agree. Almost Like Spring is a lovely book. It’s a rounded, historically accurate, atmospheric book that mixes fact and fiction to great effect.

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).

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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.

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Please add your reviews to this site German Literature Month.

Announcing German Literature Month V

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I’m delighted to announce that Lizzy and I will host the 5th German Literature Month (#germanlitmonth) this coming November.

 

For those who have not participated before, here are the rules:

 

1) Whatever you read, in whichever language you read, must have originally been written in German.  Novels, novellas, short stories, plays, poems, they all count.   No genre is excluded.
2)  Enjoy yourself.  There’s no need to write long, detailed reviews (although we do like those).  A quick opinion piece, the posting of a favourite poem, the tweeting of a pertinent quote or picture of a delicious book cover (using the hash tag #germanlitmonth, of course) all contributes to a communal celebration of German-language literature.

 

You are free to pick what you like but for those who prefer some guidance or those who love the group-spirit of the event there are themed weeks and readalongs.

 

Week 1:  Nov 1-7 Schiller Reading Week. Hosted by Lizzy.

 

Friedrich Schiller Week

 

Week 2:  Nov 8-14 Christa Wolf Reading Week. Hosted by Caroline.

 

Christa Wolf Week

 

Week 3:  Nov 15-21 Ladies’ reading week incorporating a readalong of Ursula Poznanski’s award-winning YA title, Erebos on Friday 20.11.  Hosted by Lizzy.

 

Erebos

 

Here’s the blurb:
‘Enter.
Or turn back.
This is Erebos.’
Nick is given a sinister but brilliant computer game called Erebos. The game is highly addictive but asks its players to carry out actions in the real world in order to keep playing online, actions which become more and more terrifyingly manipulative. As Nick loses friends and all sense of right and wrong in the real world, he gains power and advances further towards his online goal – to become one of the Inner Circle of Erebos. But what is virtual and what is reality? How far will Nick go to achieve his goal? And what does Erebos really want?

 

Week 4: Nov 22-28 Gents’ reading week incorporating a Literature and War readalong of Erich Maria Remarque’s A Time To Love and A Time to Die on Friday 27.11Hosted by Caroline.

 

A Time To Love and a Time to Die

 

Here’s the blurb:

From the quintessential author of wartime Germany, A Time to Love and a Time to Die echoes the harrowing insights of his masterpiece All Quiet on the Western Front.

After two years at the Russian front, Ernst Graeber finally receives three weeks’ leave. But since leaves have been canceled before, he decides not to write his parents, fearing he would just raise their hopes.

Then, when Graeber arrives home, he finds his house bombed to ruin and his parents nowhere in sight. Nobody knows if they are dead or alive. As his leave draws to a close, Graeber reaches out to Elisabeth, a childhood friend. Like him, she is imprisoned in a world she did not create. But in a time of war, love seems a world away. And sometimes, temporary comfort can lead to something unexpected and redeeming.
 
“The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first rank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm, and sure.”—The New York Times Book Review

 

Week 5: Nov 29-30 Read as You Please.

 

If you’re not sure what to read – our German Literature Month Page can help you with that.
German Literature Month IV was astounding in terms of numbers of participants (40) and quality contributions.  I’m not sure that we’ll be able to match it again, but let’s give it a shot. Are you in?

Hansjörg Schertenleib: A Happy Man – Der Glückliche (2005)

Hansjörg Schertenleib is a Swiss author who received a lot of praise for his novels. Das Zimmer der Signora (The Room of the Signora) which has not been translated is one of the most famous. I’ve read Das Regenorchester (The Rain Orchestra), which has equally not been translated and which I liked a lot. He has written many more.

This Studer, the main protagonist in  Schertenleib’s airy novella A Happy ManDer Glückliche, is a jazz trumpeter and known for his somewhat enigmatic smile which puzzles and annoys those who meet him equally. Why does this man smile constantly? Is it possible to be this happy all the time?

This Studer is indeed happy most of the time. He loves his wife of twenty years just like he did when he met her, he loves jazz and his career as trumpeter and all the  joys this offers, like the trip to Amsterdam of which the novella tells us. Since This is not only of a sunny disposition but quite chatty and likable, he has many friends, one of them lives in Amsterdam and has invited him for a couple of concerts.

In the evening the friends play at a club, during the day This wanders the streets of Amsterdam, explores the city and has an uncanny encounter with a homeless man and his dog, an encounter which reminds him of something that happened in  his childhood and which shows that even this sunny man has some hidden darkness to hide.

What makes A Happy Man special is the narrative technique which reminded me of much older novels. There is a narrator who guides us into and out of the story, like a camera man, telling us to look at This now, to watch him and to leave him alone again in the end. I was afraid at first this would make for heavy reading but in the central part of the story, the narrator is in the background, just makes some comments occasionally.

I deliberately called this novella ‘airy’. ‘Breezy’ would have been apt as well. It’s like the dessert île flottante (floating island), which consists of floating egg white. If you have ever had that dessert, you will know what I mean. Fluffy, but not too sweet. And so is this novella; charming but not too cute. No literary heavyweight, that’s for sure, just a pleasant read. And if you like jazz, you might enjoy this even more.

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.