German Literature Month 2011 – Wrap Up

German Literature Month – November 2011 (hosted by Caroline @ Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy @ Lizzy’s Literary Life) ended yesterday. I haven’t been much active lately, because I have been quite busy reading Stephen King’s amazing new book – 11.22.63 along with the two great books I received during GLM itself, i.e, Heinrich Böll’s Clown and The Train Was On Time.

Books I read: (I haven’t managed to review all the books I read – owing to the very busy last week. I have linked to the reviews I did manage to write, and I will review the rest in the coming week.)

2. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
I guess seven books in the month is a lot more than I thought I would read. I do look forward to reading more German literature!!

Hotel Savoy – Joseph Roth (Week III)

It is Week III of the German Literature Month (hosted by Caroline @ Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy @ Lizzy’s Literary Life.) I read Hotel Savoy in less than a couple of days – and since I read it in German, that is quite an achievement for me. The book is only a little more than a hundred pages, though. It is a quick and quite pleasant read.

(I didn’t manage to find any quote from this book in English – so I translated this on my own; unfortunately putting both the quality and the authenticity at risk.)
“I am a cold person. During the war, I never felt one with the company. We were all lying in the same dirt and waiting for the same death. But all I could think of was my own life and my own death. I walked over dead bodies, and sometimes, it hurt me that I felt no pain.”

About the book: Hotel Savoy is a novel written by Austrian writer Joseph Roth. It was first published in 1924.
Summary: Gabriel Dan is a “Heimkehrer”, an Austrian soldier and later, POW returning home from a Siberian prison camp. He stays temporarily at a certain Hotel Savoy in an unnamed city in Europe. Situated somewhere between Russia and Europe, Hotel Savoy regularly provides shelter to the refugees of the Great War, both the rich and the poor. Encountering a variety of people, including his presumably rich uncle, an exotic dancer and a rather old and intimidating lift-“boy” – it is in Hotel Savoy that Gabriel Dan, the cold ex-soldier, finally finds his home.
My thoughts: I loved this book for making me realize how unimportant a story line can be, in a well written book. The book has no plot; it is only a series of events stringed wonderfully together. The descriptions are beautiful and vivid. The language is simple, but the ideas are powerful.
The hotel is like a small world on it’s own – a microcosm – representative of the entire post-war Europe. The characters, all very realistic, come from all sections of society, and the main theme of the novel is the effect of the war on the people. You can see that Europe will never the be same again. And then there is that tinge of humour and parody that prevents this short book from becoming dull.
The book is unlike anything I have read before. It’s a must read!

Mein Name Sei Gantenbein by Max Frisch

In my German class, we once studied a page out of Max Frisch’s Mein Name sei Gantenbein. A man is returning home after a long time, and on his way, in the airplane he sees the news of his own death in the newspaper. He then goes home to attend his own funeral. On seeing his own family accepting his death, he leaves without letting anyone know he’s there.

I was very curious to put this story in context, and I really wanted to read the book ever since. Published in 1964, Mein Name sei Gantenbein is a book by Swiss author Max Frisch. After a failed relationship, the author is trying to put himself and the woman in a number of scenarios, trying to picture what would have worked out. He says, “I try on stories like clothes.” (Ich probiere Geschichten an wie Kleider.)
The stories revolve around the two main characters – the man and the woman, Lila. There are three identities of the man – that is, Theo Gantenbein (the narrator himself), Enderlin and Svoboda. The narrator slips into the roles of the characters, each of whom is in some way related to Lila. The stories don’t follow a sequence. The narrator says: A man has had an experience. And now he seeks the story of his experience. The underlying themes of the novel are existence, identity and social roles.
The incidents in the novel are all as fascinating as that of the man who attended his own funeral. Like the man who pretends to be blind and sees the world in a different light.. The plot is complicated and inconsistent – so it requires some getting used to. But the book is long, and once you do get used to the curious, slightly confusing writing style, it is quite enjoyable. I think it’s a must read – and if not anything else, I did improve my German drastically, while reading this one.

Verbrechen (Crime) – Ferdinand von Schirach (Week II)

The German Literature Month is hosted by Caroline @ Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy @ Lizzy’s Literary Life. The reading theme for the second week is Crime Fiction. I read a volume of short stories titled Verbrechen/Crime by German author Ferdinand von Schirach, in the original German.

About the author: Ferdinand von Schirach is a defense counsel from Munich. He is specialized in handling controversial cases of his high-profile clients. His grandfather – Baldur von Schirach – the Nazi youth leader later convicted of being a war criminal, is not the only reason Ferdinand is world famous. In 2009 Ferdinand von Schirach published his debut book entitled “Verbrechen” or “Crime.” The book stayed on the bestsellers’ list of Der Spiegel magazine for over forty weeks.

About the book: Verbrechen is a collection of eleven short stories about law and crime. It is a work of fiction; but even if not entirely based on reality, the book certainly draws inspiration from real events.
Summary: A nameless lawyer, the narrator, describes random cases to the reader. From an old man murdering his dominating wife after forty years of marriage to a young girl poisoning her brother to end his difficult life; the stories deal with shocking events, introducing us to everything from drugs, abuse and cannibalism to incest.
My thoughts: The mere thought that these gruesome stories might be rooted in truth can haunt the reader’s mind. The book is touching, at times heart-breaking, and a frightening glimpse into the world of law and crime. The author’s own vast experience in the field is clear throughout the entire book – from the way he describes crime scenes, to the way he analyses motives.
So much is expressed, without really diving into anything too emotional. The book is frank, it only relates the facts. The reader has to add the dabs of emotion wherever necessary. The writer is impartial. In each case, at the end, the “guilty” is punished; but whether he is rightfully punished is left for us to judge. The stories seem real and believable, as much as the reader wants to convince himself they couldn’t possibly be. That, according to me, is what gives the book credibility.
I never liked any short stories quite as much as I loved these eleven. (Do check out Risa’s Bread Crumb Reads for Short Stories on Wednesday.)
I’d recommend this book, original or translation, not just to fans of the crime genre, but to just about everyone who cares to listen!!

Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag – Eduard Mörike (Week I)

For the German Literature Month (hosted by Caroline @ Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy @ Lizzy’s Literary Life) Week I, I also read the novella Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag (Mozart’s Journey to Prague) by Eduard Mörike. It was short and I enjoyed reading it in the original German; when I read translated versions, I always wonder if there was anything else that got lost in translation…

“Die Erde ist wahrhaftig schoen und keinem zu verdenken, wenn er so lang wie moeglich darauf bleiben will. Gott sei’s gedankt, ich fuehle mich so frisch und wohl wie je und waere bald zu tausend Dingen aufgelegt, die denn auch alle nacheinander an die Reihe kommen sollen, wie nur mein neues Werk vollendet und aufgefuehrt sein wird. Wieviel ist draussen in der Welt und wieviel daheim, Merkwuerdiges und Schoenes, das ich noch gar nicht kenne, an Wunderwerken der Natur, an Wissenschaften, Kuensten und nuetzlichen Gewerben! Der schwarze Koehlerbube dort bei seinem Meiler weiss dir von manchen Sachen auf ein Haar so viel Bescheid wie ich, da doch ein Sinn und ein Verlangen in mir waere, auch einen Blick in dies und jens zu tun, das eben nicht zu meinem naechsten Kram gehoert.”

English translation (I found this online. Not sure if it is right) : “Truly the earth is beautiful, and we can blame no one for wanting to remain on it as long as possible. Thanks be to God, I feel as young and well as ever and am in the mood to do a thousand things, which will have their turn as soon as my new work is finished and produced. How many remarkable and beautiful things there are – wonders of nature, or science, of the arts and crafts – in the world, both near and far, of which I know nothing yet. I am sure there are many things about which I know as little as the black-faced lad sitting by his charcoal kiln over there; but yet there has always been in me a burning desire to look into this, that and the other, which is not my immediate stock-in-trade.”

Summary: The novella describes a day in Mozart’s life, but not just any day. For the opening of Don Giovanni, Mozart is on the way to Prague with his wife. On the way, he is caught trying to steal an orange from a garden of a stately home. When the family finds out that their ‘trespasser’ is, in fact, the great composer, the delightedly invite him to be the guest of honour at their daughter’s wedding.

My thoughts: The book is beautifully written. I love that story has so little to do with music, but tells us so much about Mozart himself. Another thing I love is that it’s just a small story, not an attempt at a novel; it has all the right elements in the right amount – a little more would have spoiled the book. The writer never strays from the matter at hand. Mozart’s thoughts and views about life, the forest and so on, are definitely worth a read. I mean, really, what could go wrong with a story about Mozart stealing fruits from a farmer!! I’d recommend this novella in a heartbeat.

Perfume – The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind (Week I)

This is the first book I read as part of the German Literature Month 2011 hosted by Caroline @ Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy @ Lizzy’s Literary Life.

There was just such a

fanatical child trapped inside this young man, standing at the table with eyes aglow, having forgotten everything around him, apparently no longer aware that there was anything else in the laboratory but himself and these bottles that he tipped into the funnel with nimble awkwardness to mix up an insane brew that he would confidently swear – and would truly believe! – to be the exquisite perfume Amor and Psyche. Baldini shuddered as he watched the fellow bustling about in the candlelight, so shockingly absurd and so shockingly self-confident.”

Perfume is the story of an unusually talented perfumer named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who has the best sense of smell in the whole of Paris (and, every other place); but who, ironically, has no scent of his own. Though outwardly harmless, people find Grenouille disturbing. Even as a mere baby, he is considered to be possessed by the devil. This strange man is a bad omen for everyone he meets, overturning their fortunes, destroying their lives. As the book proceeds, Grenouille becomes darker and more inhuman; and in the quest of creating the perfect perfume, he turns into a murderer.
My thoughts:
I have never read a plot like this one, nor seen similar characters. I liked Grenouille’s character as the ultimate anti-hero, and I loved that we got to know the detailed stories of even the minor characters, even though they weren’t always that pleasant. I agree, the book is amazingly unique; in fact, I haven’t read a book in my life that focused on the sense of smell. I loved the underlying theme of obsession in the book; and the way it gives a great insight into people through one of our most downplayed senses. It’s incredibly creative.
But it’s also excruciatingly long. German sentences can pass off being long and complex – that’s how they usually are. But Patrick Süskind’s writing isn’t that suitable for a translation. I don’t like English books that have paragraph-length sentences. Nor do I like authors who insist on describing every single thing in every possible way. For the first part of the book, I almost gave up reading several times. I am glad I continued though, because the second part is where things get really wonderful! I suppose I would have liked the book more had it been shorter.
The book is one of a kind, and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves to read. It may be that someone who understands perfumery better than me would appreciate the book more that I could…

German Literature Month

German Literature Month is hosted by Caroline @ Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy @ Lissy’s Literary Life.

I don’t have a whole reading list planned for the entire month. I have decided to go on planning according to the weekly schedule. I had also decided to try to read two books – one in German, one in English. (Let’s see how that works out!)

Week 1 starts today, in my part of the world, and it is time for German Literature.

My tentative reading list:
1. Perfume (Das Parfum) – Patrick Süskind
2. Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig) – Thoman Mann
3. Die unendliche Geschichte (The Neverending Story) – Michael Ende

Happy Reading!

German Literature Month – November

After seeing this on Vishy’s blog, I immediately decided to take part in it; I hardly have anything to do this November and it is about time I caught up on some German Literature.

German Literature Month is hosted by Caroline @ Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy @ Lissy’s Literary Life.

The weekly schedule for the month is –

Week 1 – German Literature

Week 2 – German Crime Fiction

Week 3 – Austria and Switzerland

Week 4 – Kleist and Other German Classics

Week 5 – Wrap up

I haven’t found the time to make a complete list of the things I would like to read. In fact, that’s good, because every time I make a reading list, I end up reading something entirely else. But there are certain German books, which I always wanted to read – these include Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, Max Frisch’s Mein Name sei Gantenbein, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, and Kafka’s the Trial. Along with that, some Bertolt Brecht, some Günter Grass, Ingrid Noll and something (anything) by Goethe.

Of course, I couldn’t even dream of finishing half this stuff. But you can call it my tentative list. Let’s just see how much I actually read. I’m definitely looking forward to November!