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!

The Grey Gentlemen by Michael Ende

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at MizB’s Should Be Reading.

The great cities of long ago lie in ruins, together with their temples and palaces. Wind and rain, heat and cold have worn away and eaten into the stonework. Ruins are all that remain of the amphitheaters too. Crickets now inhabit their crumbling walls, singing a monotonous song that sounds like the earth breathing in its sleep.”

Who doesn’t like a nice children’s book (though I wouldn’t classify this as only that) once in a while? The Grey Gentlemen (original: Momo) is a 1973 fantasy novel by German author Michael Ende. I have just started reading the book, but it already seems wonderful!

It is the story of a little girl named Momo, who lives alone in the ruins of an amphitheater. She is poor and alone, but special; she has the gift of listening. When the Men in Grey try to take over the city, it is up to Momo to stop them!

R.I.P. – Metzengerstein: A Tale in Imitation of the German

Metzengerstein is Edgar Allan Poe’s first published short story.

Summary: The families Berlifitzing and Metzengerstein of Hungary have been rivals for centuries. Legend has it that the reason is this prophecy:

“A lofty name shall have a fearful fall when, as the rider over his horse, the mortality of Metzengerstein shall triumph over the immortality of Berlifitzing.”

The story begins when one night, the stables of today’s Berlifitzing family catch fire. At that same time, in his own castle, Baron Frederick von Metzengerstein notices the horse in the tapestry suddenly look alive. The painting depicts a Metzengerstein while dead at his feet, fallen from his horse, is a Berlifitzing, whom he killed. Only a few minutes later a ferocious and demon-like steed is found by the Metzengerstein guards. The horse is fiery and energetic, and has the letters “W.V.B” branded on its chest. News later reaches the Metzengerstein family that Count William von Berlifitzing died in the fire. Baron Frederick decides to keep the monstrous horse, unknowingly setting the prophecy in motion.

“In the glare of noon – at the dead hour of night – in sickness or in health – in calm or in tempest – the young Metzengerstein seemed riveted to the saddle of that colossal horse, whose intractable audacities so well accorded with his own spirit.”

My thoughts: This is the first time I have read anything by Poe (apart from listening to and not understanding the Raven once, a long time ago.) I really liked the prose. That something so modern was written more than a hundred years ago seems amazing. The tale, like the subtitle says in some prints, is argued to be a subtle mocking of the typically German gothic writings. While it is only argued (and not definite) and I am certainly no expert; I did detect a slight satire.

I loved the authority the narrator has over the text. He is almost a part of the story (as opposed to a silent observer) and is the only one left standing, at the very end. The key theme of the story, as is hinted to us very early in the story, is the general belief of those times in Metempsychosis, or transmigration of the soul.

I liked the eeriness of the story and do see myself reading more of Poe’s famous short stories. Meanwhile, you can read this story here. This review is a part of Peril of the Short Story from the R.I.P. Challenge. You can read more short stories on Short Stories on Wednesday at Risa’s Bread Crumb Reads.

Loving books… all over again!

Do you remember the first book you read? Or the first book you read in just a day? The first story book I remember reading as a kid was called Mickey’s Christmas Carol (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, only with Disney’s characters. Very cute.) And then, I remember the first actual mystery book I read. It was from the Five Find-Outers series by Enid Blyton, called the The Mystery of the Hidden House. There is no “I saw it across a crowded bookshelf” story to go with it; just a simple my sister forced me to read it. It was love at first read, though.

People who read books armed with dictionaries and all that to learn new words are crazy. Then again, the best part about reading books in a new language for the first time, is the fun of understanding new polysyllabic words all by yourself! I remember feeling quite elated whenever I discovered a new word and pompously showing it off in class. Oh, come on, everyone’s done that. As you read that first book, you feel yourself getting more and more involved with every line and with every word, the writing style seems more familiar. Before you know it, you are deeply immersed in the book, loyally chuckling at all the typical jokes and running gags.

I knew I loved reading when the back of a packet of chips seemed like an interesting dinner table read. But I never actually realized how amazing it felt to be able to read! To read a thousand pages at one go and look back, totally exhausted and happy! Every new book you read is a wonderful experience, true; but nothing can beat those fine first memories.

Unless you get to do it once again, with an all new language. I read my first real German novel the other day. I could write about the book and how great it was, but that is really not the point! I enjoy reading books even now, obviously. As I read that book, though, I realized with horror and pain that reading has become sort of an ordinary habit now. Well, I intend to change that. I loved learning German, for the words and the grammar and the lovely feeling of being better at it than most people; but I never really experienced it. As I held that little German novel in my hands, I knew it was worth learning a new language just to experience that first-book-excitement, all over again.

Reading Kafka

I had read Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka a long time ago. I have to say, call me stupid, but unless the book was meant to be funny, I didn’t actually figure out what being “Kafkaesque” is all about! I happened to read two more short stories by him now, and I might just have gotten closer to solving the mystery.

Das Urteil (The Judgement) I read, very painstakingly, in German. I think I read the dictionary more than I read the book! Anyway. From what (little) I understood, it is a story about the relationship between a father and a son. It is the conflict between the worlds of the father and the son, their lives which Kafka ultimately links with society. The first half of the story is from the boy’s point of view, about his life and the people he knows. When the elderly father appears, he begins immediately to criticize and blame the son. By the end of the utterly unreal interaction between the father and the son, the elderly man sentences his son to death. The conflict can only be reconciled by violence and pain, when, in a bland dream-like manner, the son commits suicide. (Or…I can always say I didn’t understand much!)

The other story that I read was A Report to An Academy (Ein Bericht für eine Akademie). This one I read in English and actually understood/liked. The story is a report made by an ape to a meeting of a Scientific Academy, an ape who has integrated himself into human society. The ape talks of his former life. The reason the ape first decided to imitate humans was to be able to stay out of a zoo. Now, the ape can hardly remember his animal life – on the other hand you can still make out that his humanness is not natural. He belongs neither here nor there! When the ape finally managed to establish himself in human society completely, he also lost all his freedom. The story can be two things. First, changing oneself according to whatever challenges one faces, adapting to our surroundings – albeit without being fully successful. Second, it is about human nature and freedom (rather, lack of it) in society and existence.

So what do I think Kafkaesque means? Now that will require another post entirely! Let’s just say; in his non-romanticized stories of life and struggle; he graphically describes the inner conflicts in all our minds, which is what makes his bizarre and eerie ideas so appealing!