A Snowy November Skiing at Garnet Hill with Friends






Saturday, November 29, 2014

Only One Day Left in German Literature Month!

Our weather swiftly nose-dived into deep winter around the 15th of November. And how busy we were all of a sudden: prepping the car and truck, clearing snowshoe trails of debris left from early November's rain and windstorms, prepping the snowblower, searching for and hastily unpacking and washing all winter clothing and gear--not to mention the taxing physical adjustment from moist, warm temps to extremely cold temperatures. Unusual cold for November, truly! And our oil burner is not working up to snuff and needs replacement.

Don't get me wrong; I adore winter. But my muscles go haywire when the temperature changes are abrupt and deep.

I'm saying all of this as a moan and groan that my participation in German Literature Month fell far short of my hopes. Less time to read, and in a busy teaching month, that's a significant, and a to-be-mourned over lack.

I'm still trying to finish a book that's due for comments by tomorrow: Flight without End by Joseph Roth. I still have 90 pages to go--sigh! But I'm enjoying it immensely. I need to conduct more research into Roth's life and check into his other novels. This novel is extremely interesting, and I've also found the protagonist's involvement with the civil wars in Russia following the Russian Revolution fascinating.

I have also not finished Julia Franck's West, much to my horrified dismay. The novel is deeply compelling, but I just haven't had the time to devote serious attention to it past the first three chapters. My loss! But I'll be catching up with everything left unfinished in the next month or two.

On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving Day, we received a foot of snow on top of the few inches we've already accumulated. Time to get out in the snow before climate change or a warm-up ruins it. So Saturday's photo of cross-country skiing with friends at Garnet Hill is here. I'm the big one on the right of the photo.






Friday, November 21, 2014

Young Light by Ralf Rothmann & Julia Franck's West

We abruptly have been submerged into the deep freeze, though it's been colder than normal all November. We are due next week for a very brief warm-up, but it's been super-deep winter around here. I love winter, but my body's muscles go through hell in the transition from warmish fall to frigid temperatures, and hence, my inability to post frequently.

I very much appreciated reading Young Light by the German writer Ralf Rothmann, born in 1953. It's the story of Julian, age 12, whose family resides in the most prominent coal-mining region of West Germany in the 1960s. Rather than a standard novel, the book is more a fascinating, episodic collection of Julian's experiences, in which he plays a constantly ambiguous role between childhood and adolescence. His father is a miner, and is exceedingly uncommunicative with his son. His mother shows no affection for him and literally takes off with his younger sister without a backward glance for most of the summer, so that Julian is left to figure out many puzzling events and feelings for himself. His family is very poor, it seems to me, as evidenced by the constantly empty larder. Julian is very lucky, it seems, when there's a bit of sausage in the house to eat. He is clearly on his own and his father is functioning minimally. Still, there is much to delight in--Rothmann's vividly descriptive scenes bring alive this mining village and its people, unlike any other I've read about before.

The Book Depository was very, very late in sending me my copy of West by Julia Franck. I ordered on October 31st, and I didn't receive it until Tuesday, November 18th, much, much longer than they promised it. I will complain to them about the false advertising.

In any case, I'll admit I was completely shocked by the abhorrent treatment Ms. Senff receives in the first section of the book! In the 1980s the Stasi were that horrific? I'm only confessing my total ignorance here, forgive me, but the Secret Police have nothing on her and they force her to remove all her clothing after an initial interrogation after she attempts to legally leave East Berlin for West Berlin. Surrounded by men, they each fire questions at her while her young children are held in another area. I have read books about this period in East Germany, I've seen films that are set in the 1980s in East Germany, but nothing prepared me for that. Of course, Ms. Senff is Jewish... What the???  

It is my downcast mood, which I suffer from at the darkest times of the year, which makes the reading of this novel all the harder. But it is extraordinarily well done, I think. I just hope I can stay with it!





Monday, November 10, 2014

German Lit and Henning Mankell An Event in Autumn

I finished Christine Nöstlinger's children's book Fly Away Home days ago, and then I immediately started in on my second German Literature Month read, Rolf Rathmann's, Young Light, a YA novel set during the 1960s. The only problem with the Rathmann novel is that I wish I knew in which part of Germany the novel is set. Because several characters have access to music by the Beatles, I would assume that I can narrow the setting down to West Germany.

I truly enjoyed Fly Away Home and the uproariously topsy-turvy world of Vienna and environs at war's end and immediately post-war. Although many in Germany and in other parts of the former  Reich experienced extreme brutality by the invading Russians, it seems that Nöstlinger and her family were spared that. Although the Russians in their midst appeared grossly foreign to Nöstlinger and her parents, the Russians were, for all that, harmless and worked to coexist harmoniously with the vanquished Austrians.

In fact, the author, a child of eight, and her family became very fond of some of the Russians occupying their adopted abode and immediate neighborhood. The author's father, a German army deserter by the final weeks of the war, drank with the Russians each evening into the night. Christine, the author, developed a powerful bond with the Russian cook from Leningrad, a gentle, kindly man, and the two swapped whoppers day by day, by the hour. The book is full of stories that detail the harsh privations the Austrians experienced, but it is equally full of the spirit and gumption of the survivors to overcome anything that threatened their existence. An excellent book, really, and not one I'll soon forget.

Henning Mankell's An Event in Autumn is (or was) a story (some might deem it a novella) written for and published for a Dutch audience as a sort of bonus for other book purchases. In the Kurt Wallendar canon, the story takes place immediately before the final Wallendar novel, The Troubled Man, which I realize I now must read. An Event in Autumn is a spare, simple novel of what happens when Wallendar visits Martinson's family's cottage in the country with the intent to perhaps purchase it. Wallendar naturally finds skeletal remains in the garden, and off it goes. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I must warn readers that it is nowhere near as complex as other Wallendar novels, though it is an enjoyable novella nonetheless. I actually found I appreciated the lack of complexity! That's my mind these days. It's a quick, quick read, so do pick it up if you have the inclination.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

German Literature Month Blast-Off

First: My apologies to everyone who has left comments in the past 2+ weeks and has not had a response. I've replied now, but my October 30 post shows where my head's been at, and I wish it could have been with you!

Yesterday I tucked in to my first German Literature Month novel. (Yes, a day early, but I was desperate to begin.) Christine Nöstlinger is a highly acclaimed Austrian children's novelist, winner of many prizes, and the author of a multitude of books for children. Many, many of her most beloved works have not been translated into English, but Fly Away Home, the novelized version of her experiences as a child at the end of World War II in the city of Vienna, and later, in the Vienna suburbs, was published in an English translation in 1975, in Britain and the U.S.

Although I'm only 40 pages into the novel, I'm so taken with her honesty and lack of self-censorship--she portrays children as they really, truly are, complete with the full scope of their tumultuous feelings, intense curiosities, passions, and inexplicable (to adults) idiosyncrasies. I prize her writing for that! And the novel has made me realize how valuable to history are the memories and recollections of children in any given period. Their observations are so acute as to what is happening around them, even when they don't have the knowledge to decipher what their observations mean. I will write much more about this book when I finish.

Next: I am eager to read Julia Franck's latest novel, West. Lizzy has written about it on her blog, and I must order it immediately from The Book Depository or it will not arrive in time for GLM IV because the English translation is a UK title. By the way, the English translation was released on October 30, 2014.

Because of Thomas at Mytwostostinki.com (see my blogroll), I have in my hands a YA novel by Ralf Rothmann, Young Light. Since I ordered it, I discovered that Rothmann has written many other novels that also sound like must-reads. As soon as I finish Fly Away Home, I'll be devouring Young Light.

At the end of the month, I am participating in Caroline's GLM IV Joseph Roth readalong. I have in my hands Flight without End, a novel of post-World War I Germany. Because it's only 135 pages, I may very well have time to squeeze in another German novel this month. I do hope so, and will let you know.

I wish every GLM IV participant an enlightening and inspiring month of reading! Best wishes!