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Today is the start of the ‘Lolita’ readalong. So, if you haven’t decided yet, you are welcome to join my friend Delia (from Postcards from Asia) and me and read Nabokov’s classic and join in some fascinating discussion and conversation at the end of the month. You can find Delia’s introductory post here and my introductory post here. You can comment on either of these places to let us know that you are joining the readalong. We will link to your blogs and readalong posts. In case you don’t have a blog, you can leave your thoughts on the book at the readalong posts either here or in Delia’s blog.


Here are the details of the readalong.

      Readalong start date – December 7th, 2014

      Readalong posts and discussions start from – December 27th, 2014

You can continue posting till the end of December.

 

Delia was kind enough to create a couple of beautiful badges for the readalong. You can use them while posting about the book. Here they are.

Lolita Readalong Badge 1

Lolita Readalong Badge 2

 

‘Lolita’ doesn’t need an introduction, but in case you are interested in it, here is the book blurb (copied from the inside flap of the edition I have).

“When it was published in 1955, Lolita immediately became a cause célèbre because of the freedom and sophistication with which it handled the unusual erotic predilections of its protagonist, Humbert Humbert, and his two principal interlocutors, the pre-pubescent Lolita, and the magnificently weird playwright, Mr.Clare Quilty. But Nabokov’s wise, ironic, elegant masterpiece owes it stature as one of the twentieth century’s classic novels not to the controversy its material aroused, but to the fact that its author used that material to tell a love story almost shocking in its beauty and tenderness.

Welcome to the readalong and happy reading

GLM 2014 Badge

Today it is the first of December. It means that this year’s German Literature Month is over. It is my favourite reading event of the year and so it is a bittersweet moment for me. Now I have to wait for one more year for next year’s edition.

I read eight books for this year’s GLM. That sounds pretty impressive, but it is not. Halfway through GLM, I had read only one book. But like any self-respecting Indian, I finished ninety percent of the work in the eleventh hour – in the last four days, I read four books. But I read a wide variety of books and so I am happy about that. I read two novels, three novellas, one collection of short stories, two plays and one essay in book form.

My favourite was the novella ‘Three Paths to the Lake’ by Ingeborg Bachmann. It is a book which I will be definitely reading again.

ThreePathsToTheLakeByIngeborgBachmann

‘The Art of Hearing Heartbeats’ by Jan-Philipp Sendker, ‘Flight Without End’ by Joseph Roth and ‘Rock Crystal’ by Adalbert Stifter weren’t far behind.

The Art Of Hearing Heartbeats By Jan Philipp Sendker      Flight Without End By Joseph Roth

Rock Crystal By Adalbert Stifter

I didn’t review one book – ‘In Berlin : Day and Night in 1929’ by Franz Hessel. 

In Berlin By Franz Hessel

It was a twenty-something page essay on the author’s experience in Berlin during one day in 1929. It mostly had descriptions of nightlife and bar hopping, and though it might have had some historical interest, I didn’t find it insightful enough. 

I finally got around to reading a German play – I actually read two of them (‘La Ronde’ by Arthur Schnitzler and ‘The Robbers’ by Friedrich Schiller), which I am quite happy about. 

The Austrian contigent was heavily represented in my selection – four of the eight books I read were by Austrian writers and three of my four favourites were by Austrians. I seem to be clearly leaning in a particular direction.

I had hoped to read my favourite writer Marlen Haushofer’s ‘Nowhere Ending Sky’ and another favourite writer Ingeborg Bachmann’s collection of poems ‘Darkness Spoken’, but I couldn’t. These have to wait for another time. 

Nowhere Ending Sky By Marlen Haushofer

Darkness Spoken By Ingeborg Bachmann

Here are the books I read, with the links to their reviews. 

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker 

Immensee by Theodor Storm

Three Paths to the Lake by Ingeborg Bachmann (Part 1 / Part 2)

In Berlin : Day and Night in 1929 by Franz Hessel

Flight Without End by Joseph Roth

Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter

La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler

The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller 

 

I had a wonderful German Literature Month, as always. This year’s GLM seems to have broken all records – last time I checked there were 176 posts, which is totally awesome. Many thanks to the hostesses Caroline (from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Lizzy (from Lizzy’s Literary Life) for hosting this wonderful event every year, and especially for this wonderful fourth edition. I can’t wait for next year’s GLM.

Did you participate in German Literature Month this year? Which was your favourite GLM book this year?

GLM 2014 Badge

‘The Robbers’ by Friedrich Schiller was first published in 1781. Is it the earliest German book that I have ever read? Possibly. I first got to know about it when I read the book ‘German Literature : A Very Short Introduction’ by Nicholas Boyle. This is what Boyle says about Schiller’s play : 

“a rebellious schoolboy in Stuttgart, Friedrich Schiller, began drafting the definitive treatment of the theme, his first play, ‘The Robbers’, which took the reading public by storm on its publication in 1781, and reduced its audience to sobs and swoons when it was first performed the following year.” 

“A modern, international audience can still be gripped by the story of Karl and his band, a prescient analysis of the logic of self-righteous terrorism in a moral void. The huge success of the play in Germany in its own time and subsequently was no doubt due to the ferocity with which it dramatized the conflict between the two value systems available to the middle class in its struggle against princely rule – self-interested materialism or university-educated idealism – while it left prudently unassailed the structure of power itself.” 

“…Schiller focussed, with the penetrating clarity of a born dramatist, on the political and moral fault-lines in his contemporary society. With ‘The Robbers’ an independent modern German literary tradition begins.”


How can you resist a description like that? Since I read that, I have wanted to read ‘The Robbers’. I managed to squeeze it in yesterday, on the last day of this year’s German Literature Month. Here is what I think.

The Robbers By Friedrich Schiller

‘The Robbers’ is about two brothers Karl and Franz. Karl is the eldest son and so is the natural heir to his father’s estates. Their father loves Karl. Everyone does. Karl is also engaged to a beautiful woman called Amalia. Franz resents this. He resents everything that Karl has, but which he desires. He covets his father’s name and estates. He wants to win the hand of Amalia. So, he plots against Karl. Karl himself seems to aid that venture. While he is away from home, he gets into debt and runs away from the law. Franz uses that and convinces his father to disinherit Karl. Karl has plans of coming back home and hopes that his father will forgive him for his indiscretions. But when he receives the letter from his brother Franz stating that his father has disinherited him, he is hurt and angry. And before he knows what he is doing, he joins with his companions and starts a band of robbers and becomes a fugitive who is hunted by the law. Franz meanwhile continues with his nefarious plots – he wants his father, the elderly Count, to die, so that he can take over the estates, but the Count, eventhough feeble, has a sound constitution. Using psychological threats and false news that his son Karl has died in a battle, Franz upsets the Count immeasurably that the Count dies in a shock. Franz takes over his father’s name and estates. The household staff serves him loyally. However, his plans to win Amalia come to naught. Amalia spurns his advances and decides to be faithful to her supposedly dead fiancé Karl. Meanwhile, Karl, as the head of his band of robbers, has adventures that robbers have. He saves one of his band members from near certain death and while saving him, burns down the whole town. Karl, though he is a robber, is noble. He doesn’t want any money for himself and helps poor people in need. He is a robber – he kills, he burns – but he is also kind. One day he hears some news about Amalia and comes to his father’s castle in disguise. There he discovers the truth about how Franz was responsible for his father’s death and how Franz usurped his rightful inheritance. Karl is wild with anger

What happens next? Does Karl exact revenge? What happens to Franz? Does he reach the end that is reserved for all villains? Do Karl and Amalia get married? What happens to the band of robbers? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

 

There were many things that I liked about ‘The Robbers’. The first thing I liked was the way the characters of Karl and Franz were portrayed. Karl, though he is the noble hero, is also a robber. Schiller doesn’t shy away from portraying that part of Karl’s personality. Karl robs people, kills them, burns houses and towns. Schiller doesn’t condone that. So, we see two sides of Karl – the noble kind side and the ruthless robber side. Karl is not a traditional, hero, but a complex character. Franz, the villain, is quite complex too. He is an atheist and a materialist. Though I didn’t like him much – it is hard to like a villain – I loved many of the lines that he spoke. They were insightful and profound. My favourite lines were a soliloquy by him : 

Francis (soliloquy) : “…he is thy father! He gave thee life, thou art his flesh and blood – and therefore he must be sacred to thee! Again a most inconsequential deduction! I should like to know why he begot me; certainly not out of love for me – for I must first have existed.”

“Could he know me before I had being, or did he think of me during my begetting? Or did he wish for me at the moment? Did he know what I should be? If so I would not advise him to acknowledge it or I should pay him off for his feat. Am I to be thankful to him that I am a man? As little as I should have had a right to blame him if he had made me a woman. Can I acknowledge an affection which is not based on any personal regard? Could personal regard be present before the existence of its object? In what, then consists the sacredness of paternity?”

“Is it in the act itself out of which existence arose? As though this were aught else than an animal process to appease animal desires. Or does it lie, perhaps, in the result of this act, which is nothing more after all than one of iron necessity, and which men would gladly dispense with, were it not at the cost of flesh and blood? Do I then owe him thanks for his affection? Why, what is it but a piece of vanity, the besetting sin of the artist who admires his own works, however hideous they may be? Look you, this is the whole juggle wrapped up in a mystic veil to work on our fears. And, shall I, too be fooled like an infant?”

It made me remember those famous lines from ‘Paradise Lost’ which Mary Shelley quotes in the first pages of ‘Frankenstein’“Did I request thee maker, from my clay, to mould me man? Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?”

Franz was a villain, but he was also intelligent, smart and philosophical, like the best of them are. 

The next passage is probably spoiler-ish, and so if you are planning to read the play, please be sufficiently forewarned. 

One more thing I liked about the story was the internal conflict that Karl undergoes towards the end of the story, when he has to choose between his band of robbers who have sworn loyalty to him and his sweetheart Amalia. I have seen this scene in countless movies, but I think Schiller probably was the first to write this scene. So three cheers to him. 

There were two surprises at the end of the story. One of them was unexpected but in a nice way. The second one was also unexpected but it was not-so-nice and I felt that it was not required. It just had shock value and I was upset with Schiller for doing that – upset in the way an anonymous twenty-first century reader can be upset at a legendary German playwright who lived more than two hundred years earlier, an affectionate anger which stretches across time and the centuries.

The ending of the story is interesting – not the regular good-guys-win-and-the-bad-guys-die kind of ending, but one which is more complex than that. 

One word on the translation. One of the things I hated about the translation I read was that Karl was called ‘Charles’ and Franz was called ‘Francis’. Really? Is that anglification of characters’ names really necessary? What were you thinking, my dear Mr.Translator?? 

I enjoyed reading ‘The Robbers’. I am happy that I have finally been able to read one of the great landmark plays of German literature. By that born dramatist of penetrating clarity, Friedrich Schiller :) I would like to read some of his poems and his essays on aesthetics some day. 

I will leave you with one of my favourite passages from the play. This one is spoken by Karl to Schwarz, one of his robber companions. 

Karl (to Schwarz) : “Why should man prosper in that which he has in common with the ant, while he fails in that which places him on a level with the gods. Or is this the aim and limit of his destiny?” 

“Brother, I have looked at men, their insect cares and their giant projects, – their god-like plans and mouse-like occupations, their intensely eager race after happiness – one trusting to the fleetness of his horse, – another to the nose of his ass, – a third to his own legs; this checkered lottery of life, in which so many stake their innocence and their leaven to snatch a prize, and, – blanks are all they draw – for they find, too late, that there was no prize in the wheel. It is a drama, brother, enough to bring tears into your eyes, while it shakes your side with laughter.”

 

Have you read Schiller’s ‘The Robbers’? What do you think about it?

GLM 2014 Badge

I wanted to read a play for German Literature Month, and after a little bit of deliberation, I decided on Arthur Schnitzler’s ‘La Ronde’.

La Ronde By Arthur Schnitzler

So, what is ‘La Ronde’ about? Like any self-respecting Arthur Schnitzler story, it is about adultery and sex. Or as Suzanne Vega describes her album of love songs – it is about attraction, flirtation and confrontation. There are ten scenes in the story and each of them features two characters, who are attracted towards each other, flirt with each other and end up in bed with each other. A character from the first scene takes part in the second scene with another character and this continues till the last scene where a character from the ninth scene spends time with a character from the first scene, thus rounding things off and proving that the world is round and it all comes back to the beginning. Hence the title ‘La Ronde’. The characters in the play are all from different parts of society and so the play, in some ways, highlights the sexual mores of people from different parts of society of that era. The play was first published in 1900, and the content is pretty explicit for its time (one of the characters talks to his partner about why he is not able to get an erection and satisfy her). Schnitzler clearly seems to have tempted fate and flirted with the censors here – no wonder the play was banned for many decades after it was first published.

Looking at it from today’s perspective though, I found that the play, though it must have created lots of controversy during its time and raised a lot of hue and cry from critics, didn’t really move me much. Most of the play had flirty dialogue, which I didn’t really love that much. Maybe because the play doesn’t really work when it is read, but is better when it is performed. It didn’t have the beauty that my favourite short story of Schnitzler had – ‘The Dead are Silent’. I liked parts of one of the conversations though – the conversation between a count and an actress. Here is how it went.

COUNT: Just as I imagined: you’re a misanthropist. It’s bound to happen with artists. Moving in that more exalted sphere. Well, it’s all right for you, at least you know why you’re alive.

ACTRESS:  Who told you that? I haven’t the remotest idea why I’m alive!

COUNT:     Not really, Fräulein . . . famous . . . celebrated

ACTRESS:  Is that-happiness?

COUNT: Happiness? Happiness doesn’t exist. None of the things people chatter about really exist. . . . Love, for instance. It’s the same with love.

ACTRESS:  You may be right there.

COUNT:     Enjoyment . . . intoxication . . . there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re real. I enjoy something, all right, and I know I enjoy it. Or I’m intoxicated, all right. That’s real too. And when it’s over, it’s over, that’s all.

ACTRESS (grandly): It’s over!

COUNT:     But as soon as you don’t-I don’t quite know how to say it-as soon as you stop living for the present moment, as soon as you think of later on or earlier on . . . Well, the whole thing collapses. “Later on” is sad, and “earlier on” is uncertain, in short, you just get mixed up. Don’t you think so?

ACTRESS (nods, her eyes very wide open): You pluck out the heart of the mystery, my dear Count.

COUNT: And you see, Fräulein, once you’re clear about that, it doesn’t matter if you live in Vienna or on the Hungarian plains or in the tiny town of Steinamanger.

I have one of the movie versions of Schnitzler’s play called ‘360’ directed by Fernando Meirelles. I hope to watch it tomorrow. I can then tell whether the play works better when it is performed.

 

Have you read Arthur Schnitzler’s ‘La Ronde’ or seen it performed in the theatre or seen any of the film adaptations? What do you think about it?

Other Reviews 

Amateur Reader (Tom) (from Wuthering Expectations)

GLM 2014 Badge

I discovered ‘Indian Summer’ by Adalbert Stifter through Jonathan’s review of it. But ‘Indian Summer’ was hard to get. And Jonathan said that his favourite Stifter novel was ‘Rock Crystal’. As I was able to get a copy of ‘Rock Crystal’, I read it first. Here is what I think.

Rock Crystal By Adalbert Stifter

‘Rock Crystal’ is a short novella. Or a long short story, depending on how you look at it. It describes the adventures of a brother (Conrad) and his sister (Sanna) in the mountains. First some background. There is a village called Gschaid in the valley. It is surrounded by mountains. The highest mountains are snowcapped throughout the year and have a glacier which melts during summer which fills the stream which is the source of water for the village. The people in the valley keep to themselves and rarely venture outside. They marry within themselves, love each other, have their quarrels and live their quiet lives there. There lives a shoemaker there. He falls in love with a girl who lives in the town called Millsdorf on the other side of the mountain. The girl’s father resists the shoemaker’s advances. But the shoemaker woos her persistently, and after a while the girl’s father agrees to their marriage. After they get married, the girl comes to live with the shoemaker. They have a couple of children, a boy called Conrad and girl called Sanna. The children’s grandparents love them very much, especially the grandmother. She frequently comes to visit them, eventhough it means taking the mountain path and coming to the other side. But after a few years, it becomes hard for her to make that long trip. Fortunately, in Gschaid, children are encouraged to travel on their own and soon when Conrad and Sanna become old enough, they travel on their own and visit their grandmother. Once during Christmas Eve, they visit their grandmother. Their grandmother makes delicious treats for them, packs presents in their bags and sends them back early. On the way back, it starts snowing. In the beginning, the snow is light and so the children enjoy the snow. But after a while, the snow becomes heavy, and the children are travelling through their well-worn route more out of habit, as they are not able to see anything more than a few feet away. After a while, the snow lays a white carpet over everything – the forest floor, the path, the trees – and the children discover that they are not able to see any familiar landmarks. Before they know their paths have become steeper and they are climbing higher and higher up the mountain. Then they reach a place which is filled with big rocks and they discover that these are made of ice. It looks like they have reached somewhere near the top of the mountain and everywhere they look there is ice. It is the glacier. They are trapped and they can’t move in any direction.

So, what do they do? Are Conrad and Sanna trapped in the glacier? Are they able to find their way down? I am going to leave you on a cliffhanger here. To find out how the story ends, you should read the rest of the book.

‘Rock Crystal’ started off quite slowly. There was a lot of description about the village, the nearby town, the people and their culture and their attitudes. It was slow reading. But once the events of the story start moving and especially when we start following Conrad and Sanna on their return from their grandmother’s place and it starts snowing, we know that the slow pace of the story is going to change and things are going to get scary. The way Adalbert Stifter captures the beauty of the snow, the white carpet it weaves over everything, the way he makes us readers realize that the children have lost their way even before they realize it, and the stunning realization that happens (to both the children and us readers) when they reach the top of the mountain and encounter the glacier – all these are masterfully done. I found myself praying hard for the children and hoping that they would be able to come back down safely to the warmth of their home and I found my heart beating fast every time they got into more and more complicated situations. There is a scene where they wait out the night and get up in the morning hoping that during the day they can find their way back and when it is daylight, they look around and find that all around them there are high, majestic snowy peaks, brilliantly reflecting the sunshine with a kaleidoscope of colours, endlessly stretching away in all directions – a stunning scene which is beautiful and majestic and intimidating all at the same time, that our hearts beat hard, not being able to take in the beauty, and a deep pain seeps in as we are fearful for the safety of the children. It is one of the great scenes in the book.

 

I loved ‘Rock Crystal’. It was simple, beautiful and gripping. I emotionally invested in the characters, cared for them, prayed for them. There is nothing more that one could ask for in a book. I would love to read more of Stifter’s works. 

Have you read ‘Rock Crystal’? What do you think about it?

GLM 2014 Badge

So, this week is like Lake Constance out here, in these parts of the blogosphere. Like Lake Constance brings together three countries – Germany, Austria and Switzerland – through its shores, this week brings together German Literature Month, Joseph Roth Week and the Literature and War Readalong into one beautiful event. And the book which is the star of that event is called ‘Flight Without End’ by Joseph Roth.

Lake Constance

Lake Constance

I got Roth’s book last month and I had to really resist the temptation to read it earlier. I repeatedly opened the book and read the first few lines, but then decided not to ‘cheat’ and wait for this week to arrive, before I read it. So, I finally picked it up yesterday and read it in one sitting. I even switched off my TV after dinner (something which I almost never do – I love watching TV series after dinner) and read Roth’s book till I finished the last page.

Joseph Roth Week

So, what is this book about?

Flight Without End By Joseph Roth

‘Flight Without End’ follows the life of Franz Tunda, First Lieutenant in the Austrian army, during the First World War. Tunda is captured by the Russians and sent to a prisoner of war camp. He escapes from there and ends up in Siberia where he becomes friends with a Pole. This man Baranowicz takes him under his wing and Tunda lives in his place and helps him with his work. At some point the war ends and Tunda decides to leave and go home to his native Austria and find out whether his fiancée Irene is still waiting for him. But on his way back he discovers that the Russian Revolution is in full swing. He is captured by the Red Army and after a few tense moments he becomes a part of them. And instead of going home, he becomes a revolutionary who is fighting for the communists. He meets a girl called Natasha there, who educates him on revolutionary principles. Before he knows it, Tunda is in love with her and forgets all about his fiancée. But a love forged during the times of war and revolution is not sustainable. Once the revolution gets over and Tunda and Natasha end up in Moscow, they discover that they are very different people and fall out of love. Tunda writes articles for papers and after a while ends up in Baku, working on literary and cinematic projects for the government. He meets a local girl there and gets married to her. But after a few years of life in Baku, the yearning for home gets to him and one day he just leaves Russia and goes to his native Austria. But there is no grand welcome for him. Austria has changed drastically and is a different place now. He meets old acquaintances, his brother and sister-in-law, tries to search for Irene (who is by now married to another man), goes to Paris – the rest of the book follows Tunda’s adventures through different cities and how he discovers that the world he encounters now is very different from the world that he left when he went to war. Is he able to find Irene? Is he able to adapt himself to the new world that he encounters? You have to read the story to find out.

 

So, what do I think about Joseph Roth’s book? 

It is less about war and more about the society of that time, the post First World War time, when the old order changed and the new one was starting to occupy its place. How one man who loses his way after the war can get lost in the new world – the book beautifully depicts that. 

I got hooked into ‘Flight Without End’ after the first three pages. They describe mostly Baranowicz’ life and what he does. In a few sentences Joseph Roth paints a beautiful picture. There is a character called Ekaterina Pavlona who is described in just a few sentences in the second page and then in a couple of sentences at the end of the book. Roth describes and develops that character so beautifully and I fell in love with her, though she makes just the briefest of brief appearances and she is not really important to the story. It is such a rare talent – to be able to sketch a fully fleshed out complex character with just a few deft strokes. It was magical, to see a master in action. There were many beautiful passages in the book, which described the world of that era – the people, their attitudes, their way of thinking, their value systems – offering insights and painting beautiful sketches of that period with a few broad brushstrokes. They were a pleasure to read. 

It was also interesting to see the author come as a character in the book and make us believe that the story is true. (I don’t know whether Franz Tunda was a real person and whether his story was actually true or whether the author was just making a guest appearance in the fictional story like Somerset Maugham used to do in some of his books like ‘The Razor’s Edge’). 

I liked Joseph Roth’s book very much. I would definitely be reading my favourite passages from this book again. I also would love to read more of Roth’s books. 

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book

Between the two there now existed that distance which exists between the man who gives help and the one who accepts it, a distance different from that between an older and a younger man, a native and a foreigner, someone powerful and someone who, though weak, is still independent. Although there was no contempt in the President’s gaze, it no longer showed that quiet preparedness for respect, the open-minded hospitality, which distinguished people reserve for foreigners. It may be that Tunda had touched his heart. But they were no longer as free with each other as they had been. Perhaps, after this, the old man would have trusted Tunda with one of his secrets, but he would no longer trust him with one of his daughters.

It takes a long time for men to acquire their particular countenances. It is as if they were born without their faces, their foreheads, their noses or their eyes. They acquire all these with the passage of time, and one must be patient; it takes time before anything is properly assembled. 

Then, one evening, he sat in a train travelling westward and felt as if he was not making this journey of his own free will. Things had turned out as they always had in his life, as indeed much that is important does in the lives of others, who are deceived by the more noisy and deliberate nature of their activities into believing that an element of self-determination governs their decisions and transactions. However, they forget that over and above their own brisk exertions lies the hand of fate.

In all probability the love which had developed on this basis would not have survived the attainment of legal majority, the end of the war, the Revolution, had Tunda returned. But missing persons have an irresistible charm. One may deceive someone who is not missing, a healthy man, a sick man, and under certain circumstances even a dead man. But one waits as long as is necessary for someone who has mysteriously disappeared. A woman’s love is inspired by various motives. Even waiting is one. She loves her own yearning and the substantial amount of time invested. Every woman would despise herself for not loving the man she has waited for.

Have you read ‘Flight Without End’? What do you think about it?

Other reviews : 

Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

Three Paths to the Lake’ by Ingeborg Bachmann has four short stories and a novella (the title story). I reviewed the novella here. I finally finished reading the four short stories. Here is what I think about them. 

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The four short stories in the book address different themes.

‘Word for Word’ is about a translator who travels with her friend to Italy. During her travel she thinks about her past and meditates on language. It is a story with a focus on the theme of language and meaning – on how sometimes even if we are able to translate words and sentences from one language to another, the process is mechanical and has no meaning for us.

ThreePathsToTheLakeByIngeborgBachmann

‘Problems Problems’ is about a young woman Beatrix, who is lazy, likes sleeping for most of the day, doesn’t like working and who goes once a week to the salon to get her hair done and get herself pampered, before meeting the man with whom she is having an affair. Beatrix is in no way admirable for her work ethic (atleast for most people), but we can’t help sympathizing with her and looking at things her point of view. When the story describes how hard it is for her to get up late in the morning and get ready to face the day and how it is better to go back to sleep, we smile (and we probably want to live that life J) The story doesn’t end well though, for Beatrix. It describes how a perfect day she had planned explodes on her face and she is left to pick the pieces. It is amazing what Bachmann does here – take an everyday scene like a young woman going to a salon to get her hair done and sculpt it into a beautiful work of art.

‘Eyes to Wonder’ is the story about a young woman Miranda, who has a vision problem, but who refuses to wear corrective glasses. Or rather she wears them sparingly and not on a regular basis. She sees the world with fuzzy outlines and she is happy with that. The fact that she doesn’t see the world in a crystal clear way helps her, as she is not able to see the unpleasant things around her. She considers perfect vision as a curse rather than a blessing. The first few pages of the story explore this theme and I loved that part of the story. The story then moves into a narrative, storytelling mode and the story lost some zing after that (atleast for me).

The last short story called ‘The Barking’ is about an old woman and her relationship with her daughter-in-law. The story also touches a little bit on her relationship with her son, who is aloof and ignores her. 

I enjoyed reading all the four stories. My favourites were some of the parts of ‘Problems Problems’ and ‘Eyes of Wonder’. I would have loved ‘Eyes of Wonder’ if Bachmann had focused more on the theme rather than on the plot.

Here are a couple of my favourite passages.

From ‘Problems Problems’ 

…her aversion to this awful normality to which people subjected themselves had coincided with the discovery of a perversion : her sleeping fetish. Granted, it was perverse, but at least she was something special in the midst of all these normal fools. Genuinely perverse. Everything else was such an absolute waste of time, the simple task of getting dressed and undressed was a real strain, but nothing could compare with her addiction to deep sleep, a sleep she had found her way into, could find her way into even fully dressed on the bed with her shoes on. When she considered that childish nonsense in the past, largely provoked by curiosity, and all the rest, which she today believed to be nothing but gross exaggeration, then sleep was the only read fulfillment: it made life worth living. 

From ‘Eyes to Wonder’  

Unlike others, she doesn’t need to see him in a sharp outline, doesn’t fix anyone with her eyes, doesn’t photograph people through her glasses, but rather paints them in her own style, relying on other impressions, and now Josef is her masterpiece and has been from the very beginning. She fell in love with him at first sight, although any eye doctor would have shaken his head at that, because Miranda’s first glances only result in catastrophic errors. But she holds fast to her first glance and of all the men she has known, Josef is the one whose early sketches and subsequent, more detailed drafts – in light, in darkness, and every conceivable situation – truly satisfy Miranda

The book has a beautiful introduction by Mark Anderson, in which he offers a sophisticated exploration of the stories and their themes. He also quotes Bachmann from some of her interviews and I liked a couple of those quotes. My favourite quote was this :

“War doesn’t begin with the first bombs that are launched or with the terror that one can write about in any newspaper. It starts in the relations between people. Fascism is the first element in the relation between a man and a woman…in this society war is constant. There’s no such thing as war and peace, there is only war.”

It made me remember something similar that Michael Haneke said about his film ‘The White Band’. Being a fellow Austrian, I wonder whether he was inspired by Bachmann when he said that.


Ingeborg Bachmann

Ingeborg Bachmann

I enjoyed reading ‘Three Paths to the Lake’. My favourite story from the book was the title novella, but I also liked the other stories.

Have you read ‘Three Paths to the Lake’? What do you think about it?

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