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Archive for the ‘Literature Month’ Category

I discovered Erich Kästner through the book ‘The End of Loneliness‘, in which two of the characters watch a film adaptation of an Erich Kästner book. So I did some research and discovered that ‘Emil and the Detectives‘ is Erich Kästner’s most famous book. I read it in one breath today.

Emil lives with his mother in Neustadt. During the holidays, his mother sends him by train to Berlin to spend the holidays with his grandmother and aunt and her family. Emil’s mother gives him some money which she asks him to hand over to his grandmother. She asks him to be careful about the money. Emil’s fellow travellers in the train are quite friendly with him. At some point all of them get off the train except one. At some point Emil falls asleep. When he wakes up he realizes that the money is not there with him. He suspects the last traveller who was there with him in the compartment. Luckily, he sees that man get off the train at the next station and follows him. A lot of interesting things happen on the way as Emil makes new friends, plays detective with them and tries to catch the thief. Whether they are able to do that and get back the money is told in the rest of the story.

Emil and the Detectives‘ is a charming story. It is very engaging, fast-paced and filled with wonderful characters and events. I wish I had read it when I was a child. I would have loved it more. Reading it as a grown-up, one of the things I loved about the book was Emil’s impression of the big city when he first lands up in Berlin. Erich Kästner makes the Berlin of his time come alive through his descriptions as we see the exciting scenes of the big city through Emil’s eyes.

I loved this particular passage which contrasts the warmth and friendliness of a small town with the remoteness and aloofness of a big city.

“No one seemed interested, one way or the other. A strange man had paid his fare, but had gone on reading again without even asking why he had no money. Emil felt very small among them all, in that big, busy city. Nobody cared about his having no money, or that he didn’t know where he was going. There were four million people in Berlin at that moment, and not one of them cared what was happening to Emil Tischbein. No one has time for other people’s troubles in a city. They’ve all troubles enough of their own. They may listen for a moment, and perhaps say how sorry they are, but they are probably thinking, “Oh, for goodness’ sake, don’t bother me about it!” It was awful to feel so alone, and Emil wondered what would happen to him.”

I also loved this passage about the excitement and the awe and the surprise that a person from a small town feels when they first see a big city.

“It was getting dark, and the illuminated signs began to flash on and off. Trains thundered – by on the overhead railway. Other trains rumbled beneath them on the underground. The noise in the street of all the passing trams, buses, cars and motorbikes sounded to Emil like some crazy orchestra playing wildly. From a nearby café came the strains of dance music, and people were crowding into the cinemas round the square for the last performances. To Emil it was all strange and tremendously exciting. He almost forgot how he came to be there, and about the seven pounds which had been stolen.”

I enjoyed reading ‘Emil and the Detectives‘. I want to read more of Erich Kästner’s work. Have you read this book? What do you think about it?

I think this is my last book for this year’s German Literature Month hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. I made a modest plan this time around, but I couldn’t stick to it. I read only one of the planned books, tried participating in a readalong but could finish only one-third of that book, and then tried reading a thousand-page book but got stuck after a hundred pages. But the good news is that I managed to read four books and they were all different – one of them was classic literary fiction, another was contemporary literary fiction, one was YA, another was a children’s book. I loved all these four books. I feel sad that this year’s German Literature Month is already over, and I can’t wait for next year’s edition to arrive.

Did you participate in German Literature Month? What did you read?

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I was looking for a contemporary German book to read for German Literature Month hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life, when one of my friends recommended Benedict Wells‘ ‘The End of Loneliness‘. How can we resist a book with such a beautiful title? I started reading it a couple of days back and couldn’t put it down till I finished it.

The story told in ‘The End of Loneliness‘ goes like this. Jules is in the hospital after an accident. When he regains consciousness, he discovers that he has been in a coma for a couple of days. He looks back on his life, on the events and the people, which led him to his present situation in the hospital. We get a peek into his childhood, we get to know about his beautiful sister and his nerdy brother who are both elder to him, we get to know about his loving, affectionate parents. Then something suddenly happens, the beautiful tranquility is shattered and that is the end of life as he knows it. Jules is in a new situation now, and things are quiet for a while, and then beautiful things start happening. But then do beautiful, happy things last forever, or is the next disaster just around the corner? As the grown-up Jules says at one point –

“Life is not a zero-sum game. It owes us nothing, and things just happen the way they do. Sometimes they’re fair and everything makes sense; sometimes they’re so unfair we question everything. I pulled the mask off the face of Fate, and all I found beneath it was chance.”

Is this true? Is it all chance? Or do things even out and can we find happiness in the end?

Well, I can’t tell you more about the plot, or about any of the characters, or what happened, or how Jules ended up in the hospital. No spoilers here. You have to read the book to find out more.

The End of Loneliness‘ is a beautiful book about family, about brothers and sisters, about parents and children, about growing up, about friendship, about love. There is happiness and heartbreak in the book. There are beautiful sentences and passages. These are surprises. I loved all the characters in the book. Every one of them. Each one of them is beautifully sculpted, each one is beautiful, flawed, imperfect, amazing, real. Some of them speak beautiful lines. Some of them do beautiful things. Two of my favourites were Jules’ sister Liz and his best friend Alva. Liz speaks one of my favourite lines in the book –

“All these nihilists and cynics are really just cowards. They act as if everything’s meaningless because that means ultimately there’s nothing to lose. Their attitude seems unassailable and superior, but inside it’s worthless…The alternative to the concept of life and death is the void – would it really be better if this world didn’t exist at all? Instead, we live, make art, love, observe, suffer, laugh and are happy. We all exist in a million different ways so that there is no void, and the price we pay for that is death.”

In another part of the book, Liz says this –

“But there’s no point in living like that. Everything’s over so quickly and you can’t hold on to anything. All you can do is be.”

When we first meet Liz, we discover that she is a kind of party girl, but as we get to know her better, we discover that she has unsuspected depths and there is more to her than meets the eye.

Alva is amazing, of course. You have read the book though, to discover more about her. Also Marty, Jules’ nerdy brother, Toni, Jules’ and Marty’s friend, Elena, Marty’s wife, and many other characters, even the minor ones, they are all wonderful.

I loved ‘The End of Loneliness‘. It is one of my favourite reads of the year. I can’t wait to read more books by Benedict Wells.

Have you read ‘The End of Loneliness‘? What do you think about it?

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I was looking for a contemporary German book to read, for German Literature Month hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. I was thinking about it when I discovered Wolfgang Herrndorf’sTschick‘. I got it and read the first page and then I couldn’t stop reading.

The story told in ‘Tschick‘ goes like this. Mike Klingenberg is fourteen years old and he is the narrator of the story. At the beginning of the story we find Mike in the hospital. There seem to be police with him too. We wonder why. Mike tells us what happened. Mike is a loner at school and doesn’t have many (or rather any) friends. The girl he likes, Tatiana, doesn’t know that he exists. Mike is good at some things – he is an ace high-jumper and a wonderful artist – but his talent is not noticed. A new boy called Tschick arrives in school one day. He seems to have a complex background and so everyone including Mike ignores him. At some point, something brings these two together and somehow they embark on a long road trip in an old stolen (or shall we say ‘borrowed’) car. What happens after that – the amazing adventures they have and the fascinating people they meet and how Mike ends up in the hospital and what happens after that – is narrated in the rest of the story.

I loved ‘Tschick‘. Mike is a wonderful narrator with an original, charming voice, a cool style, a wonderful sense of humour, and speaks his mind and doesn’t mince words. The pages flew because I loved the narrator’s voice. He made me remember all the great teenage / young narrators that I have encountered in some of my favourite novels, like ‘Treasure Island‘, ‘Kidnapped‘, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird‘, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time‘, ‘Unhooking the Moon‘, ‘The Pull of Gravity‘, ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘. Tschick, after whom the novel is named, is a fascinating character, and is one of the two main characters alongwith Mike. Tschick is quiet, but once we get to know him, we discover that he is cool, wise, is filled with surprises and there is more to him than meets the eye. The Mike–Tschick friendship is one of the most charming friendships that I have encountered in any story. The book is very engaging and fast-paced and there is no word wasted. The ending is beautiful but I can’t tell you what happened – you have to read the book yourself and find out.

I loved ‘Tschick‘ so much that I wanted to read more books by Wolfgang Herrndorf. When I went and did some research, I discovered that this was his first book which he published when he was forty-five, and it was a runaway bestseller. But tragically, he was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain tumour by that time, and he wrote just one more book called ‘Sand‘ soon after that and died three years later. He just had a three-year literary career. He burned bright like a comet, lighted up millions of readers’ hearts, and was gone before they could blink. It was heartbreaking to read. Why do good people always die young?

A small observation on the title. The German title of the book is ‘Tschick‘. The title of the English translation is ‘Why We Took the Car‘. I hate this modern British practice of changing the title of translated works and trying to summarize the book through the title. So I am sticking to the German title here. I like it more.

Tschick‘ is one of my favourite books of the year. I am glad it was a bestseller and got many accolades – it deserved every bit of that. I can’t wait to read Wolfgang Herrndorf’s ‘Sand‘ now.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“It took two hours to reach the very top, but it was worth it. The view looked like a really great postcard. There was a giant wooden cross at the highest point, and below that a little cabin. The entire cabin was covered with carvings. We sat down there and read some of the letters and numbers cut into the wood: CKH 4/23/61, SONNY ’86, HARTMANN 1923. The oldest one we could find was: ANSELM WAIL 1903. Old letters cut into old, dark wood. And then the view and the warm summer air and the scent of hay wafting up from the valleys below. Tschick pulled out a pocketknife and started carving. As we talked and basked in the sun and watched Tschick carve, I kept thinking about the fact that in a hundred years we’d all be dead. Like Anselm Wail was dead. His family was all dead too. His parents were dead, his children were dead, everyone who ever knew him was dead. And if he ever made anything or built anything or left anything behind, it was probably dead as well — destroyed, blown away by two world wars — and the only thing left of Anselm Wail was his name carved in a piece of wood. Why had he carved it there? Maybe he’d been on a road trip, like us. Maybe he’d stolen a car or a carriage or a horse or whatever they had back then and rode around having fun. But whatever it was, it would never again be of interest to anyone because there was nothing left of his fun, of his life, of anything. The only people who would ever know anything at all about Anselm Wail were the people who climbed this mountain. And the same thing would be true of us.”

“I want to talk to my lawyer. That’s the sentence I probably need to say. It’s the right sentence in the right situation, as everybody knows from watching TV. And it’s easy to say: I want to talk to my lawyer. But they’d probably die laughing. Here’s the problem: I have no idea what this sentence means. If I say I want to talk to my lawyer and they ask me, “Who do you want to talk to? Your lawyer?” what am I supposed to answer? I’ve never seen a lawyer in my life, and I don’t even know what I need one for. I don’t know if there’s a difference between a lawyer and an attorney. Or an attorney general. I guess they’re like judges except on my side. I guess they know a lot more about the law than I do. But I guess pretty much everyone in the room knows more about the law than I do. First and foremost the policemen. And I could ask them.”

“It’s a little like those mafia movies, when there’s a long silence before one gangster answers another, and they just stare at each other. “Hey!” A minute of silence. “Look me in the eyes!” Five minutes of silence. In regular life that would be stupid. But when you’re in the mafia, it’s not.”

Have you read ‘Tschick‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read Alfred Döblin’sBerlin Alexanderplatz‘ for a long time, and when I discovered that there will be a readalong hosted by Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ and Lizzy from ‘Lizzy’s Literary Life’, as part of German Literature Month, I was excited! This is the first of the readalong posts in question-and-answer and covers the first two chapters of the book.

Welcome to the #germanlitmonth readalong of Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. What enticed you to readalong with us?

I have always wanted to read ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’. When I discovered that there was going to be a readalong during GLM, I couldn’t resist joining.

Summarise your initial expectations. Are they being met?

I didn’t really have many expectations. I was thinking it might be a bit heavy and hard to read. On actual reading, it seems to be not as heavy as I expected, but there seems to be a kind of ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style thing in it. I am not able to articulate better, but this style makes the reading more challenging.

Which edition/translation are you using and how is it reading? If you’re reading the original German, is there anything noteworthy about Döblin’s language?

I am reading the Michael Hoffman translation. I found it very interesting, because I was expecting long sentences and deep thoughts, but the sentences were short with descriptions and they moved the plot. In some ways, very un-German 😁

What are your first impressions of Berlin and Franz Biberkopf?

Very interesting. From the kind of themes covered in the initial two chapters, the book must have been ahead of its times and probably controversial too. Franz Biberkopf seems to be an interesting character, sometimes happy-go-lucky, sometimes complex.

Döblin’s original title was “Berlin Alexanderplatz” He added “The Story of Franz Biberkopf” at the publisher’s insistence. Why do you think the publisher intervened in this way? How does this duality of focus manifest itself in the structure of chapter 2?

I didn’t know this. Very interesting! Maybe it is the story of both Berlin and Alexanderplatz and Franz Biberkopf, and how they all evolved and changed during this period.

Do you any have any further observations or questions you’ll be looking to answer at a later stage?

Looking forward to finding out what Franz is upto.

Are you participating in the ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz‘ readalong?

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I discovered Max Frisch’sAn Answer from the Silence‘ while browsing in the bookshop. I am happy and excited that in these days when we discover most books through the internet, it is still possible to visit the bookshop, spend sometime browsing, and discover a beautiful book. This is the first book I read for this year’s German Literature Month hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life.

The story told in Max Frisch’s book goes like this. The main character, whose name we don’t know, is staying in an inn near the mountains. He is thirty years old. He is passing through and he is trying to climb one of the nearby cliffs. We learn that he feels that he hasn’t accomplished much, has drifted from one dream to another, and finally decided that he is going to attempt climbing a cliff which no one has ever done before, and if he succeeds, he feels he would have accomplished something and not just lived a regular, mundane life. And then he meets a woman at the inn. And they begin a wonderful conversation. What happens after that and how their friendship evolves and whether this man climbs the cliff and finds the meaning of life is told in the rest of the story.

An Answer from the Silence‘ is a slim book at around a hundred pages. It is also a beautiful book. It is one of the great introvert novels like Marlen Haushofer’sThe Wall‘, Alexis M.Smith’sGlaciers‘, Robert Seethaler’sA Whole Life‘, Peter Stamm’sUnformed Landscape‘, Muriel Barbery’sThe Elegance of the Hedgehog‘ and Rabih Alameddine’sAn Unnecessary Woman‘, in which the main character lives a rich inner life and contemplates on some deep questions. It is the kind of book I love. There are so many beautiful passages in Frisch’s book that I couldn’t stop highlighting. The character of Irene, the woman who starts a conversation with our mountain-climbing main character, is so beautifully depicted, and she was my favourite character in the book. Max Frisch’s prose is beautiful and flows serenely like a river. There are beautiful descriptions of the mountains and nature. One of my favourite descriptions went like this :

“Outside there is no light visible that has been lit by human hand. There are just the stars glittering above the mountains and it’s bright, so that you can even see the blades of grass on the ground nearby, almost as bright as day, though it’s a different gleam, a lifeless gleam pouring over things, dull and without shadow, very strange, as if one were on another planet where there’s no life, on a planet which, with all its rocks and ice, is not made for man, however indescribably beautiful it may be.”

The book also asks some deep, profound questions on life which are relevant even today. This book came out in 1937, during the time when Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann were still active, and so it is not surprising that it asks some profound questions. I haven’t read a Max Frisch book before and I am surprised that he is not that well known today, because this book is really good, as good as the best ones of Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann. Frisch seems to have led an interesting life too – he was a writer and journalist, but couldn’t pay his bills, and so went and studied architecture and became an architect, and while he was in the army during the Second World War, he started writing again and he continued his successful architecture practice alongwith his writing after the war. It seems he was also in a relationship with my favourite, Ingeborg Bachmann. I want to read more about him and I want to read more of his books.

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

“It’s just like a relay race, he laughs, a relay race with no finishing tape; they hand life over to us and say, ‘Go on now, run with it, for twenty or seventy years.’ And you run, you don’t look at what you have in your hand, you just run and hand it on. And what, he says, if one of us asks what the aim of it is? You could be nasty and grab one of them by the sleeve and take him to one side and when he opens his hand – nothing. And that’s what we’re running for, one generation after another? It’s nothing but a circus, round and round in a circle…”

“Why do we not follow our longing? Why is it? Why do we bind and gag it everyday, when we know that it’s truer and finer than all the things that are stopping us, the things people call morality and virtue and fidelity and which are not life, simply not life, not a life that’s true, great, worth living! Why don’t we shake them off? Why don’t we live when we know we’re here just this one time, just one single, unrepeatable time in this unutterably magnificent world?”

Have you read Max Frisch’sAn Answer from the Silence‘? What do you think about it?

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November is the time for one of my favourite reading events of the year – German Literature Month, hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. I have been participating in it since the first edition, and it is an exciting time of the year for me, because I have discovered so many wonderful German and Germanic authors through this event.

The exciting part of any bookish event is making a planned reading list. This is what my planned book stack looks like.

In the picture

(1) An Answer from the Silence by Max Frisch – Frisch is a new author that I discovered through bookshop browsing. This book is slim, at around a 100 pages, Frisch is Swiss, and the story is set in the mountains – an irresistible combination.

(2) Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig – Stefan Zweig is one of my alltime favourite writers. I think I have read all his novellas and stories. This is the only novel he wrote. I was keeping it aside for a rainy day. I think that rainy day has arrived.

(3) Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler – I have wanted to read Koestler’s book ever since I read an excerpt from it. I can’t wait to get started.

(4) Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – I had planned to read Goethe’s classic many times. Maybe this is my lucky year.

(5) Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić – Stanisic won the German Book Prize this year. That novel has not been translated yet. So I thought I’ll read this one, which is one of his early books.

(6) Sebastian Dreaming by George Trakl – a short poetry collection that I have wanted to read for a while.

Not in the picture

(7) Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin – One of the great classics set in Weimar Germany. I am participating in the readalong hosted by Caroline and Lizzy.

This time I decided to make a slim reading list, because I have had a hectic reading time during the past three months, and so I wanted to take it easy this month and read slowly in a more relaxed way. I am hoping though that I can add a few more books to this list, if I finish reading these books earlier than anticipated.

I can’t wait to get started with my first book. Are you participating in German Literature Month? What are you reading?

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Women In Translation Month‘ is hosted by the wonderful Meytal Radzinski and it happens in August every year. I haven’t participated in WIT Month for a while. This year I told myself that I will participate and read books by wonderful women writers in translation, and find out what others are reading and discover new books through their posts.

One of the exciting things about participating in a reading event is making reading plans. I always loved that. So I looked at my book collection, looked at all the books that I wanted to read which fit this theme, and made a reading list. There are 10 books in the list. I don’t think I’ll be able to read them all this month. But I hope to read atleast some of them.

So, here is the list.

(1) Collected Poems 1944-49 by Nelly Sachs (German) – Nelly Sachs is one of the great German poets. She wrote beautiful, moving poetry. She left Germany when the Nazis came to power, and moved to Sweden, from where she continued to write. She won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966. But, unfortunately, she is virtually unknown today. I have dipped into this collection before and read some of her poems, and found them very beautiful. Now I am hoping to read this collection properly from the beginning to the end.

(2) Land of Smoke by Sara Gallardo (Spanish) – This is a collection of short stories by this new-to-me Argentinian author. It looks quite fascinating.

(3) The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena (German) – I have started this book multiple times and got distracted everytime and left it halfway through. Not because of the book, because the book is really good. I hope to do better this time.

(4) Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (Polish) – I have wanted to read this book ever since it came out. I love Fitzcarraldo Editions – their minimalistic style, with all books having blue covers, no introduction or notes or anything about the author inside, they just let the book do the talking.

(5) Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto (Japanese) – I have had this book for years. I have never read a Yoshimoto book before. Can’t wait to read my first one.

(6) I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee (Persian) – I discovered this book serendipitously while browsing in the bookshop. This new-to-me Iranian writer’s book seems to tell a moving story.

(7) Child of the River by Irma Joubert (Afrikaans) – I was excited to discover this book because it is written by a South African writer, but it is not written in English. South Africa is a culturally rich country with multiple languages, but unfortunately the literature written in English from that country overshadows everything else. I can’t wait to read my first South African non-English book.

(8) Nowhere Ending Sky by Marlen Haushofer (German) – Marlen Haushofer is one of my alltime favourite writers. Only three of her books have been translated into English. I have read two of them – ‘The Wall‘ and ‘The Loft‘. This is the third one. I have been saving it for a rainy day. But I think it is time now – to read my third and final Haushofer and then mourn that there are no more.

(9) Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto (Japanese) – This is the second Yoshimoto book on my list. One of my friends gifted it to me and I can’t wait to read it. I think I’ll probably read this one first, before the other one.

(10) Collected Short Stories by Ambai (Tamil) – Ambai is one of India’s greatest short story writers. She is the Indian Alice Munro. She has been writing short stories for literary magazines for nearly fifty years. All her short stories are written in Tamil. They have been translated into English and published in multiple volumes. This collection that I have has all her stories. I have dipped into this collection before. Hoping to read it properly from the beginning to the end now.

So, that’s it from my side. I’m late to the party but I can’t wait to start.

Are you participating in Women In Translation Month? What are you reading?

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