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Posts Tagged ‘German literature’

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 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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I have had Katharina Hagena’sThe Taste of Apple Seeds‘ in my bookshelf for a long time. Yesterday I finally took it down and read it. This is the sixth book I read for ‘Women in Translation Month‘.

Iris goes to her hometown because her grandmother has passed away recently. Her mother and her mother’s two sisters, Iris’ aunts, have also come. After the funeral is over, the lawyers come to her grandmother’s place and read the will. To everyone surprise, it is revealed that Iris inherits her grandmother’s house. Everyone leaves sometime after the funeral, but Iris stays on. Iris used to visit her grandmother every summer when she was a child and later as a teenager. She used to spend a lot of time with her cousin Rosmarie, who was her Aunt Harriet’s daughter. So this house carries a lot of old memories for her. As Iris stays in the house, she looks back on the old times, and we get to know more about her mother and her aunts, and her grandmother and grandfather, and their lives and their loves. We also get to know more about Rosmarie and her friend Mira. As Iris reminisces her past, things are also happening in the present. A young man who was a boy once upon a time, and who was a part of her childhood, walks back into her life and sparks fly. But we also get to know that there are some deep secrets in her family’s past and some of them seem to be tragic and some of them seem to be dark. What these secrets are, how they are unfolded, and how they impact the present, form the rest of the story.

I loved ‘The Taste of Apple Seeds‘. Katharina Hagena’s prose is very elegant – there are pauses where she meditates on a particular topic and those passages are such a pleasure to read, and at other places her prose moves the plot at a beautiful, even pace. There are some surprising revelations towards the end, and the ending – is it happy or sad? I am not telling you that. Go and read yourself and find out 🙂 ‘The Taste of Apple Seeds’ is a beautiful, sensitively told story of love and family, the complexity of human relationships, and the occasional unkindness of young people.

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

“I worked with books, I bought books, I even borrowed the odd one. But read them? No. I used to – oh yes, I used to read all the time, in bed, while eating, on my bike. But it stopped. Reading was the same as collecting, and collecting was the same as keeping, and keeping was the same as remembering, and remembering was the same as not knowing exactly, and not knowing exactly was the same as having forgotten, and having forgotten was the same as falling, and at some point you had to stop falling.”

“Sunday mornings felt different, you noticed this straightaway. The air had a different texture : it was heavier and slowed everything down. Even familiar noises sounded different. More muffled and yet more emphatic. This must have been down to the lack of car noise…Perhaps it was also due to the fact that on Sundays you paid attention to breezes and sounds that you wouldn’t waste a second on during the week. But actually I didn’t believe that, because Sundays felt like this even during the holidays.”

“I always felt secure when I swam. The ground beneath my feet couldn’t be taken away. It couldn’t crumble, sink or shift, couldn’t gape open or swallow me up. I didn’t bump into things that I couldn’t see, didn’t accidentally tread on things, didn’t injure myself or others. You knew what water was going to be like, it always stayed the same. OK, sometimes it was clear, sometimes black, sometimes cold, sometimes warm, sometimes calm, sometimes choppy, but its substance, if not its state of matter, always stayed the same : it was always water. And swimming was flying for cowards. Floating without the danger of falling. My stroke wasn’t particularly beautiful – my leg kicks were asymmetrical – but it was brisk and strong, and I could go on for hours if need be. I loved the moment when I left the earth, the change in elements, and I loved the moment when I trusted the water to carry me. And it did, unlike the earth and the air. Just so long as I swam.”

“Sometimes fabricated stories became true in hindsight, and some stories fabricated the truth. Truth is closely related to forgetting; I knew this because I still read dictionaries, encyclopaedias, catalogues and other reference books. In the Greek word for truth, aletheia, the underworld river Lethe flows covertly. Whoever drank from this river discarded their memories as they already had their mortal coil, in preparation for the realm of shadows. And so the truth was what was not forgotten. But did it make sense to look for the truth where there was no forgetting? Didn’t truth prefer to hide in the cracks and holes of memory?”

Have you read ‘The Taste of Apple Seeds‘ by Katharina Hagena? What do you think about it?

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After taking a short break from reading, which was threatening to morph into a reading slump, I am back with a new book review. November for me is German Literature Month. German Literature Month is hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. During this month, German Literature fans across the world get together and read books originally written in German. I have been participating in this event since inception and it has expanded my German literary horizons in a rich way. The first book I read for German Literature Month this year was ‘Elective Affinities‘ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Goethe is most famous today for ‘Faust‘ which is probably regarded as his greatest work. But he wrote all kinds of things – novels, plays, poems, travelogues. ‘Elective Affinities‘ is one of his famous novels. The title comes from this fact observed in chemistry – that some chemicals are naturally attracted towards each other and get together and form new chemicals. Sometimes two chemicals are not attracted towards each other and actually refuse to mix together, but in the presence of a third chemical, they get together and do surprising, interesting things. These behaviours were referred to, by chemists, as ‘elective affinities’. What happens when we take this story to people? What happens when two people are joined by a third person? Or a fourth person? Do we see some elective affinities in play here? This novel explores that.

Eduard and Charlotte are happily married. They loved each other when they were younger, but things didn’t work out as they had planned. They ended up marrying other people, but as time passed their partners passed, and they ended up together. That is a good story with a happy ending. But this story starts with that happy ending as its beginning. While Eduard and Charlotte are enjoying their happy life together, Eduard tells Charlotte that his old friend, the Captain, is not doing well now, and he wants to invite his friend to stay with them. Charlotte is apprehensive about this, because she feels this will disturb the equilibrium of the household and their relationship. Charlotte has a ward called Ottilie. Ottilie is Charlotte’s best friend’s daughter, and after her friend passed, Charlotte takes Ottilie under her wing, and treats her like her own daughter. Charlotte also has a daughter of her own from her previous marriage. Ottilie and Charlotte’s daughter study in the same school together. Charlotte’s daughter is a star there and excels in every way, while Ottilie is very quiet and goes about her business in her own quiet way. Charlotte discovers this after a while and she feels that Ottilie feels out-of-place at the school. She thinks of getting Ottilie back and asking her to help Charlotte out at the house. But she is hesitant to talk about this with Eduard because of the same reason – she doesn’t want to disturb the equilibrium of the household with the addition of a new person. At some point, Charlotte and Eduard have a conversation about it and they feel that it is silly to deny themselves the opportunity to help the people they love. They decide to invite the Captain and Ottilie to stay with them. Things go well for a while. The four of them hang out together, do things together, have wonderful conversations, and a beautiful friendship develops between them. But then the inevitable happens and elective affinities come into play. Eduard and Ottilie are attracted towards each other, while Charlotte and the Captain are attracted towards each other. What happens after that? Will the four friends do something about their feelings? Will they break social norms? Does it end well for them or does it end badly? The answers to all these questions form the rest of the story.

I loved ‘Elective Affinities‘. It was probably far ahead of its times – the book was published in 1809 – and the main theme of the story feels very fresh and contemporary. The introduction to the book says that it created a lot of controversy when it first came out. I loved two things about the story, the most. The first thing was how the four main characters were portrayed. It was hard to dislike any of them. They were all real, believable, complex people, and they all were likeable. I occasionally had problems with the way Eduard reacted, but the other three were beautiful characters. And the very beautiful thing was that they all loved each other. They loved each other in different ways, but it was mostly positive and beautiful. My twenty-first century self, at one point, wanted them all to live together in the same house, like a ‘modern family’, and live happily ever after. That was a pipedream, of course. This was a novel written in the early 1800s, and so unfortunately, that happy ending was not happening. I won’t tell you what happened though. You have to read the book and find out. The second thing I loved about the book was the beautiful prose and thoughts. They didn’t come in every page like they might in some of today’s literary fiction, but the beautiful passages came once in a while. The book was focussed on the plot, and each sentence and paragraph did its thing to move the plot forward. But like a breather, once in a while, there was a beautiful passage, which made us pause and ponder and re-read it again and contemplate more. It was liking taking a hike to the top of the mountain, when we are focussing on the climb to the top, but when we reach the top, a beautiful vista opens up and we can see the whole green valley revealing all its glorious beauty and we want to stand there and take it all in and don’t want to leave. The beautiful passages were that valley, that beautiful view from the top. Once upon a time, novelists wrote like this. Nowadays they don’t write like this anymore. It is sad.

I am happy that I finally read ‘Elective Affinities‘. It is a beautiful study of marriage and love, within and without marriage. This is my second Goethe novel, after ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther‘, and though I liked both, I think I like ‘Elective Affinities’ more. The book has a beautiful introduction by the translator R.J.Hollingdale, in which he describes how Goethe came to write this book and how his own experiences and ideas led to the story.

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

“The case of the craftsman and the sculptor supplies the clearest evidence that man is least able to make his own that which most completely belongs to him. His works desert him as the bird deserts the nest in which it was hatched.
The architect above all has in this the strangest of destinies. How often he employs his whole mind and his whole love in the production of rooms from which he himself must be excluded. Kingly halls owe to him their splendour, but he cannot enjoy them at their most effective. In temples, he fixes a boundary between himself and the holy of holies, he may no longer mount the steps he himself has erected, just as the goldsmith may worship only from afar the monstrance he has made. The architect hands over to the rich man with the keys of his palace all the ease and comfort to be found in it without being able to enjoy any of it himself. Must the artist not in this way gradually become alienated from his art, since his work, like a child that has been provided for and left home, can no longer have any effect upon its father? And how beneficial it must have been for art when it was intended to be concerned almost exclusively with what was public property, and belonged to everybody and therefore also to the artist!”

“Only let us firmly determine on one thing : to separate everything that is actual business from living. Business demands seriousness and severity, living demands caprice; business requires consistency, living often requires inconsistency, for that is what makes life agreeable and exhilarating. If you are secure in the one, you can be all the more free in the other; whereas if you confound the two, your freedom uproots and destroys your security.”

“Actually my dear, it is our own fault if we are surprised in this fashion. We do so like to imagine that earthly things are so very permanent, and especially the marriage tie. And as to that, we are misled by all those comedies we see so much of into imaginings which are quite contrary to the way of the world. In a comedy we see a marriage as the final fulfilment of a desire which has been thwarted by the obstacles of several acts. The moment this desire is fulfilled, the curtain falls, and this momentary satisfaction goes on echoing in our minds. Things are different in the real world. In the real world the play continues after the curtain has fallen, and when it is raised again, there is not much pleasure to be gained by seeing or hearing what is going on.”

“I should like to see the man who has a greater talent for love than I have.”

“As life draws us along, we think we are acting of our own volition, ourselves choosing what we shall do and what we shall enjoy; but when we look more closely we see they are only the intentions and inclinations of the age which we are being compelled to comply with.”

“Just as the gardener must not let himself be distracted by other interests and inclinations, so the peaceful progress of the plant towards lasting or transient perfection must not be interrupted. Plants are like self-willed people with whom you can do anything provided you handle them properly. A tranquil eye, an unruffled consistency in doing, each season of the year, each hour of the day, precisely what needs to be done, are perhaps required of nobody more than they are of the gardener.”

“Why is the year sometimes so long, sometimes so short, why does it seem so short and yet in retrospect so long? That is how the past year appeared to me, and nowhere more strikingly than in the garden : what is transient and what endures are involved one with another. And yet nothing is so fleeting but it leaves some trace of itself behind.”

“We often encounter in everyday life something which, when we encounter it in art, we are accustomed to attribute to the poet’s artistry : when the chief characters are absent or concealed, or lapse into inactivity, their place is at once taken by a second or third character who has hardly been noticed before, and when this character then comes fully into his own he seems just as worthy of our attention and sympathy and even of our praise.”

Have you read ‘Elective Affinities‘? What do you think about it?

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