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Posts Tagged ‘German Short Story’

German Literature Month (GLM) is my favourite reading event of the year and I couldn’t wait for November to arrive. I have also not blogged for a long time and I was hoping that I would be able to get out of my blogging slump during GLM. Normally I make a reading plan for GLM, post about it, and then start reading books on my planned list. After I finish reading a book or two, I just ignore my plan and start reading spontaneously. I love making reading plans. But this year, I thought I will just get started on the reading front. I didn’t want to plan – I just wanted to get on with the action. I am happy to report that so far it has worked well – I have finished one book and I am nearly through with a second one – two days, two books, not bad, isn’t it?

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The first book I read for this year’s GLM was Judith Hermann’s ‘Summerhouse, Later’. I discovered this book through Caroline’s post on German women writers. Once I started reading Hermann’s book, I couldn’t stop and I finished reading it in a day. Here is what I think.

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‘Summerhouse, Later’ is Judith Hermann’s debut collection of short stories. It has nine stories, most of them set in contemporary Germany (one of them is set in New York and it has American characters). I liked most of the stories. My most favourite story was ‘Sonja’ which was about a man who has a relationship with two women – one is clearly a romantic relationship with his girlfriend while another is with a mysterious woman and it is not really romantic, but fascinating and difficult to describe. The story sounded suspiciously similar to Peter Stamm’s ‘Seven Years’ and so I went and checked their publication dates. Hermann’s book came out in 1998, while Stamm’s book came out in 2011. I found myself yelling – “Peter Stamm, please, please, please, don’t do this! Please write your own stories!!” Judith Hermann gets an extra dose of affection for writing an original story and Peter Stamm – well, if he does this again, he will be moving into the blacklist. My second most favourite story was ‘Hunter Johnson music’ which is about a brief friendship between a middle-aged man who lives in a hotel in New York and a young woman who stays there for a brief while and how both of them briefly bond over classical music. I also liked the title story, which is about a young man who buys a summer house so that his friend will love him back, and the first story in the book called ‘The Red Coral Bracelet’, in which a young woman discovers her grandmother’s secret love story from the distant past.

Hermann’s prose glows throughout the book and there are beautiful passages in nearly every story – I can only imagine how beautiful it must read in the original German. 

If you like contemporary German literature, especially short stories, this book is for you.

Many of the reviews (quoted in the book) said that the book is about the post-Berlin-wall generation. For example – “Nine glimpses of post-wall Berlin that shimmer with dark wit and intelligence” and “Focuses on the breakout generation of Berliners…who grew up after the Wall came down.” Well, for starters, not all the stories are set in Berlin nor are they all about Berliners. One of the stories is set in New York and has only American characters. In one of the stories, the characters mostly spend their time in the countryside driving around in cars. One of the stories is set in a tropical island in the Caribbean. Another has a character from Bali. One of them is about the Russian adventure that one of the characters has. The point is that this book is not about post-Berlin-Wall Berliners. It is a contemporary work of German literature and is a short story collection. I hate descriptions which equate all German literature into categories like post-Berlin-Wall, Cold War Era, Nazi Germany, Holocaust, Weimar era etc. There are German books which are not political – there are love stories, crime novels, literary fiction, philosophical novels and every other kind in between. German literature is rich and defies all attempts to put it into a small box. So reviewers, please don’t pigeonhole German literature!

Here are some of my favourite passages from the book.

From ‘Sonja’

Today, I think I was probably happy during those nights. I know that the past always becomes transfigured, that memory has a soothing effect. Perhaps those nights were merely cold and entertaining in a cynical way. Today, though, they seem so important to me and so lost that it grieves me.

From ‘Bali Woman’

There are times when winter reminds me of something. A mood I was once in, a desire I once felt? I don’t exactly know. It is cold. The air smells of smoke. Of snow. I turn around and listen for something I can’t hear. There’s a word on the tip of my tongue, I can’t say it. A kind of restlessness, you know? You do know. But, as you would say, what is nameless should remain nameless.

Have you read Judith Hermann’s ‘Summerhouse, Later’? What do you think about it?

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