When I was a child my parents used to punish me for my bad actions in their own way: I often had the prohibition of reading for a week. Of course I wa...moreWhen I was a child my parents used to punish me for my bad actions in their own way: I often had the prohibition of reading for a week. Of course I wasn't so nerd at that time and together with reading there could be no tv, no bmx rides with friends, no late night awake and all sorts of "normal" don'ts. But the worst one was definitely the "no reading week".
Later in my teenage years, I remember how my mum was very glad about my reading activity, but not particularly interested in influencing that favourite pastime of mine with her tips. As far as I remember the only exception was "Narcissus and Goldmund".
"Mum, I read "Candide". How nice it was!" "Good for you. But you should rather read Narcissus and Goldmund".
"Mum, "The Buddenbrooks" is very interesting. What a surprise!" "Very well. Yet, you would appreciate more "Narcissus and Goldmund".
"Mum, I have to admit it: "Rosshalde" is kind of interesting". "Yes. But that's nothing compared to "Narcissus and Goldmund": you might read it!".
"Mum, this "Elective affinities" is a masterpiece of romanticism". "I know, but why don't you read "Narcissus and Goldmund?" You must do it!"
Ok, I resisted for many years. When I was younger I never liked when people were forcing me to read anything. At school, in family. Then came my late twenties and I finally capitulated: I took "Narcissus and Goldmund" in my hands. Albeit the awful, terrifying front cover graphic chosen by the Italian editor (think about the name "Hesse" wrote in the same style, way and colours of the notorious "Esso" logo on a grey background...) I decided to leaf through the book pages.
I was really surprised. After managing to win over the first "philosophical" part of the novel, that I found a bit too slow, I discovered a surprisingly libertine book. Not that bad, of course, but exactly the opposite I would have expected as a tip from my mum.
Eventually "Narcissus and Goldmund" was an involving reading. Although I think that sometimes Hesse stumbles on the thin line between allegory and parody, this book worths a reading. I like the historical-yet-undetermined contest of the book even if the Goldmund character doesn't look that realistic to me. The way Goldmund walks around the world is very "Candidesque" and picaresque and I do like this sort of mood.
At the same time, Herman Hesse is more accurate and, in my opinion, does a better job in picturing Narcissus, who at least behaves as a man in his adulthood rather than a whimsical, naive boy as Goldmund stays for the whole book without having a real evolution despite all the life (and sexual) experiences he had. I know this won't be appreciated by those who consider this book formative, but the same comeback of Goldmund to the monastery where he spent his earlier pious years looks more like a defeat than as an inner development of him.
Now I just wonder if my mum wished to make a Narcissus or a Goldmund out of me. Frankly I'm a bit scared to ask her. (less)
Uwe Timm has courage enough for talking about his older brother, Karl Heinz, died during the Russian campaign of the German army in World War II when...moreUwe Timm has courage enough for talking about his older brother, Karl Heinz, died during the Russian campaign of the German army in World War II when the novelist was just a child.
It's not an easy choice. The risk was pretty clear: writing an elegy on a 19 years old boy sent to death by a regime without having any bad intention from his own, but just obeying to orders.
Timm doesn't justify his brother at all. From the few letters Karl Heinz sent home during the war, Timm tries to get what he could think while fighting on the front investigating on the possibility that he could even have found pleasure in killing. Karl Heinz might have been a victim of the situation, but there is no victimism in these extremely focused and introspective pages.
At the same time the decision of publishing the private letters of soldier Karl Heinz has been taken by Uwe Timm after many years, waiting to be the only living member of his family.
This book is not a masterpiece nor an enjoyable reading: but it's a good attempt to wonder the personality of a brother that Timm lost too early without having the possibility of knowing him. (less)
Falada was a talking horse appearing in The Goose-Girl a fairytale written by the Grimm brothers.
When Herr Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen took the no...moreFalada was a talking horse appearing in The Goose-Girl a fairytale written by the Grimm brothers.
When Herr Rudolf Wilhelm Friedrich Ditzen took the nom-de-plume of Hans Fallada, borrowing the first name from another Grimm's fairytale he was far from being the kind of person you would like your children to spend time with. Claimed insane after having killed a friend in a duel when he was barely 18 years old and for that reason a notorious guest of several mental institutions, he was also addicted to morphine and an alcoholic.
The young troubled Mr Ditzen was an outcast. He spendt his time working in the farm fields mostly for financing his drug and drinking habits and trying to compose some poetry while at the sanatorium but without really managing to make it. And yet, somehow, Ditzen/Fallada was on his way to become one of the most successful German writers of his generation portraying scenes of all but idyllic German life in the difficult years of the Great Depression and the Mark super-inflation.
Despite being labeled as an undesirable author by the rising Nazis, Fallada managed to get by during World War II refusing to leave Germany although constantly intimidated by Goebbels & company who understood his talent and wanted to put it at the service of the Third Reich.
The disturbing beauty and way too underrated importance of "Jeder stirbt für sich allein" (appropriately translated into "Every Man Dies Alone" in the US but becoming a milder "Alone in Berlin" for the British edition of the book) is that Fallada wrote this book at the very end of his short life. He died before the book got published perhaps not having the time for editing it as he would have liked to. And yet, "Alone in Berlin" stands as one of the most powerful last wills in literature you can ever find.
Fallada took inspiration from the real story of a couple of Germans who decided to write hundreds of anti-Hitler postcards during the last years of the regime, leaving them in public places hoping to get a reaction against the Nazis. Otto and Elise Hampel were not cultured people and eventually failed in their goal to stir the Berlinese people against the Third Reich being discovered and executed, but the strength of their rebellion is nonetheless a great one.
Fallada was given the Hampels file by a friend of his and decided to make a novel out of that forgotten little example of resistance to the Nazi atrocities. And what the author managed to accomplish is an extraordinary portrait of everyday's life in Berlin in the 1940s with an impressing cast of characters and a spy-story plot which reminded me of Graham Greene.
But, if possible, Fallada aimed higher here than what Greene ever did. And you know what? He got there. Let's keep in mind and never forget that this book was written in 1947, when all the awful memories were fresh and actually the Berlin pictured here was still mostly raised to the ground. 1947 is the very same year in which pen-named Hans Fallada died.
Alone in Berlin is a novel where the triumph belongs to the apparent banality of good demonstrating how it is not only the most-educated people fighting against a regime, but also those who have personal motivations and strong ideals and a tenacious will to win over the evil. (less)
Appropriately enough I read this book during a short holiday in the mountains. In lack of the Swiss ones, I opted for the Italian Alps. Without having...moreAppropriately enough I read this book during a short holiday in the mountains. In lack of the Swiss ones, I opted for the Italian Alps. Without having anything else to read in my backpack, I've had the opportunity of dedicating a second read to the book. An extremely rare habit of me.
As a bad conoisseur of Herman Hesse literary production (no Siddharta, no Steppenwolf) my impression on Peter Camenzind has very much to do with pouring a half litre water in a one litre bottle: on the one hand, we have a half full bottle, but on the other there is a half empty one.
Hesse is masterful in picturing the life of a rural mountain village where most of the population share the same surname and even putting a sail on a boat is considered something brave. A village where random witty people live below the same wooden ceiling of idiotic ones, tied to the same melancholic feeling of isolation. Peter Camenzind is at the same time attracted and rejected by his roots. Climbing the mountains around the village at first he just seeks for new perspectives on the same landscape, then he wonders what could be hidden behind the peaks.
And when he finally manages to escape from the unclosed existence of his village, Peter Camenzind finds no consolation in the cities he visits and in that "urban civilization" where he moves as a mountain farmer always eager to row a boat or climbing a rocky wall.
The romanticism of Peter Camenzind, fil-rouge of the novel, is authentic and pure but often sounds comic. In fact he never grows up year after year, still remembering the very few moments in which he loved, pretended to love, unattainable angel-like women, more similar to drawings or paintings than to real meat-made personality-given women. And it's not a coincidence, after all, that he compares the first one to a portrait, while the second one is herself a painter and he meets the third one contemplating a painting.
Moreover, Peter Camenzind hides us a whole period of his life (the Parisian one) as Hesse wasn't able to picture him as a bohemian, while the interesting relationship of the protagonist with wine is not developed as it may deserve. This not to mention the idyllic, out-of-time, Grand Tour-like description of an unrealistic Italy where perpetual lemons refocillate the romantic pilgrim on the footsteps of Goethe and Rousseau and "beautiful sun-tanned" children welcome him begging for money with gracious and grateful smiles.
Yet, the passionate way in which Hesse writes about the magnificence of mountains and some great moments of literature are enough to forgive him making this novel an interesting key to discover most of his following books. (less)
On summer 2002 I've had my first holiday paid with my own money made working in an estate agency.
Destination Berlin. Yeah! Ja!
Stefania a friend of a...moreOn summer 2002 I've had my first holiday paid with my own money made working in an estate agency.
Destination Berlin. Yeah! Ja!
Stefania a friend of a friend of mine had given me the keys of her house in Fredrichshain, the quarter where former medium hyerarchies of the communist DDR used to live. A quarter of nice half restored buildings with green courtyards and wooden stairs. In Fredrichshain nobody seemed to speak English, only German and Russian. Great, isn't it?
I thought to find at least a hundred people in Stefania's apartment because she had told me that the house was something like an "artistic merry go-round community" while I had found no one there. Four rooms of one's own.
There were shelves full of books in the living room. One title has immediately attracted me: The Tin Drum. Therefore, I've spent two wonderful weeks visiting Berlin and reading the Tin Drum while at home. Perhaps that's why I've got a very good memory of the book. It was astonishing, I mean the way in which the difficult life in Danzig during World War II is powerfully described here.
And what else to say about Oscar, the main protagonist of The Tin Drum? I think he's one of the most important characters of the whole European literature. His anger toward the whole society is expressed in the best way possible by Grass.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please? It's time to be honest: I've never finished this book. Indeed I was intrigued by the title, by...moreLadies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please? It's time to be honest: I've never finished this book. Indeed I was intrigued by the title, by the fact that I know quite well the place itself - I mean, the square - having spent a month close to it in formerly East Berlin.
But as soon as I've understood I've found a German version of James Joyce instead of the book I've been expecting for I've had a lot of difficulties in going on. Page after page it has became a torture. The more I've tried to resist the more I've failed miserably in reading this novel. Then, I've quit.
Doblin's style is not only complicated: it's absurd, it looks like the unconscious monologue of a sleepless man under the effect of beer and opium at the same time. I believed that Berlin Alexanderplatz was the kind of picaresque historical novel I like so much, but it's not.
However, it can't be denied it's pretty cool just walking on the streets of your town with this oversized book under your right arm. It gives you an intellectual aura. Nevertheless, I ask for something easier to read, even with a less wellcrafted title.(less)
This was one of the books I had to read while attending a journalism programme in the Netherlands.
At that time I have no idea they were going to make...moreThis was one of the books I had to read while attending a journalism programme in the Netherlands.
At that time I have no idea they were going to make a movie out of it with Kate Winslet as the main female character.
I found the English edition of "The Reader" pretty good and read the whole book with interest. Both the "crime and punishment" and the "illiteracy" topics behind the plot were good ideas by Schlink and generally I have a kind of fascination for novels beginning with the childhood (and yes, sexual initiation) of the protagonist, following him/her getting older and bald. Anyway, I can say I appreciated "The Reader" overall.
Yet, at the end of the English version of this book I found a mistake. The sort of mistake that is probably not that important, but that I consider rather disturbing, especially in a novel that gets inspiration from real and dramatic historical facts.
While writing about Hanna's bookshelf in prison, authors like Levi, Kertesz and Amery are cited, together with the "autobiography of Rudolf Hess". Well I'm afraid this last book doesn't exist at all. There is a biography of Hess wrote by Eugene K. Bird, but what the translator did is simply confusing the notorious Rudolf Hess with another Nazi criminal: Rudolf Hoess who actually wrote an autobiography ("Death Dealer: the Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz").
I checked the Italian edition and I found the autobiography correctly referred as the Rudolf Hoess' one. So I guess Schlink is not to blame for the mistake, but the English translator is.
Call me pedant and fussy, but I really can't stand these inaccuracies in translation work. Especially when the book I read is rather good.
Now I feel like the dog printed in the front cover of this book and drawn by Grass himself. A dog with...moreArf...whoof...I did it! But it wasn't that easy.
Now I feel like the dog printed in the front cover of this book and drawn by Grass himself. A dog with its tongue out after a long run all through unknown narrative woods. Just like "Prinz" did, escaping from his famous black moustached owner in the siege of Berlin crossing river Elbe somehow.
Well, despite of its quick appearance "Prinz" the dog is the main character of this book standing as a symbol of quite many things: freedom, stubborness, human stupidity, struggle of life, disobedience.
Those were the Dog Years. This book talks about them. The novel is good and interesting, but technically is not a novel. There are amazing and enjoyable parts as well as heavy and obscure paragraphs. You could look at the style used by Grass gere as a German way of the "stream of consciousness". You won't find any Leopold Bloom here, though. But at least there is some brilliant irony.
"Dog Years" is undeniably a rather chaotic book, accumulating symbolism, historic references, peculiar ways of speaking and grotesque characters. And yet this novel was very stimulating way for my poor little brains albeit I would have preferred a clearer distinction among the different characters in this very original frame. But, hey! We're talking about Guenter Grass, after all...
Anyway. I confess how I skipped over many pages of this novel. It was necessary. Besides, my Italian edition was printed in a very bad way, making the reading process strenuous and uneasy after page 80 (I had to bend the whole book for being able to read the end of each sentence on the even pages).
For those who are not prepared enough, I warn you: this novel will probably make you stoned, but still is a goldmine of useful informations about life in that thin German/Polish line before the blast of World War II. Just read it with a strong preliminary K-ration of patience and your tail will have its dance.(less)