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Old Rendering Plant

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  104 ratings  ·  35 reviews
What falsehoods do we believe as children? And what happens when we realize they are lies—possibly heinous ones? In Old Rendering Plant Wolfgang Hilbig turns his febrile, hypnotic prose to the intersection of identity, language, and history’s darkest chapters, immersing readers in the odors and oozings of a butchery that has for years dumped biological waste into a river. ...more
Paperback, 120 pages
Published November 7th 2017 by Two Lines Press (first published 1991)
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3.92  · 
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 ·  104 ratings  ·  35 reviews

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Paul Fulcher
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wolfgang Hilbig's The Sleep of the Righteous was one of my discoveries of 2016, my review , its powerful prose reminiscent of Krasznahorkai at his strongest.

Old Rendering Plant is similarly striking, but perhaps more allegorical, with nods particularly to the East German stasi but also to the Holocaust. And the prose, in Isabel Fargo Cole's translation, wonderful.

The novel (or perhaps novella - incredibly, given the depth of the work, it is only 110 pages) opens with a self-consciously Proustian
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: somewhere-else, 2017
No one knew well enough what was allowed to be known, and no one knew how to know well enough.
Stripped of its context, the quote above could easily describe my own reading experience with this brief, compressed novel by Wolfgang Hilbig. In fact it refers to the stifled atmosphere of secrecy pervading the small town of East Germany where the narrator lives. In a single continuous outflow of long, serpentine sentences, the narrator reaches back through his memory, extracting fragments from his b
Nate D
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who search for messages in broken terrain
Recommended to Nate D by: Sean
Ruined post-industrial landforms map the psychosocial history of a malformed society. The direct descriptions here are eerie and compelling, the prose dense and beautiful, and the way Hilbig works his musings and narrative fragments back and forth through time directly into the pitted ground he stumbles across really appeals to my sensibilities. I'd like to wander these horrid landscapes myself, they are the ones that underscore modern reality all too well. Sort of Robert Walser's The Walk imbue ...more
Justin Evans
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I'm biased in Hilbig's favor, and this gave me everything I expected: complexity of form, attention to detail in the sentences, an intelligent approach to the past's influence on the present. I've read the three novels of his available in English, and certainly not in the right order; this is the place to start.
Joseph Schreiber
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Hot damn! Intense, evocative monologue. Critical review to be published in the fall. Think I'll go back and read it again now. It's that good.

My review of this book is now live at:
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: indie-press
This slim book is best read in one sitting, and at only 109 pages that can be easily planned, also plan on reading it where you can read it aloud or softly to yourself, so maybe not where others can see your lips moving when you read. I try to slow down when I read especially beautiful prose, but with Hilbig’s vivid, engrossing prose I found myself reading aloud and faster, and found myself needing to take a breath. This book is intense.

It seems odd to call this a beautiful book; it oozes slime
Andy Weston
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
There’s a place a couple of miles up one of the valleys formed by the becks towards High Street (here in the Lake District National Park) that I could not get out of my mind when reading this. It’s the ruin of an abandoned stone mine, and just lies peaceful now. Other than myself, less than 10 people may pass all year. It’s off the tracks and paths.

Set in the German Democratic Republic, Hilbig’s writing is more like poetry than a novella, as much as anything I’ve read before. Frequently it conj
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mookse, wwii
I can't say much about this now. It hit me pretty hard. I don't think I have ever read anything so dark before. I wish I could read it twice, but I don't think I can face it again right now.

One idea I had towards the end was that the focus was so much on being outside. There is very little having to do with civilization and humane behavior in the book: No intact buildings, nice roads, family, friends, etc. To me this had something to do with how humankind turned its back on civilization during t
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, translation
it was the hour when some dark utterance waxed within me, needing no words, no names, no logical thoughts...a language in which the nouns lost their meaning, the language of an awareness that responded only to wordless, fleeting moments, made from the nameless sensations of the breath that quickened my blood or made it pulse more strongly, and slowed my stride or lent it lightness, so that it seemed to vault over imperceptible shifts in the air, or sink through sloping zones of warmth hidden by
June Scott
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: intranslation
Wow, gorgeous and nightmarish. The prose is so beautiful, I can’t help but marvel at the translation.
Spectacular prose that runs 109 pages without pause. It's quite beautiful and one could read it in one setting but I felt I had to emerge from the ooze, fat and milky water for air. It was an interesting book, if not super engaging. It goes rather like this sample sentence:

"And whenever, afterward, I bent over the page to befoul it with ink, I felt the plains gape open…and I heard the bleached, milled-flat cellulose rustle like foam in crackling resistance to my thoughts, and over the gray paper
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
More of a prose poem than a novel. It washes over you like a dream; vivid, yet confusing, and often unsettling. I will have to read it again in a few months -- it definitely needs to be read in one sitting, and requires concentration. But it definitely gets under the skin.
Terry Pitts
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Old Rendering Plant, Wolfgang Hilbig’s allegorical novel about East Germany and the Stasi, begins benignly with its nameless narrator recalling the times as a boy when he would explore the forest at the edge of his small town. The book opens with “I recalled a brook outside town whose current, strangely shimmering, sometimes almost milky, I once followed for miles all autumn or longer” and the boy proceeds to do what many boys have done over the ages. He explores the brook and follows it as far ...more
Dark, intense, and dream-like prose poem about what we do not grasp as children about the world around us vs what we cannot ignore as adults. Will return to this book again; requires a reread.
Jed Mayer
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A devastating work, more prose-poem than story, that captures the decay of post-War East Germany and makes it a kind of avatar for our rotting world, ravaged by modernity, totalitarianism, industrialization, and pollution: Hilbig is a major voice of the Anthropocene.
Christopher Renberg
Jan 28, 2019 rated it liked it
My new work schedule affords me some time to read on Mondays. With that in mind, I selected Hilbig's novella. I picked it up on the recommendation of the suitably hipster independent bookstore I sometimes frequent. It also dovetailed with my quest to read selections outside my comfort zone.
Hilbig's sentences are long and involved. It helped me to read them aloud or at least softly to myself. His descriptions of the landscape the narrator traverses are evocative and engrossing. I may pick up the
Robert Wechsler
Jul 24, 2018 marked it as completed
Shelves: german-lit
A very dark 100-page prose poem focused on descriptions of a horrific landscape just outside the narrator’s town in East Germany. There is no joy in this mudville. Not something I feel capable of scoring.
I rushed through this a bit as it was due back at the library, so I would say I admired it more so than I enjoyed it. Hilbig's prose is dense and lyrical and deserves a much slower, considered experience than I allowed. At times it felt like it was going to go off the rails in terms of being pulled under by East Germany's past, or, more likely, slowly sucked into the industrial toxic waste saturating the visceral landscape he paints. Time seems to mutate in this slim volume as the individual con ...more
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely haunting, poetic and concentrated work of allegorical fiction, concerning the ruined landscape of post-war East Germany, and a young man who grows up adventuring in the biological waste dumped near his home. But to say it's merely about that does it a disservice. This 100-odd page novella is a deep tunnel into the psyche of a sensitive East German growing up in the aftermath of World War 2 and the Holocaust. Tremendous credit must go to the translator, Isabel Fargo Cole, for produc ...more
Brett Warnke
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
A novel almost entirely comprised of setting. It’s a toxic hellscape, a wasteland of decay described by a neurotic Poe-like narrator. Hilbig worked on his writing as a worker in an East German factory. This small book is a Dark Romanticism that—in our age of environmental degradation—is not so much about the post-industrial waste of communism’s past, but of humanity’s poisonous legacy on the face of a scarred and destroyed planet, written in the most darkly beautiful language an author can produ ...more
Jun 17, 2019 rated it liked it
This was more like a 100 page poem than like a novella. Parts of it made me vaguely nauseous, which I believe was the point. Other moods elicited were feelings of being trapped or alienation. There's no dialogue. It's about an industrial wasteland being reclaimed by plant life and the animal fat from the rendering plant being eaten by trees and old mine tunnels collapsing & people not knowing where the tunnels even are because they threw away the records. The narrator wanders around the deca ...more
Mar 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
DNF: ...I really should have listened to Daniel. I found a free copy of this book not long ago. And after i saw his review i thought i'd see what's bad about it. And i read about 20 or pages and that was it. I felt the IQ points leaving or as Poirot says "zee little grey cells" were leaving me. If you want to go completely insane reading the whole bloody book then yes read it. Otherwise just forget about this one.

I give it a 0/10
"Febrile, hypnotic prose" can't be outdone as a description for this silent, broody little book. It's such a slight, elegant little volume but somehow heavy with solitary, constantly wandering, dark imagination. Like a disturbing dream that was in fact short but felt stretched thin over an expanse of now obscured time. Who knows what really went on in there.
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-extra
A boy wanders the countryside near his village alone and plays dark imaginative games. At home, the adults listen to lists of missing persons on the radio. Although the boy knows that his imagined world is not real, there is clearly some very dark history feeding into it, which is all the more powerful for being hinted at instead of stated.
The boy becomes a troubled, alienated adolescent or young man and revisits his childhood haunts. The landscape is blighted by old industry, wartime bombing an
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it
It's like a less accessible Sebald collided with a more accessible Krasznahorkai to riff on the collective guilt of a broken nation. Moments of brilliance but a little hard to navigate, in the Bernhardian sense.
Daniel Kukwa
Mar 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: general-lit
I managed to reach page 54 of this stream-of-consciousness...something or other. At that point, I had to make a decision: (A) continue through to the conclusion, or (B) retain my sanity. I chose option (B)...and I did not regret it.
Jee Koh
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This German novel is dense with the poetry of a wasted landscape. It is haunting, a nightmarish reckoning with history and holocaust. After reading it, I was filled with the excitement of imitating it, but found I could not, its sensibility being so antithetical to mine.
Jan 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Really reads like a long prose poem, the language is powerful and ravishing, but narrative-less impressionism is not so much my cup of tea.
If the apocalypse were accompanied by these words of insistent, continual, beautiful decay, and not the invective or violence that seems sometimes inevitable, it might not be the worst possible end.
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Wolfgang Hilbig was born on 31 August 1941 in the small town of Meuselwitz in Saxony, Germany, about 40 kilometers south of Leipzig. Hilbig’s childhood in Meuselwitz, a target for Allied bombings during World War II and later the site for a thriving brown coal industry (much to the detriment of the environment) during the East German era, has had an influence on much of the writer’s work. Hilbig g ...more