Tag Archives: german

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin.

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann Title: Tyll
Author: Daniel Kehlmann
Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-1524747466
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2/5

This is another International Booker 2020 Long-listed title which I finished this month. Mostly it worked for me, and mostly it did not. There is magic realism (which happens to be one of my favourite genres), history, and adventure. And yet there were times I just wanted to put the book down and not read it.

The book is about Tyll Ulenspiegel, a seventeenth-century vagabond performer and trickster. The book spans decades and traverses the Thirty Years’ War, and characters that Tyll encounters on his journey as a performer. It sounds all good on paper, even great, but somehow the book couldn’t hold my attention for the most part.

I just wasn’t involved in Tyll’s life or story and maybe that’s why the book didn’t work for me. At some points in the book, Tyll isn’t even at the center of it. There are other characters which take over, and that’s alright but the plot doesn’t move ahead or didn’t seem to for me. Tyll is atmospheric but that’s where the charm of this book ended for me.

The translation from the German by Ross Benjamin is perfect – when talking about the myth of Tyll, and what war does to humanity, and how art saves us all. Those portions had me wanting more, but not enough. When I started reading Tyll, I was really into the book for at least fifty pages or so, until it just became a chore, but spots of brilliance making an appearance now and then. I wish the moments of brilliance were more than a few.

 

Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

Go Went Gone Title: Go Went Gone
Author: Jenny Erpenbeck
Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1846276200
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Go Went Gone” is an unusual book. Also, it isn’t an easy read. At least, it wasn’t for me. It took me a while to get into the book and understand its nuances. However, once I was say three chapters in, I started enjoying this read a lot, actually to a point that I felt sad when the book ended. Erpenbeck has always taken on issues so huge in her books and actually delivered. I remember reading “The End of Days” and “Visitation” and being awestruck by the writing. And just like those books, “Go Went Gone” is a book that talks of the impact of the political on personal and what place does the past and present have in history after all.

Richard has spent his life as a university professor, immersed in books and ideas and has now retired with nothing to do. He steps into the streets of Berlin and discovers a new community on Alexanderplatz – a tent city of sorts, established by African asylum seekers. He is confused. On one hand, he wants to get to know these new people and on the other he hesitates.

I loved the simplicity with which the plot is unravelled and yet there is so much going on – the complex layers of race, class, community and prejudice. What struck me the most was Richard’s ageing and his reluctance to change and at the same time his curiosity toward it as well. The writing is subtle enough to give readers signs and cues as the story moves along, which makes Jenny Erpenbeck truly one of the best European writers there is. She slices the book scene by scene – so much so that isolated situations and scenes come together so beautifully – even if at a later stage. She also at the same time, takes no sides. She doesn’t want Richard to be a caricature and also understands his point of view.

The political angles in the book are real – the Western ideologies and stance toward the European refugee crisis and how it can be solved for. More than anything else though, it is the story of one man who has more in common with people he doesn’t know than he realizes.“Go Went Gone” is the kind of read that cannot be gulped in one go. It must be savoured. And yes please pay attention to the silences in scenes as well – that say so much and yet can be missed if you look the other way.

Earthling by Aisha Franz

Earthling by Aisha Franz Title: Earthling
Author: Aisha Franz
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 978-1770461666
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Off late, say in the last decade or so, there has been a spurt of graphic novelists and artists from all over the world. “Earthling” by Aisha Franz is not just another graphic novel. There is something about it, which speaks to you and which hits the nail right on the head of the problem of our society today: Alienation and Loneliness.

The graphic novel is also a coming-of-age story of two sisters. It is about their estranged mother. A father that is supposed to take them on a trip which none of the girls wants to go to. The mother dreams of what could have been had she not got pregnant early in her life. The older daughter wants to be accepted. The younger one is confused about life. All the three of them want is some semblance to a regular life and happiness. The setting is the suburbs – unknown places, a big industrial wasteland and vast fields with nothing to talk about. In all of this, each of these three characters has built a fantastical element to their stories. They find their solace and comfort there.

Franz’s setting itself is another character. The black and white illustrations also add that bleak element to the story. I think “Earthling” to me is more than just a story about coping with life. It is also to a very large extent about finding yourself midst all the noise and silences.

The book, in its graphic elements relays a lot – on the human condition, how we are and yet there is a glimmer of hope somewhere for these people to perhaps want something more and get it after all. I loved “Earthling” because it was for sure a different graphic novel and to some extent also reminded me of Daniel Clowe’s characters, all wandering and trying to find their way in the world.

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387 Stories: Day 8: Story 8: The Frog King, Or Iron Heinrich: A New Version by Philip Pullman

Title: The Frog King, Or Iron Heinrich
Author: Brothers Grimm, a new version by Philip Pullman
Taken from: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm

Today was the day to start believing in fairy tales all over again. To look at the world from a child’s point of view and not with the cynicism I have been harboring for a while now. Winter is upon us and I honestly could not think of a better reason for today’s story to be a retelling of a Grimm brothers fairy tale. This one is “The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich”.

cover-fairytalesfromthebrothersgrimm

We all are aware of the fairy tale. A princess. A ball of yarn that falls in a well. A frog to the rescue with a condition and at the end of it all, there is happy ever after ending. The metaphor of kissing a frog is so apt for modern times. The entire setting is not lost when Pullman says it. In fact, I think he enhances it also with a quick note at the end, telling readers more about the fairy tale. A nice one for today.

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

To begin with I have one thing to say about this big: It is huge. Mammoth – just like A Suitable Boy, The Stand, It and Ulysses. At over 900 odd pages, I thought I would never be able to finish the book and yet when I started reading it I was glued. I have always loved reading Follett’s works (except for Night Over Water) and they are fast-paced for sure and so was this one. However, the historical fiction angle to this book is huge and though the book is long – there is not a single sentence which is irrelevant. Size does not matter when there is an enthralling story brewing to be told. I was up most nights reading this one and not for once did I feel that my time was being wasted.

The plot is not as simple as it seems: The story moves logically and seamlessly starting in 1911 and ending in 1925. The large canvas of characters are sweeping and each one has its place in tact. No one is out of place. Their motivations are known – no matter how minor the character and he or she fits hand in glove to the story.

So book I of the trilogy (yes there are two more to come titled “Century Trilogy” and I for one cannot wait) is set in Europe before, during and after WW1. The 5 families who lives are intertwined are American, English, Scottish, German and Russian. What made me love the book even more was that it was set in a time and place I was completely unaware about. The kings, the queens, the dukes and duchesses, the coal miners, the working class – their lives and how they thought. Ideas about politics, love, family traditions, comunities and class distinctions, women suffrage and how they thought in those times intrigued me to the core.  This period of time encompasses the First World War. The period of late the Victorian Age was a time when society was rigid with “manners”. The upper classes new their place and weren’t shy about letting everyone else know their place as well. If the code of conduct was firmly set for the upper classes and royalty, so was it set for the lower classes as well! If you were a member of the “working” class you knew who your “betters” were and behaved accordingly. Life was hard and took its toll on the masses. Follett does a masterful job at describing the world as it existed at that time and he spends a good deal of time examining the class struggle which went on in much of Europe during this time.

The story is intriguing and complex, but eminently readable. The violence and gore that were present in Follett’s previous works is absent here, and the action is fast and the storytelling fantastic. I have a fondness for historical fiction, and this work does not disappoint as the author has obviously thoroughly researched the era and has rendered it beautifully.

I won’t provide a detailed synopsis of this book since the product description on this page does that, but will say that it’s a drama about life and love during these fateful years and I promise you that this will go down as being one of the best books you’ve ever read.

I cannot recommend it highly enough and can’t wait for the sequel! This book, however, has a very satisfying conclusion and can stand alone as you are not left with unanswered questions at the end! Historical fiction at its best.

Here is a book trailer for you of the book:

Fall of Giants; Follett, Ken; Macmillan India; Rs. 350