Tag Archive for German Literature

Book Review: The Tin Drum by Günter Grass

The Tin Drum by Günter Grass I read at least part of this book in college — in the original German — but I’d forgotten just how strange and twisted of a book it is. It’s rather intense overall, especially with the style it’s written in. It’s quite detailed and rather heavy at times, but it’s well-written almost throughout. There were only a few parts, especially towards the end, where I didn’t feel as captivated, usually when there was repetition of certain events.

As for the story itself, it’s quite difficult in many ways, and quite often. Disturbing, emotional, twisted, tragic, and lots of other “fun” stuff. Not surprising given our narrator, who seems to be precocious and talented, but also wicked and a bit insane as well. The other characters are all quite intriguing in their own ways, but you end up questioning how much you can trust the narrator in all of this, especially given the things he does to the others.

I think I’m glad I read (or re-read) this book, but I don’t know that I will be re-reading this in future. It’s such an intense book, and I can appreciate it for what it is, but I think I’ve had my fill, for now at least.

Book Review: The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun

The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun I don’t get it. How on earth is this could this book be “hailed by the feminists?” The narrator is vapid and only seems interested in pursuing relationships with men to get things, namely clothes, accessories, and money. I really didn’t like the stream-of-consciousness / diary style either, and I kept questioning how true to the original this translation was, given some of the awkward phrasing.

Book Review: Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck I wanted to like this book, but it just didn’t do it for me. I felt like I was just swimming through a tangle of words, trying to figure out what was going on. This felt like writing for writing’s sake, like showing off you know about words, rather than to properly tell an interesting story.

Book Review: The Collected Stories by Heinrich Böll

The Collected Stories by Heinrich Böll A great collection of Heinrich Böll’s work, though with so many stories and novellas, it’s hard to comment on them here. His writing style is appealing, mostly clear and to the point, but with enough detail to paint a scene. The stories focusing on the war and just after seemed best to me; those touching upon religion and/or philosophy did not feel as compelling.

Book Review: Simplicissimus by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen

Simplicissimus by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen Where to begin?…

In this book, we follow Simplicissimus, a rather simple man, as he travels throughout various parts of Europe (and other parts of the world), though not always by his own choice. Ongoing wars in Germany affect him in both good and bad ways throughout the book, as he alternates between fighting and avoiding fighting in various battles (and armies!).

The book isn’t entirely about war though, and you get a glimpse at what life in 1600s Europe was like for all sorts of people there. There’s also a fair dose of religion in the book, as SImplicissimus struggles with others’ sins as well as his own. Occasionally there are historical and biblical references, as well as a tiny sprinkling of fantasy mixed in.

Simplcissimus reminded me of another simple character from a later Czech novel: The Good Soldier Svejk (which I really should read the rest of!). The only difference is that Simplicissimus seems to overcome his simpleness, though not necessarily for good reasons or with good consequences.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I would definitely recommend it. The only negatives for me — besides the poorly edited edition I read — were the heavy religious content, the frequent rambling lists of things, and the strange second half of the last book and ending (that excerpt is a bit of a downer!).

Book Review: Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll

Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Böll An intriguing look at one family’s experiences through two world wars in Germany, as seen from different perspectives and points in time. However, the writing can be a rather weighty and takes work to get through, especially with so many perspective changes and so many people to keep track of.

Book Review: The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov

The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish this book, especially after the writing style seemed a little too full of itself, maybe even pretentious. And full of unfamiliar words — either outdated or foreign to me — that required a quick search of the dictionary to keep me going. It reminded me of other German historical fiction books I’d tried to read and quit on, but I kept going.

I am glad that I persisted, because it really was an enjoyable read. Not having known anything about Sir Richard Francis Burton, I became intrigued by this English explorer who was curious about the world and the people in it, and set himself apart from his fellow explorers in many ways.

The story is split into three main sections, each focusing on a different place Burton visited: India and Pakistan, the Middle East, and Eastern Africa. Each section switches between Burton and other individuals, either servants who helped him in his travels or outsiders trying to figure him out. We see his attempts to learn more about the places he visits and the people he meets, including his difficulty in sharing his interest and curiosity with his fellow Englishmen.

The only downside to the book is that it can take some work to get through, so don’t expect a bit of light reading. Some sections get a bit weighty in philosophy or theology, either due to the content or the flowery writing. And it’s best to have a dictionary (or the Internet) handy, since the included glossary — which I found a bit too late — didn’t have definitions for everything, and sometimes the meaning isn’t clear from the context.

That said, I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction that features traveling or a great adventure as the main theme. Although it wavers a bit towards the end, the story is a pretty intriguing one that kept my interest throughout.

Book Review: Life Goes On by Hans Keilson

Life Goes On by Hans Keilson Not quite what I expected after reading the summaries, but it was all right. It gets a bit heavy in parts, both in terms of writing and mood. It reminded me of some of Hans Fallada’s books, written around the same time.

Book Review: Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada

Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada Working my way through the novels of Hans Fallada, I decided to read Wolf Among Wolves, mostly because it was available at the library. I’d read about this new translation as being much better than the original, partly for it not being censored, but also for a refresh of the language. However, it was not as great as the publisher or reviewers made it sound.

I initially struggled with the book, just due to the sheer number of characters Fallada introduces, from the manager of a farm to ex-soldiers living in Berlin. I eventually got into it a bit, but with mixed feelings, as the story was slow to progress.

However, what made it a really unpleasant read was the translation and poor editing (if there was any done) throughout the book. There were many typos scattered throughout, but even worse were the awkward translations that made it feel like someone used Babelfish and a very old German-English dictionary to directly translate. Some of the language used was very outdated and I had to look up some words; the larger issues were literal translations that I recognized from having learned German. It was like they’d taken the German text and just translated bits in place, rather than restructuring the language to make sense (and not sound awkward!) for native English readers.

So, the story itself was all right, but this new edition of the book was greatly disappointing and took away from the experience.

Book Review: Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada

Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada Last year, I read Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, which was a tragic but well-written book, and after reading a bit about Fallada’s life, I wanted to read some of his other books. The first one I was able to find at the library was Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada, though I waited until I was in the right mood for it before checking it out.

The story follows a young couple starting a new life together in Germany after the economic collapse of the late 1920s and early 1930s. We see how they struggle to make ends meet, due to the combined problems from unstable employment, the high cost of everyday items, and their occasional mistakes in household budgeting.

This isn’t the most uplifting of books, but the writing is so light and moves along at a nice pace, and something about all the details of their everyday life pulled me in. You do really want the best for them, and you hope things will work out, and it’s hard when they run into various stumbling blocks.

I thought it was an interesting book, at least to see what problems everyday Germans were dealing with in this time period. Knowing what happened shortly after this period in time, you can get a sense of why that is.

I will add that I read an older translation, and I’ve heard that the newer one is much better. I’m curious how it differs, but I think I’ll wait a bit before I look into it.