The ARTS.21 team has been busy ploughing through the spring and summer catalogues. Check out our must-read selection from Irving to Schlink.
Feridun Zaimoglu: Leyla. Novel. Publisher: Kiepenheuer & Witsch
This is a world filled with the aroma of cantaloupe and spices. The people are held together by fear and a shared yearning. But they know that their dreams of getting away might crumble to dust in the dirty streets of a backwater in Anatolia. In his novel set in the 1950s and 60s Feridun Zaimoglu tells the story of a girl who makes her way in a oppressively patriarchal society. Desperate to escape from her tyrannical and abusive father Leyla gets married and boards a train to Berlin in search of a new life.
«Leyla» is a tale of adventure. It’s also about migration in a double sense, a journey from Turkey to Germany and from oppression to liberty. Feridun Zaimoglu, who was born in Turkey, gives a very touching and revealing account of the experience of his parent’s generation who were among the first "Guest Workers" to arrive in Germany. Once a street-wise but cultivated new kid on the literary block, Zaimoglu has matured to become one of Germany’s leading contemporary authors.
John Irving: Until I Find You. Novel. Publisher: Random House
Jack Burns, the hero of John Irving’s eleventh novel, has just received his first Oscar. He’s lingering in the Gents with the statue under his arm, not quite sure what to do with it. Just at that moment Arnold Schwarzenegger comes in ... this scene sums up the effect this book has on the reader: you can immediately picture it coming alive on the silver screen.
But if the humour of this situation makes you think this is a comedy, your mistaken. This novel is a melodrama and that in cinemascope. Before Jack makes it to Hollywood stardom he has to survive a childhood and youth full of darkness and trauma. He is dragged by his mother across half of Europe in a futile search for his long-lost absent father. Then at the tender age of ten Jack is abused by a mature woman. As there are strong parallels to Irving’s own biography some passages of this book can become rather too detailed and long-winded. So by the time you have got through almost one thousand pages you really do wish that Irving, also a skilled screenplay writer, might cut the novel down to a more manageable size and get it turned into a movie. After all, he has done this to great success with so many of his other books. For Irving-fans this very personal and moving book is obviously a must. The others might prefer to wait for the film adaptation... no doubt coming to a cinema near you before too long. Kerstin Hilt
Michael Roes: Weg nach Timimoun. (The Road to Timimoun) Novel. Publisher: Matthes und Seitz
This road adventure by Michael Roes is based on the ancient Greek myth of Orestes who returned to Mycenae together with his friend Pylades to kill his mother and her lover in revenge of their murder of his father. Laid owns a small photo studio in the Algerian harbour city of Bejaia. In a letter his sister appeals to him to avenge his father who was shot by Laid’s mother in an act of desperation. Together with his friend Nadir young Laid reluctantly embarks on a trip to his hometown Timimoun, the legendary oasis in the Sahara desert.
This is a journey full of danger and adventure through a country torn with political tension and under the growing influence of religious fundamentalism. In strong and vivid language Roes paints a picture of a society with violent fathers and hard-hearted mothers. This is a place where terror lurks in even the most picturesque spots. A riveting read where one is constantly wondering how Laid will decide: will he revert to traditionalism or opt for a modern life? A great book worthy of translation! Bettina Kolb
Frank Schirrmacher: Minimum- vom Vergehen und Neuentstehen unserer Gemeinschaft. (Minimum – The Fading and Re-emergence of Our Community) Non-fiction. Publisher: Blessing
Germany’s birth rate is lower than ever before. Newspaper editor and best-seller author Frank Schirrmacher's new book «Minimum» analyses the consequences of this trend: an irreversibly shrinking population will make personal relationships as precious as scarce natural resources. Schirrmacher’s main thesis is that the family will play an indispensable role as a "survival factory". He believes that in human society the family is the only place where people routinely work for others without being paid to do so, where altruism and plain selflessness can still be found. In times where more and more families are breaking up and the welfare systems are getting threadbare Schirrmacher believes that only women, whom he considers the stronger sex, will be able to fill the social vacuum that will be tearing holes in the very fabric of our society. He argues that nature has equipped women with the necessary skills and emotional intelligence to provide the warmth and build the networks society will so badly need. Frank Schirrmacher's scare-mongering rallying cry for women to save the day may be simplistic and male chauvinist, but his book «Minimum», has got Germans talking about children again. In this society that even has a word for hostility to children ( Kinderfeindlichkeit) people are finally waking up to the fact that without young people Germany won't have much of a future. Susanne Lenz-Gleißner
Moritz von Uslar: Waldstein oder der Tod des Walter Gieseking am 6. Juni 2005. ( Waldstein or the Death of Walter Gieseking on June the 6th 2005) Novel, Publisher: Kiepenheuer & Witsch
10 years after his best-seller «The Reader», which propelled him to international fame after it was praised by Oprah, Bernhard Schlink has finally completed his next novel. But although Schlink is regarded as one of Germany’s most successful contemporary writers «Homecoming» is a bit of a disappointment. The central theme is a father-son relationship. A boy grows up alone with his mother in post-war Germany with the firm belief that his dad died as a soldier during the war. He spends his holidays with his Swiss grandparents who are both editors of pulp fiction. Among the old copies they give him to draw on is a story about a soldier returning to his estranged family after the Second World War. When he comes across it again as an adult he decides to begin a search for his own father. Schlick takes the reader on a breathless journey through German history from the early post-war years to the present day, connecting the myths of returning fighters to the Odyssey in a rather contrived life-story, all revolving around the search for a lost father. In those passages when the novel shows potential it unfortunately gets bogged down in too much detail. This is certainly not the kind of comeback one would have expected from Bernhard Schlink. Regina Roland
Nicholas Shakespeare: Snowleg. Roman. Publisher: Harcourt
At last it’s finally here, the novel about the fall of the wall and German unification. But it took a Brit to actually put it to paper successfully. «Snowleg» by Nicholas Shakespeare is a double love story that begins when Germany is still divided. On his 16th birthday Peter Hithersay discovers that his father is not the Englishman married to his mother but an East German political dissident with whom she had a brief affair. He decides to study in Hamburg and get to know Germany. Then Peter gets a chance to travel to communist East Germany. On this trip the story repeats itself: Peter now falls in love with an East German woman who he tries to help to flee the regime, but things go wrong and he fails her. Years later when the wall has come down he is able to go back and search for his lost love, and the only clue he has are the nickname he gave her, Snowleg. The Cold War, the files of the sinister East German secret police, German reunification ... where a German writer would tend to knit these elements into a very hefty, leaden narrative Nicholas Shakespeare manages to turn it into a beautifully written, rich and forceful story. Even though he trots out quite a few clichés Nicholas Shakespeare still manages to achieve such authenticity that he can easily be forgiven. Sabine Kieselbach
Harry G. Frankfurt: On Bullshit. Essay. Publisher: Princeton University Press
Is this a joke, deadly serious, or just, well, bullshit? No, this slim volume isn’t lightweight pop philosophy; here Harry G. Frankfurt has provided us with a masterpiece on why and how bullshit has become "one of the most salient features of our culture". Although Germans don’t have a precise word for it they are very well acquainted with this phenomenon and have gladly snapped up this influential American professor’s work. Frankfurt manages to define something we all know is going on but can’t fully understand. His book explains what makes bullshitting so perplexing: it‘s not exactly outright lying. Bullshit remains bullshit whether it's true or false. A bullshitter "does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are." In a culture of indifference truth becomes irrelevant and even sincerity can no longer be trusted. In this highly amusing and unpedantic analysis Frankfurt points out that we all contribute our share to this plague, not just politicians, CEOs and advertisers. Of course the Bush administration has greatly enhanced the general interest in this topic, but this isn’t a calculated publication but a serious critique of an unprecedented change our political and cultural climate is undergoing. Leonie Wild
Oh boy, yet another pop novel, as if Germany’s readers haven’t seen enough of them. This one is about Walter Gieseking, 30-something, facing a dilemma: should he get married, have kids and build a house (descent into middle-class, middle-age mediocrity) or try to prolong his post-adolescent freedom (definitely the cooler option)? Before he makes his decision the hero takes the reader on a spree partying for a couple of days and nights in the haunts of the hardcore lifestyle scene. This just about sums the book up, but it actually makes for a surprisingly entertaining read. A very accurate insider’s view of the current scene in the German capital and a laconic response to the much discussed supposed renaissance of bourgeois values. Moritz von Uslar is a late arrival in Germany’s clique of pop authors around Christian Kracht and Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre who were lionised around the turn of the millennium. Weighing in with this debut Moritz von Uslar looks as if he’s up to the challenge.
Bernhard Schlink: Heimkehr. (Homecoming) Novel. Publisher: Diogenes