Consider this as a hybrid post for German Literature Month as two-thirds of the book include texts from other countries but it’s such an excellent book that I had to write about it now.
I found this snowy anthology in the bookshop recently and don’t think I’ve ever finished a collection of short stories this quickly. Anthologies are always a gamble and often at least half of the texts included don’t work for me. I think in this case there was maybe one story I didn’t like, everything else was either good or excellent.
If you are familiar with German anthologies you might now that they will consist of more than just German authors. This one is no exception. Of the 18 texts, stories and poems included, 11 are written by German writing authors, the others are from different other countries.
I’ll start with the German writing authors first.
Judith Zander – Germany. Zander is a poet. Her poem isn’t easily accessible but interesting. She has a way with words, combines metaphor and creates new words. She has not been translated so far.
Christopher Kloeble – Germany. Very interesting story of someone who takes revenge on a rapist. He hasn’t been translated yet.
Alex Capus – Switzerland. Several of Capus’ novels have been translated. Léon and Louise - A Matter of Time - Almost Like Spring. He is not an author who has tempted me so far. This story is rooted in the 60s. The narrator looks back on his childhood. An older self speaks to the younger person who goes through feelings of shame and inadequacy. The style was too unadorned for me, but I could imagine that would work well for others.
Arno Geiger – Austria. Geiger always receives a lot of positive feedback and prizes for his novels. One of which We Are Doing Fine has been translated. This anthology contains a chapter taken from the novel Anna nicht vergessen – Don’t forget Anna) and it’s told from the point of view of an obsessive compulsive stalker. Chilling.
Antje Rávic Strubel – Germany. Rávic Strubel is one of the younger authors of the anthology. She was born in the former GDR. The story in this anthology shows a writer with a powerful voice and a knack for quirky stories rooted in the hip culture of modern-day Germany.
Mascha Kaléko – Germany. Kaléko was a very famous Jewish-German poet, one whose trademark it was to write about the working life of typists, life in a big city, and small, mundane things. She was one of those who left Germany early. She emigrated to the US in 1938. It seems her work hasn’t been translated, which is a shame as the poems are like very short stories, evocative and beautiful.
Peter Schwiefert – Germany. I hadn’t heard of Peter Schwiefert before but the letter included in this anthology, which has been taken from the collection edited by his sister Angelika Schrobsdorff was quite a discovery. It’s a letter to his mother Elke who has been portrayed by Angelika in the book You Are Not Like Other Mothers. Peter Schwiefert died fighting for the Allies in France, in 1940. From Angelikas’ biography of her mother it is known that she was an amazing woman. Very free for her time. The tone of the letter of her son shows an intimate and very loving relationship. I’ll certainly read Angelika’s book and the collection of Peter’s letters to his mother.
Ingo Schulze – Germany. Schulze was born in the former GDR. Since his first publications Simple Stories and 33 Moments of Happiness (both available in English) he is one of the most important German authors. The text included here is taken from Orangen und Engle (Oranges and Angels) – sketches from Italy. I loved this so much, it put me in the mood to read everything he’s written. It’s an autobiographical story, set in Italy where Schulze spent some time. His most striking talent is to paint with words and to capture another culture, other cities with a few words but at the same time, he gives us an intimate view of a writer’s life.
Siegfried Lenz – Germany. Lenz is one of the German classics. Many of his books like The German Lesson - A Minute of Silence - Stella and many more have been translated. The story in the anthology is taken from a collection of short stories. It’s about ice fishing. Not much of a story but written in masterful style.
Peter Handke – Austria. Handke is a modern classic of Austrian literature and widely translated (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick - Short Letter, Long Farewell - Slow Homecoming). I reviewed his A Sorrow Beyond Dreams here Like Grass he’s not as much liked in Germany or Austria anymore due to problematic political statements. As a writer he’s highly acclaimed. He’s not one of the most accessible but praised for his unique style. The text here is a short part taken from a novel. It’s the only contribution in the book that didn’t do much for me. It was well written but taken out of context it felt odd.
Thomas Glavinic – Austria. Glavinic is an interesting author and I’ve been meaning to read him for a while. The piece in this book was taken from a novel and while I didn’t really see where the novel as a whole would go, it made me curious to read more of him and I could see why critics and readers alike are drawn to his writing. These are some of the titles available in English The Camera Killer - Night Work - Pull Yourself Together. I’d like to read The Camera Killer, story of a double murder of which is said “ it is a disturbing game planned and executed with disturbing perfection.”
The other authors
Graham Swift -UK. I don’t think I need to introduce Graham Swift. The excerpt was taken from the novel Wish You Were Here. It didn’t really work as a standalone, but made me curious to read the book. I’ve read Swift before and liked him quite a bit.
Muriel Barbery – France. The anthology includes a chapter from her novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I’ve got it here and am pretty sure I’ll read it soon. It was one of the best contributions in this book. Dense, multilayered, original.
Mikko Rimminen – Finland. Rimminen was another new to me author. The text included was fast-paced and action-driven. It’s been taken from one of his novels. He’s been translated into Italian, French, German but not English so far.
David Guterson – US. I never felt like reading Snow Falling on Cedars but the excerpt in this anthology put me in the mood. I can see why some people may think he overdid it with the descriptions but I loved it.
Gyula Krúdy – Hungary. I’ve been meaning to read Hungarian author Krúdy for years now and keep on collecting his books. The short story here is a wonderful end-of the-year story full of melancholia and nostalgia. Of all the stories in the book I’d say this and the piece by Polish writer Wlodzimierz Odojewski were the most emotional and amazing regarding style. Krúdy’s work has been translated. Life is a Dream – Sunflower
Fan Wu – China/US. Fan Wu is the author of February Flowers a novel I’d love to read since the story included in the anthology was one of the best. She was born in China and writes in English and Chinese. The story included here is a psychological portrait, rooted in a Chinese setting. Really appealing. Most of her stories are available in English in magazines like Granta, The Missouri Review . . .
Wlodzimierz Odojewski -Poland. The biggest discovery was this new to me Polish author. His story takes place in an apartment at night, in winter. Young Marek and his older cousin Karola stay behind when thier parents go to church. The darkness invades the place and Marek feels a happiness like never before. The story is rich in atmosphere and relates memories of a childhood during war. The war is not very present, there are just hints here and there. Odojewski has been translated into several languages but not English. I’ve ordered one of his novellas and am really looking forward to start it.
Do you know any of these authors?