On Iris Hanika’s Tanzen auf Beton (Dancing on Concrete) (2013)

Tanzen auf Beton

I avoid reviewing books which haven’t been translated and this led to the somewhat more problematic development of my not reading them anymore. Since some of you have commented that you’d be interested anyway I will  post a bit more frequently on not (yet) translated books in the future.

Iris Hanika is a German writer who has received several important prizes for her books. So far none has been translated. I bought one of her novels a while ago but when a friend told me about  Tanzen auf Beton (Dancing on Concrete), which has just been published in Germany, I thought, I’d like to read it. As much as I like British and American novels, occasionally I want something more edgy, less polished, raw even. Hanika’s fragmented “novel” was exactly that: raw and edgy.

It already starts with the subtitle which calls this book “Another report from the endless analysis”. Still, the book is called “novel”. After having finished it, I’m not sure why. Easier to sell?

What is edgy and raw in the book is not only the writing and the fact that it is fragmented but that Hanika presents herself naked, with all her vulnerabilities. She analyses the total failure of an affair which lasted years, decades even. Despite the fact that being with this man turned her into a moron (as she thinks) who wasn’t able to talk, made her dependent and begging for sex which wasn’t even good or satisfying, she couldn’t stop seeing him.

This whole misery is almost spat out at first, not like a confession, more like an attempt at putting into words what happened and in doing so making sense. It’s an attempt that took a long time and would never have been achieved without the help of psychoanalysis. As Hanika admits freely in interviews, she’d like to help people see that psychoanalysis can help, it can help uncover hidden truths and move towards a being less neurotic, healthier. She has even written an introduction to psychoanalysis together with her analyst.

I personally don’t believe psychoanalysis is that useful, (psychotherapy certainly is but there are many approaches). A so-called talking cure, is not for everyone. Hanika tries to show that for her this was a good approach. (Seeing the outcome, I’m not entirely convinced this is true).

What was interesting was that she did not only find meaning and a new way to live through psychoanalysis but also through writing, travelling, Russian literature and heavy metal. A peculiar mix but when she writes about these things, how much joy for example a trip through Russia brings, how much she loves to read the Russian authors, the joy is infectious. It makes you want to grab all of your Russian novels and book a trip to St Petersburg. (Her praise of Ministry and other metal bands was somewhat less infectious).

What was it that turned Hanika into a woman who needs a man, feels incomplete without one but is at the same time not capable of having a real relationship and always ends up in degrading affairs with married men? Yes, a lack of self-esteem, but that does come from somewhere. Since it’s not that likely this book will be translated I can allow myself to write spoilers and will tell you what was uncovered. First she came from a family in which women were not valued and then, at the age of 13, she had the traumatizing experience of being almost raped. It’s interesting that her therapist isn’t accepting this as sole reason but digs deeper and what is truly shocking is that nobody spoke with the young Iris about what happened to her. Nobody tried to find out whether the man was caught. It was a topic that was never mentioned. As if what had happened to her had not been important as she was not important. As she correctly writes – the shame is for the victims. Not only is this hurtful but it made her feel utterly alone.

All this is told in fragments; bits of storytelling follow small essays, short observations follow longer reflections.

Happiness, love, sex, getting older, music, psychoanalysis, Russia, violence against women…. The topics are endless, the way she writes is fresh and new, the tone is sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, often laconic and surprising. Quite refreshing to be honest but I can’t say I really liked it. I felt pity for her, for the way she over-analyzes everything but then again, I liked the way she could be so enthusiastic. I certainly wish her well and think it was a courageous book to write. The only thing I found a bit astonishing was that she never thought of the guy’s wife. (I am tempted to be sarcastic here – psychoanalysis, in this case, seems to have turned someone into a person who feels better but not necessarily a better person.)

There are a lot of reviews from critics available already, and they are all raving. I’m going to read her novel Treffen sich zwei (When Two Meet) soon. I’d like to see how she writes when she writes a “real” novel. Treffen sich zwei has been translated into French (Une fois deux) and Spanish (Un encuentro de dos), her prize-winning novel Das Eigentliche was translated into Italian (L’essenziale) and has a good chance of being translated into English as well as it received a prestigious prize.

29 thoughts on “On Iris Hanika’s Tanzen auf Beton (Dancing on Concrete) (2013)

    • I guess notbut I think the name is to be kept in mind. I wouldn’t be too surprised if a novel would be translated eventually. I think you would like the parts about Russia. :)
      The beginning was painful but she manged to snap out of it to some extent.

  1. This looks like an interesting book by an interesting writer, Caroline. I liked the fact that she has written about how Russian literature helped her :) That alone makes me want to read the book! I also liked what you said about sometimes wanting to read a book which is edgy and raw and not polished. There is definitely a rough, natural beauty to such a book. Thanks for introducing us to this interesting new author. I hope this book or another of Iris Hanika’s books gets translated into English.

    • I think it also had something to do with the way the sentences are structured in German. It’s a far edgier language and even when I read something German in an English translation – to test a pssage of a translation – the English has lost the bite. That’s just the way those languages are.
      I loved her descriptions of her trip through Russia. I’m tempted to go. :) She is winning lots of prizes, a translation is a least possible.

  2. I’m glad that you reviewed this, Caroline. It’s interesting to read about different books, even if I’ll never read them. In this case, you saved me the embarrassment of excitedly adding it to my “to-read” list and then never getting around to reading it!

    It’s interesting that it’s called “Novel”. You might be right that it’s easier to sell, but I wonder if the publishers were also worried about being sued by anyone else named in the book? Or perhaps she used some artistic licence, and they didn’t want a kind of James Frey controversy so preferred to label it as fiction.

    By the way, I read an interesting post on the imbalance in male/female writers getting translated into English:

    http://lovegermanbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/where-are-women-in-translation.html

    • Thanks, Andrew, I was wondering if anyone would even bother reading the review.
      I don’t understand why it is called novel. It’s a bit confusing. The guy is descrobed in a way athat it could be found out. She even writes that and statest that it had kept her bck from writing abozt it before but that she didn’t care anymore. Artistic license is possible as well. In the reviews it’s always stated that it isn’t a novel. I have no clue.
      Thanks for that link, Andrew, I’ll have to read that. I have huge piles of favourite German women writers who have not been translated. It’s a huge loss for potential readers.

    • Thanks, I’m glad to hear there is some interest. I was aware that this is, not only an untranslated book, but alos a book which wouldn’t appeal to many. It’s quite special but highly intellectual.

  3. Hi, Caroline!
    I’m so glad you decided to review this book. I’m extremely interested in the German (and other foreign titles that have not been translated into English) that you think are important and worth reading. It’s only by disseminating the good news about them that word will spread, causing them to be translated.

    Thank you once again!
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    • Thanks, Judith, I’m very glad for the feedback. I buy many new German books, as I’m at the source, I read the ppares and se them in book shops but then I always think, nobody will want to hear that – but you’re very right, not only are there some, like you who are interested but there is always a possibility that an editor hears about the interest.
      And sometimes a book will be translated sooner than expected. I remember mentioning Katharina Hagena on Danielle’s blog and now she’s published in English.

  4. I think it’s great that you are reviewing books like this, Caroline. It gets the word out and may result in translation.
    That said, this sounds like a really unusual book. It’s a memoir, but they’re marketing it as a novel? I’m not a big believer in psychoanalysis either, but if it helps someone, great. Can’t imagine going through it for decades like Woody Allen.

    • I hope it will get the word out. As unusual as this is, I still think, there would be an interest outside of Germany.
      I’m afraid that those most attracted to psychoanalysis are the ones who will profit the least. It’s something which attracts people who are too much in the head anyway, get stuck there, neurotics and the split, mind/sould/ body is the problem. The way I see it, psychoanalysis excludes the body too much. I could go into more details but let’s leave it at that. I think it’s a very interesting approach but just as a starting point.

  5. I’m always curious about the sorts of books other people are reading in other countries, but it is so hard to gage since what is translated is so little to begin with and the books chosen are often award winning books and not necessarily ‘mainstream’. So please do write about the books you are reading that may not be available in English–I think it is really interesting personally! Not sure this would be the sort of book I might normally pick up to read, but I do like the psychological aspect of it–why I like crime novels, too. Maybe something by her will eventually be available in English.

    • She has a very interesting way to see things, whether you like it or not, it makes you smile and think about things.
      She pokes fun at many things too. Some passages were too self-absorbed for my taste that’s why I said, I’m not sure she’s all that cured. Still, I could relate to some things, her very old-fashioned upbringing, the idea she has to get a rich man who will look after her…
      I will review more, especially novels in te future. It could happen an editor sees the interest. And Other Stories have a chapter on their homepage, which I saw thanks to Andrews link, in which they ask explicitly for foreign language recommendations, especially of women writers.

  6. I’m I understanding this correctly that this is more like a memoir or essays about her real life and she’s labeling it a novel? I really wish this was available in translation since it sounds intriguing. Heavy metal-wasn’t expecting that one. Just think if you review these books and it shows that a lot of people are interested, maybe you can help nudge them in the direction of being translated. Word of mouth is crucial for books.

    • When I copare it to what is usually called a memoir, it’s got nothing to do with that but it’s close to other types of non-fiction or rather “creative non-fiction” a term that does not exist in German. I suppose she must have take some liberties, it’s not linear. I’m really not sure why it is called a novel.
      Yeah, the heavy metal bit was quite funny or when she goes to techno clubs – hence the title – and discovers it’s not good for elderly bones but as she feels young, she has to. Hilarious (she’s born in 1962). It’s funny how she describes her love for metal.
      In German there are a lot of books which are somewhere inbetween which are called “Texte” – texts. I’ve never seen aynthing labelled that way in English but it’s usually something I like. Short, very stylish pieces.
      I guess word of mouth is very important.

  7. An interesting book, even if not a great one. For some reason, it really made me think of Christine Angot. Have you read l’Inceste by her? That’s another of these incredibly naked books, but Angot is not at all interested in cure. She’s much more into exploring the limits between reader and writer and seeing how disconcerting she can be. If you’ve ever read her, I’d be interested to know what you think of her.

    • I have not read her. It sounds interesting. Hanika is naked but she let’s the reader off the hook. It’s not very testing to read her. I”m curious about Angot now. Thanks for mentioning her.

  8. You read that in German? I can’t imagine being fluent in such a difficult language where the structure of the sentences is so different. You are providing a very useful service. This book sounds rather bleak, a cry from the heart but that can lead to highly charged writing which grabs you by the collar

    • I’m bilingual German/French. You’re right, the structure of the sentences is very different. Because of the splitting up of the verbs. A lot gets lost in translation.
      I’m really interested to read her novel now, she has a way of expressing things which is quite fresh.

  9. Though I haven’t read them (and don’t want to), it reminds me of Christine Angot and Annie Ernaux and their “autofiction”.
    That’s not for me. I want to tell them: pick a side, either you write fiction, or you write a memoir.

    That said, keep on writing about books that aren’t available in English because sometimes they are available in French! (One of her books has been translated)

    • Yes, I know, but I haven’t read it. It’s the one I have though, so I might review it.
      Litlove mentiones Angot. I liked Annie Ernaux better thna this but I’m sure you would like Hanika better. There is more irony and wit in her writing. You can easily read it like a novel.

  10. whoa! such a serious book. I think this one will make sleep faster than Dickens ;)

    I wish I can read serious books like yours. We have such a huge difference in reading books, which is why I enjoy reading your reviews without skimming….although I will never read it, at least I know it exist what’s about.

    I have never heard of such therapy…I have herad about hypnotis.

    • Too bad we cannot test this. When she likes something she has a way of writing about it that is so enthusiastic, like you when you write about things you like. You would like those parts and skim the rest. :)
      Many people think it’s good to dig very deep in therapy, analyze everything that has happened in your early childhood. I think it’s too self-absorbed.

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