For German Lit Month, a few considerations…

Peirene Press (You Would Have Missed Me is shortlisted for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize)

Why Peirene chose to publish this book:

Today, as in the past, people flee from one country to another in the hope of finding a better future. But how do children experience such displacement? How do they cope with traumas of a refugee camp? In this novel Birgit Vanderbeke goes back to her own childhood in the divided Germany of the 1960s. She shows how the little girl she once was saved herself by imagining countries on the far side of the world. A masterpiece of memory turned into fiction. 

Written by Birgit Vanderbeke
Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch

An unnamed narrator, recently bereaved, travels to Olevano, a small village south-east of Rome. It is winter, and from her temporary residence on a hill between village and cemetery, she embarks on walks and outings, exploring the banal and the sublime with equal dedication and intensity. Seeing, describing, naming the world around her is her way of redefining her place within it. Written in a rich and poetic style, Grove is an exquisite novel of grief, love and landscapes.

GROVE

Esther Kinsky

Translated by Caroline Schmidt

Published 15 April 2020
French paperback with flaps, 280 pages


A kaleidoscopic family saga told through the fractured lives of the three Moreau siblings, alongside a faltering, recovering love story, The End of Loneliness is a stunning meditation on the power of our memories, of what can be lost and what can never be let go. With inimitable compassion and luminous, affecting praise, Benedict Wells contends with what it means to find a way through life, while never giving up hope you will find someone to go with you.

Written by Benedict Wells, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins

I read the introduction to German Literature Month 10 on Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat , where Caroline not only extends an invitation but outlines a few authors chosen to focus on in November (should you wish). This is always an event I appreciate very much, as it widens my knowledge of German literature greatly. Perhaps you will join us this month as well?

Sunday Salon: Gratitude Documemted 2020

It is a more difficult year than usual to document our gratitude, and yet, with the arrival of November (and Thanksgiving!), and the tumult we face before the year is quite finished, I believe it is all the more necessary to do so.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

~1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

It is hard to give thanks when I am worried, when the worries seem to pile up unabated around me. But, I know that when I give thanks I am able to look toward the good and focus on hope rather than doubt. It helps me to document gratitude within a book to which I can refer on especially dark days.

The photos above are only the beginning of what I have prepared for November. They show a little book I made, with the help of a kit from Illustrated Faith. (I believe you can still buy some pieces for it here.) There is a prompt for each day, under which I have written the verse. On the back I will make it more personal, writing in it like a journal pointing to specific events from this year which have been especially lovely. Like having coffee with my parents several times a week. Walking with my husband through the fall colors at the Arboretum. Getting a text from my son that says he is fine.

Will you document gratitude this year? Will you join in me in looking for the beauty amidst the trial? Let us find the good and give thanks for it.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (One of my favorite books of the year.)

I never expected to read a book about the plague during a pandemic. I’ve done my best to keep away from dark thoughts, considering illness or death. But, when I began Hamnet, checked out as an ebook from our local library, I knew I needed a copy of my own…a copy through which I could meander at my own pace, relishing every well-chosen word, not worrying about the due date when the library would whisk it back unwillingly from me.

Maggie O’Farrell imagines Shakespeare’s life for us, while never revealing his name. She brings forth his wife, his parents, his home in Stratford more vividly than any play could reveal. Most importantly of all, she brings his son, Hamnet, to life. Even in his death, for we see the excruciating effect it has on his mother, his father, and their marriage.

In the opening pages he comes down the stairs, looking for someone, anyone, to help him. For his twin sister, Judith, is ill. They had been playing with the kittens in the yard, and then Judith had to lay down, and now she is not only pale, and clammy; there are two buboes showing under her skin. Bumps with an ominous threat of death.

Hamnet’s illness takes his mother by surprise, for she had been concocting remedies from her plants, her herbs, her tinctures, to help her daughter. And when Hamnet dies, she is full of self-blame for not seeing it, for not being able to prevent it.

I felt her recriminations towards herself as fiercely as my own. What mother doesn’t wish to take her child’s suffering upon herself, doesn’t long to pave a path for a long, fulfilling life for her child, doesn’t imagine all the thoughts about what could have been? For me, Maggie O’Farrell’s genius in this book was in brilliantly portraying Hamnet’s mother, even more so than his famous father.

It broke my heart, while making me feel not quite so alone in my own motherly sorrows.

It’s Time to Vote for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2020. There’s just one thing…

I received an email in my inbox this morning that it’s time to vote for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2020. I’m not much of a Goodreads fan, but I went over there anyway just to see what was on their lists.

It was easy to vote for Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell in the Historical Fiction section. And, Tana French’s latest book, The Searcher, in Mystery and Thriller. I don’t read Young Adult, or Poetry, or Romance, or even much popular fiction these days, so I kept scrolling for a category which I adore.

Perhaps you will not be as shocked as I was, but there is no category for Books in Translation! Now, I know there is the Booker International Prize, and the Best Translated Book Award, and a myriad of other awards for translated literature. But, I thought that such a large forum as Goodreads would include it as a category for a reader’s Choice Award. Surely, they are not so narrow.

My opinion of them has not changed much since my latest visit. In fact, I would be so inclined as to call the name Goodreads a misnomer, if not an oxymoron, since they are so remiss as to exclude one of the best genres of all.

What do you think? Am I the silly one for expecting to find Books in Translation a category within which to vote?

The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck (translated from the Finnish by Kristian London)


It is a wonder that Max Seeck is able to bring all the layers of this mysterious puzzle into one cohesive piece. As I read, I couldn’t imagine how Jessica Niemi’s life as a police detective could relate to the life she briefly lived in Venice as a young woman: in the arms of Colombano, a handsome and skilled violinist whose dark intentions combined with his amorous ways.

Several women who resemble her, with dark hair and a beautiful face, are slowly being discovered as murdered. The first is the wife of a famous author, who is found dressed in a black evening gown sitting at the dining room table with high-heeled shoes placed by her bare feet. Worst of all, perhaps, is the hideous grin which transforms her face into a macabre mask even in death.

At first, the police department assumes someone is re-enacting all the murders which have occurred in the author’s best selling novels. Indeed, it appears that they follow the descriptions of women being crushed to death, or drowning in icy water. But when strange words in Latin (Malleus Maleficarum) are found transcribed in the snow on a roof, and men with horns appear to Jessica as shadowy creatures in the night, it becomes clear that much more is going on than what had been merely described in the author’s best sellers.

The tension is ever building and suspenseful. Never once could I predict quite where the plot was going, nor did I feel manipulated in its execution. Perhaps most compelling of all is the character Seeck created in his lead detective; she is a heroine who lives in a studio apartment never wishing her colleagues to be aware of the wealth she has, as evidenced within the connecting apartment next door. It is a wealth she inherited at her parents’ demise and has come to terms with as the novel completes.

The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck is published today. You may listen to an excerpt of the opening pages by clicking below. Alternatively, this book can already by found at retailers such as Barnes & Noble.

Max Seeck devotes his time to writing professionally. An avid reader of Nordic noir for personal pleasure, he listens to film scores as he writes. His accolades include the Finnish Whodunit Society’s Debut Thriller of the Year Award 2016. Max Seeck has a background in sales and marketing and loves to promote his works, and is fluent in English and German.

The Bell In The Lake by Lars Mytting (A work of historical fiction, published today, which I loved.)

The minute I began reading, I was immersed in the small town of Butangen, Norway, hundreds of years ago. I read of the conjoined twins whose father, Eirik Hekne, had the Sister Bells cast in their honor. The bells were forged of bronze and silver, for Eirik threw into the melting pot not only all of his silver cutlery, but two fistfuls of silver coins. Was he being wasteful? Perhaps not, as the bells were cast from his fortune, but also in grief and longing.

Few Felt that silver was better spent on church bells than on barns, yet they took it as a reminder that hardship was easier to bear than sorrow. (p. 124)

I read that Norwegian nights are “coal-black in the winter, filling even the stoutest heart with fear.” I read of the stave church, built of wood in the 1100’s, embellished with the heads of dragons. The door of the one in Butangen was once surrounded by a carved serpent and decorated with Nordic symbols. It is in such a church that Kai Schweigaard has come to pastor, that lovely Astrid Hekne visits with elderly Klara Mytting. It is in such a church that Klara dies in the bitter cold at the edge of her pew, against a wall, during one service. Her death causes Kai to wonder how his parishioners’ needs can be better met by the church.

Photo credit

The painter Johan Christian Dahl, made a professor in Dresden, aroused interest in Germany over Norway’s culture, especially the stave churches. The churches were dismantled in Norway where they were no longer wanted, and rebuilt in Germany, thus preserving their historic value. Each beam, each stave, each plank of the medieval church must be carefully recorded so that it could be accurately rebuilt in its new home.

And so, a young German artist named Gerard Schonauer is sent to Butangen to draw the church, to fulfill the architectural plans that have been set before him. But, he was not sent to fall in love with Astrid. And certainly not to leave the bells in their native village in Norway instead of being taken to a new, unfamiliar home in Germany.

The bells seem to have a mystical power of their own, almost personifying the sisters for whom they were named. They have an uncanny way of ringing unexpectedly, or falling suddenly; they seem to know where danger lurks.

He (Astrid’s grandfather) started to talk about the powers of the Sister Bells. “They do nay ring for pretty things. They donae ring to warn of forest bandits or a little earthslide. They ring when folk mun wake up and choose wisely. Or to warn of a disaster as they did in 1814.” (p. 124)

While it might be easy, in theory, to take down a church, the German officials do not understand the power of the Sister Bells any more than they understand the church was originally a house of worship containing far more than wooden staves made from the tallest pines of the forest.

I can’t do this, Gerard said to himself. Nobody can. If the church is taken down it’ll never be made whole again. There’s more here than I can ever understand. The most important thing of all, an inner essence, will disappear when we demolish it.

But another anxiety gripped him too. An anxiety that had started when, on that first day, he had heard the church bells. Now he got the distinct feeling that they disliked him They were somewhere above him, where they lived, free in the air, in fragile balance. (p. 129)

Creating bells that are as real as any character may seem an extraordinary thing to write about. But, they took on a presence that stood for something. More than being merely powerful bells of bronze and silver, the Sister Bells stood for tradition. For superstitions. For two sisters, their father, and the bond made in a small Norwegian village between a young woman and the two men who loved her. It is an atmospheric book, of powerful proportions, that fully transported me to Norway in the nineteenth century. I cannot stop thinking about what I have read, pondering the history, the religion, and the sacrifices made within these pages.

Lars Mytting, Norway’s bestselling novelist, is the author of Norwegian Wood. His books, which have sold over 1 million copies in 19 languages, have won the Norwegian Bookseller Prize and have been shortlisted for the prestigious Dublin IMPAC Prize, among others. The Bell in the Lake has been sold in 12 countries and was a #1 bestseller in Norway.

  • Imprint: The Overlook Press
  • Publication Date: September 29, 2020
  • Price: $27.00
  • Trim Size: 6 x 9
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-4318-4
  • EAN: 9781419743184
  • Page Count: 400
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Rights: North America
  • Additional formats: Ebook

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara: Let’s Talk About The Drink With Ice, Thrown by Julian English into Harry Reilly’s Face

What the hell had he done, he wondered. He had thrown a drink in a man’s face. An especially terrible guy who should have had a drink thrown in his face a long while ago. It wasn’t as if Harry Reilly were a popularity contest winner or something. If most people told the truth they would agree that Reilly was a terrible person, a climber, a nouveau riche even in Gibbsville where fifty thousand dollars was a sizable fortune. (p.97)

I am only a little more than one third of the way through this novel, but I can’t stop thinking about Julian English throwing his drink into Harry Reilly’s face one evening at the club. He threw it so hard that the ice left black marks on Harry’s face…but also on Julian’s social acceptance.

My mother has said to me that life “spins on a hair”, meaning that the slightest choice, or action, can alter the whole course of one’s existence. It seems that Julian’s life will be inexorably altered with this event which occurred early in the novel.

Was it unplanned? He was thinking about how much he would like to throw his drink at Harry one minute, and we dwell in this fantasy with him until the next thing we know, he has really done it.

Is Julian unwilling to let Harry have attention by telling the stories that he does, pausing in just the right places and looking over his shoulder before hitting the punch line?

Is it that Harry is an Irish Catholic, and Julian harbors a resentment or prejudice against such a heritage? Or, maybe he’s jealous that Harry is the man with money to whom everyone seems to owe a little…

I am curious about all these reasons, not to mention the path of destruction that Julian seems to be taking. He is only thirty, and yet he has a wife. A home. Supportive parents. A business selling Cadillacs. And he has recently opened his wife’s Christmas present to him: a leather pigskin box with his initials stamped on them in gold ink. Not J. E., but J. McH. E. as he likes. Now he has a place to put his studs, and I find myself questioning him, while at the same time longing to experience how people really lived in the late 1930s. John O’Hara has a way of making it seem simple and risqué at the same time.

Find other posts from our read-along of Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara at Simpler Pastimes, Typings, and Wuthering Expectations.

S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, for the R.I.P. XV, and for Great Reading Pleasure

S. is gorgeous, a masterpiece of verisimilitude. . . . The book’s spiritual cousin is A.S. Byatt’s Possession. . . . The brilliance of S. is less in its showy exterior than the intimate and ingeniously visual way it shows how others’ words become pathways to our lives and relationships.” —Washington Post

A drenched man in a dark overcoat wanders the streets, unable to remember who he is or where he came from. He enters a tavern, speaks with a woman who has an olive complexion, and is suddenly grabbed from behind, thrown over a strong man’s shoulder, and taken aboard a ship.

Such horrors lurk there, from holes punctured around the men’s mouths so that they can be sewn together with thread to “hearing muted expressions of pain from all about the ship.” (p. 57)

Who is this man? He learns his name is S., while the reader wonders if this could be the author V. M. Straka, who wrote The Ship of Theseus, as well as other “novels that toppled governments, shamed ruthless industrialists, and foresaw the horrifying sweep of totalitarianism that has been a particular plague in these last few decades.” (p. v)

The Ship of Theseus, the novel within this novel, was written in 1949, and it is this text that I read first. Then, I went back to the beginning to read all the annotations that had been handwritten in its margins. Annotations, and dialogue, from two students: Eric, who is studying Straka, and Jen who found Eric’s book containing all his notes.

“Did you write in the book?” my husband asked when he saw me reading it.

“No,” I told him, “it’s part of the presentation.”

“That would drive me crazy!” he exclaimed, and for some people that would perhaps be true. But, I am enchanted by the parallel stories, and the ephemera tucked within its pages, all interwoven to reveal mysteries beyond my imagination.

S. is not a book for those who prefer technology, or e-readers; it is a book lover’s dream.

Some Spooky Reads I Have Planned for the R.I.P. XV

The events of the early days of blogging, circa 2006 when I began, still bring joy to my heart. I have always participated in Carl’s R.I.P. Challenges, even to the extent where I purchased Poppets which he brought to our attention through his blog posts.

And now we are ready for R.I.P. XV which begins September 1 through October 31, 2020. Use #RIPXV, or @PerilReaders, should you wish to include social media with your posts.

I have tentatively planned the following books:

And, of course, you are welcome to join Amateur Reader and I (and several others) in John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra which may, in fact, also qualify for a disconcerting read.

All This I Will Give To You by Dolores Redondo, a Planeta Prize winning novel for Spanish Lit Month and Women In Translation Month

”All this I will give to you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” ~Matthew 4:9 (NIV)

On World Book Day, Amazon gives free books in translation for one’s kindle. (Mark April 23, 2021 on your calendar should you wish to enjoy such pleasures, for they are worthy titles.) All This I Will Give To You, by Dolores Redondo, has been languishing in my queue for such a time as this: Spanish Lit Month and Women in Translation Month. Not only that, it won the Planeta Prize in 2016.

This thrilling novel is intricately woven and beautifully constructed. It follows the labyrinthine path of Manuel who is suddenly woken in the night with the news that his husband has died in a car crash. And when Manuel drives to Alvaro’s family estate for the funeral, he decides to stay to discover what, exactly, was the cause of his husband’s death. The more he searches, the more intrigue he uncovers, for Alvaro’s family bears many hidden secrets.

The waxy, white petals of a gardenia, discovered tucked away in pockets and drawers…the exuberant innocence of Samuel, a four year old boy…the malicious hatred of the Raven, the matriarch of the family estate which has now been left to Manuel, all combine with the help of a policeman and old friend to reveal the truth.

This was a fascinating novel, one I just completed just last night. I leave you with the trailer from the author’s site, as perhaps it will picque your interest even more.