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2018 Travel: Books Set in Austria

I have been incredibly lucky with my travelling so far this year, and was able to revisit beautiful Austria whilst based in Munich.  I hadn’t been to Salzburg before, but am absolutely in love with the city.  To honour lovely Austria, here are seven of my favourite books set in the country.

1. Let Me Go by Helga Schneider (2001) 1522423
The extraordinary memoir, praised across Europe, of a daughter’s final encounter with her mother, a former SS guard at Auschwitz.  In 1941, in Berlin, Helga Schneider’s mother abandoned her, her younger brother, and her father. Thirty years later– when she saw her mother again for the first time– Schneider discovered the shocking reason: Her mother had joined the Nazi SS and had become a guard in concentration camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Ravensbrück, where she was in charge of a “correction” unit and responsible for untold acts of torture.  Nearly three more decades would pass before their second and final reunion, an emotional encounter at a Vienna nursing home, where her mother, then eighty-seven and unrepentant about her past, was ailing. Let Me Go is an extraordinary account of that meeting. Their conversation– which Schneider recounts in spellbinding detail– triggers childhood memories, and she weaves these into her account, powerfully evoking the misery of Nazi and postwar Berlin. Yet it is her internal struggle– a daughter’s sense of obligation colliding with the inescapable horror of what her mother has done– that will stay with readers long after the book has ended.
2. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi (2001)
‘In Persepolis, heralded by the Los Angeles Times as ‘one of the freshest and most original memoirs of our day,’ Marjane Satrapi dazzled us with her heartrending memoir-in-comic-strips about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Here is the continuation of her fascinating story. In 1984, Marjane flees fundamentalism and the war with Iraq to begin a new life in Vienna. Once there, she faces the trials of adolescence far from her friends and family, and while she soon carves out a place for herself among a group of fellow outsiders, she continues to struggle for a sense of belonging.  Finding that she misses her home more than she can stand, Marjane returns to Iran after graduation. Her difficult homecoming forces her to confront the changes both she and her country have undergone in her absence and her shame at what she perceives as her failure in Austria. Marjane allows her past to weigh heavily on her until she finds some like-minded friends, falls in love, and begins studying art at a university. However, the repression and state-sanctioned chauvinism eventually lead her to question whether she can have a future in Iran.  As funny and poignant as its predecessor, Persepolis 2 is another clear-eyed and searing condemnation of the human cost of fundamentalism.’

175696223. The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal (2013 in English)
The Exiles Return is set in Occupied Vienna in 1954-5. It describes five people who grew up there before the war and have come back to see if they can re-establish the life they have lost.  The novel begins with Professor Kuno Adler, who is Jewish and fled Vienna after the Anschluss (the events of March 1938 when Hitler’s troops marched into Austria). He is returning from New York to try and take up his old life as a research scientist. We realise through his confrontation with officialdom and with the changed fabric of the city (the lime trees are there no longer, it is hard to know who behaved well during the war and who was a Nazi sympathiser) that a refugee who goes back has a very difficult time.  Next we are introduced to a wealthy Greek named Kanakis. Before the war his family had lived in great style with a coach and horses and many servants, and now the 40 year-old Kanakis has come back to try and buy an eighteenth-century hotel particulier, a little palais, in which to live a life of eighteenth-century pleasure. He meets Prince Lorenzo Grein-Lauterbach (who owes more than a little to Tadzio in Death in Venice). Bimbo, as he is known – and the nickname is an accurate one – is a 24 year-old who, because his aristocratic, anti- Nazi parents were murdered by the Germans, was spirited away to the country during the war years and afterwards. He is penniless yet retains an overweening sense of entitlement. Kanakis and he develop a homosexual relationship (a brave thing to write about in the 1950s) and he is kept by his older lover. But he has a sister, Princess Nina, who works in a laboratory, the same one to which Adler returns. She lives modestly in the attic of her family’s former palais, is a devout Catholic, loyal to her brother and the memory of her parents, intelligent and hard-working, but, as she perceives it, is stocky and unattractive. Lastly, there is 18 year-old Marie-Theres, whose parents went to America just before the war; they, and her siblings, have become completely American, but Resi (as she is known, possibly with a deliberate echo of Henry James’s What Maisie Knew) has never fitted in and is déplacée. So she goes back to her Austrian aunt and uncle to see if she can make a life in the home country (from her parents point of view to see if she can be married off) yet here too she is an innocent abroad, unable, to put down roots. Her tragedy is at the core of this moving and evocative book, which explores a very complex and interesting question: if an exile returns, how should he or she behave morally? Some have moral fastidiousness (Adler, Nina), some are ruthlessly on the make (Kanakis, Bimbo), some have no moral code because they have never been educated to acquire one (Resi).
4. Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart (1965)
When Vanessa March arrived in Vienna she knew all about the white Lipizzan stallions at the Spanish Riding School. But she never expected to get involved with them or, indeed, with suspected murder.
5. Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1872) 17738894
When a mysterious carriage crashes outside their castle home in Styria, Austria, Laura and her father agree to take in its injured passenger, a young woman named Carmilla. Delighted to have some company of her own age, Laura is instantly drawn to Carmilla. But as their friendship grows, Carmilla’s countenance changes and she becomes increasingly secretive and volatile. As Carmilla’s moods shift and change, Laura starts to become ill, experiencing fiendish nightmares, her health deteriorating night after night. It is not until she and her father, increasingly concerned for Laura’s well-being, set out on a trip to discover more about the mysterious Carmilla that the terrifying truth reveals itself.
6. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (1929)
Rainer Rilke is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language. The letters in this book were written by Rilke to Franz Kappus, a 19-year-old student at the Military Academy of Vienna. Discouraged by the prospect of military life, Kappus began to send his poetry to the 27-year-old Rilke, seeking both literary criticism and career advice. After Rilke’s death, Kappus assembled and published the letters.  Although the first letter from Kappus asked for critiques of his poetry, Rilke gave him very little during their correspondence. He also discouraged Kappus from reading criticism, advising him to trust his inner judgment. Instead, the majority of the letters address personal issues that Kappus revealed to Rilke; their span is tremendous, ranging from atheism, loneliness, sexuality, and career choices.
61319957. The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig (1982)
The post-office girl is Christine, who looks after her ailing mother and toils in a provincial Austrian post office in the years just after the Great War. One afternoon, as she is dozing among the official forms and stamps, a telegraph arrives addressed to her. It is from her rich aunt, who lives in America.

 

Have you read any of these?  Which, if any, have you added to your list?

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Non-fiction November and German Lit Month Wrap-Up

The beginning of December finds me in a very strange situation personally, a situation which affected most of my November activities as well. As much as I would have liked to read more and participate in all the lovely events organised in the bookish community, I did the best that I could given my circumstances.

That being said, whilst I immensely enjoyed my minimal reading for both Non-fiction November and German Literature Month as well as reading other people’s wonderful posts, I wish I could have done more.

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For Non-fiction November, I managed to read almost all of the books I had set as my TBR. Ursula Le Guin’s No Time to Spare was the first book I completed and I utterly loved it. Since it’s being published on December 5th, my review is scheduled for that date.

italocalvino_classicsItalo Clavino’s Why Read the Classics? was the next one on my list, a collection of essays which I read rather selectively, since most of them referred to books and authors I hadn’t read and I didn’t see the point in reading analyses of literature I’m not familiar with. I read this in my Greek translation copy and I was reminded once again how much I adore Calvino’s writing. His love for literature and for the classics specifically shines through his wonderful prose and he makes you want to pick up the nearest classic and immerse yourself in its glory. methode_times_prod_web_bin_96549d4c-baf1-11e6-a53a-ca2ad7b229f9

The last book on my TBR for this event was Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, which I haven’t completed yet. I love Shirley Jackson’s writing and as soon as I saw this biography of hers, I knew I wanted to learn more about her. I listened to this on audiobook and this is probably why my progress has been so slow, since I don’t do very well with audiobooks. I’ve listened to 7 chapters so far and I was not as impressed as I expected to be. While some parts are absolutely fascinating, I often feel like the book is too unnecessarily detailed and that makes it somewhat dull in parts, such as when the author listed all the Christmas gifts Shirley and each member of her family received – a detail I could have lived without being made aware of, and without spending 10 minutes listening about. Perhaps it’s the format of the audiobook which makes it dull for me, I’ll try to find a paper copy to continue reading it.

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As for German Literature Month, I also managed to read both books I had set as my TBR. Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear was definitely my favourite book of the entire month (perhaps of the year too) and you can read the full review I posted a few days ago here.

'Letter_from_an_Unknown_Woman'I couldn’t leave Stefan Zweig, one of my absolute favourite authors, out of German Literature Month. His Letter from an Unknown Woman is the second and last book I read for this challenge. Read in my Greek translation copy like the aforementioned Calvino book, it was a short novella which, like most of Zweig’s other works I’ve read, was filled with emotions and beautiful, beautiful prose. I haven’t encountered any other author who can write about and portray people’s feelings and the wide range of their emotions as eloquently as Zweig does. Whether you’ve found yourself in a situation like the one he’s describing (here, that of a woman’s unrequited youthful love) you will definitely feel like you have experienced this situation by the time you finish reading. This is how powerful his writing is.

These were my contributions to those two November challenges. I had a lot of fun participating in both and I hope next time I have much more time to devote.

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Two Reviews: ‘The Wheel Spins’ by Ethel Lina White, and ‘Triumph and Disaster’ by Stefan Zweig

The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White *****
I adore ‘The Lady Vanishes’; it is easily one of my favourite films. I also love discovering 7210forgotten authors who have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another. Imagine my delight then when I found a Kindle copy of Ethel Lina White’s collected works, including The Wheel Spins, the novel which Hitchcock’s film was based upon.

The Wheel Spins is remarkably slick. White moves from one character to the next so fluidly, and her writing is strong. I was immediately pulled in. Whilst Hitchcock’s film adaptation follows White’s plot relatively well, there is so much depth within the novel; the backstories of many of the secondary characters are given. The Wheel Spins has a wonderful mystery at its heart, and is both entertaining and perfectly paced. I highly recommend it for fans of Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Edmund Crispin.

 

Triumph and Disaster by Stefan Zweig **** 9781782272748
Triumph and Disaster added something a little different to my October TBR list.  I have read quite a bit of Zweig’s fiction, and very much enjoyed it, but this volume leans more toward non-fiction, presenting as it does a series of five historical figures at pivotal moments in their lives.  Zweig’s content of historical miniatures is varied, even eclectic; here, he discusses Napoleon, Captain Scott, the conquest of Byzantium, Lenin in April 1917, and the Treaty of Versailles.

Zweig’s accounts are beautifully written, and have been splendidly translated.  They are fanciful at times; poetic licence has certainly been used, and accounts are not always factually accurate.  What Zweig does, however, is immediately engage his reader, giving an awareness of rich and fascinating pieces of history.

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Mini Reviews: ‘Fantastic Night’ and ‘The Lightkeepers’

Fantastic Night by Stefan Zweig ****
9781782271482I purchased Fantastic Night as part of Oxfam’s wonderful 2016 Scorching Summer Reads campaign.  I was already familiar with Zweig’s work, and remember how enraptured I was when reading the excellent The Post Office Girl some years ago.  Fantastic Night provides a mixture of novellas and short stories, many of which I hadn’t come across before.

As with all of the Pushkin Press titles which I have had the pleasure of reading thus far, the translation here is seamless. There were a couple of tales I wasn’t that enamoured with, but those which I loved or very much admired greatly outweighed these. Zweig is a masterfully perceptive author, and there was such a difference to every one of the stories here. ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’ is stunning. Fantastic Night is a real joy to read.

 

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni ***** 9781619026001
Before gushing uncontrollably about Abby Geni’s masterful The Lightkeepers, I shall just copy the blurb so that you get some context about the story: ‘In The Lightkeepers, we follow Miranda, a nature photographer who travels to the Farallon Islands, an exotic and dangerous archipelago off the coast of California, for a one-year residency capturing the landscape. Her only companions are the scientists studying there, odd and quirky refugees from the mainland living in rustic conditions; they document the fish populations around the island, the bold trio of sharks called the Sisters that hunt the surrounding waters, and the overwhelming bird population who, at times, create the need to wear hard hats as protection from their attacks. Shortly after her arrival, Miranda is assaulted by one of the inhabitants of the islands. A few days later, her assailant is found dead, perhaps the result of an accident. As the novel unfolds, Miranda gives witness to the natural wonders of this special place as she grapples with what has happened to her and deepens her connection (and her suspicions) to her companions, while falling under the thrall of the legends of the place nicknamed “the Islands of the Dead.” And when more violence occurs, each member of this strange community falls under suspicion. The Lightkeepers upends the traditional structure of a mystery novel –an isolated environment, a limited group of characters who might not be trustworthy, a death that may or may not have been accidental, a balance of discovery and action –while also exploring wider themes of the natural world, the power of loss, and the nature of recovery.’

I very much enjoyed Geni’s short story collection, The Last Animal, and couldn’t wait to read her debut novel.  My parents scoured The Strand for me on a recent trip to New York, and I couldn’t have been happier when they presented me with it (and three other equally wonderful tomes).  Geni’s novel explores similar themes to those in her story collection – nature, humans, and the effects of one upon the other.

Geni’s writing is electric.  Such emphasis has been placed upon every single sense that the whole springs to life immediately.  You can almost smell the salt on the breeze, taste the stale crackers and tuna macaroni, and, despite living on an isolated island with just a few others, feel their eyes on you as you read.  Geni uses both the first and third person perspectives effortlessly, and even the more simplistic or mundane elements of life on the Farallon Islands feel extremely creative due to the way in which she presents them.  Everything here feels original.  The Lightkeepers has been so well researched, particularly with regard to the nature around Miranda, and the photography techniques which she utilises.  The Lightkeepers is exquisite.

 

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Stefan Zweig: 2 Novellas of Unrequited Love

stefan_zweig_1900_croppedAmongst all the new authors I endeavoured to read since last year, Stefan Zweig quickly came to be one of my most endeared ones. After a quick research, I found out that while he was widely popular in a great number of Western countries in the Interwar years, his popularity started declining soon after. Nowadays, readers have started to rediscover Zweig, with many revisited or brand new translations of his work surfacing as a result.

I have merely read two of Zweig’s novellas as of yet, compared to the wealth of various literary genres he ventured into, but I have chosen to make a post about them as I find them absolutely beautiful pieces of literature.

My very first encounter with Zweig’s writing was through his novella Confusion (original title: Verwirrung der Gefühle), which was first published in 1926. The 2012 English translation published by NYRB Classics’ blurb is as follows: 12143104

Stefan Zweig was particularly drawn to the novella, and ‘Confusion,’ a rigorous and yet transporting dramatization of the conflict between the heart and the mind, is among his supreme achievements in the form.
A young man who is rapidly going to the dogs in Berlin is packed off by his father to a university in a sleepy provincial town. There a brilliant lecture awakens in him a wild passion for learning—as well as a peculiarly intense fascination with the graying professor who gave the talk. The student grows close to the professor, be­coming a regular visitor to the apartment he shares with his much younger wife. He takes it upon himself to urge his teacher to finish the great work of scholarship that he has been laboring at for years and even offers to help him in any way he can. The professor welcomes the young man’s attentions, at least on some days. On others, he rages without apparent reason or turns away from his disciple with cold scorn. The young man is baffled, wounded. He cannot understand.
But the wife understands. She understands perfectly. And one way or another she will help him to understand too.

This was a novella filled with emotions. Exceptionally well-written, it tackles a topic which used to be very sensitive at the time it was written (and still is), yet Zweig handles it with the utmost care and with admirable sensibility and understanding. I also loved how scholarship was included in the story, since, as an aspiring academic myself, it is a topic that never ceases to fascinate me. Having read Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro a few months before Zweig’s Confusion, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities in the relationships between the student-protagonists and their professors (although the main element which makes Confusion what it is was completely absent from Kokoro, the main point of which was radically different, but still).

The second novella of his I read was Journey into the Past (original title: Widerstand der Wirklichkeit), first published in 1976, approximately 35 years after his death. According to the blurb of the 2010 English translation published by NYRB Classics:

7938057A deep study of the uneasy heart by one of the masters of the psychological novel, ‘Journey into the Past’, published here for the first time in America, is a novella that was found among Zweig’s papers after his death. Investigating the strange ways in which love, in spite of everything – time, war, betrayal – can last, Zweig tells the story of Ludwig, an ambitious young man from a modest background who falls in love with the wife of his rich employer. His love is returned, and the couple vow to live together, but then Ludwig is dispatched on business to Mexico, and while he is there the First World War breaks out. With travel and even communication across the Atlantic shut down, Ludwig makes a new life in the New World. Years later, however, he returns to Germany to find his beloved a widow and their mutual attraction as strong as ever. But is it possible for love to survive precisely as the impossible?

Yet another deeply heartfelt story, which comes to enhance and further prove Zweig’s aptitude in delving into the human soul and baring it for the entire world to see, without being afraid of judgement or taboos.

If you have yet to discover Zweig’s writing, do treat yourself with one of his books. He is a writer who deserves to be as widely read as possible.

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Birthday Book Haul! :)

It has been ages since I last posted a book haul and the truth is I have been trying to refrain from buying more books, since I plan on moving to Scotland soon and my already unread ones almost reach a triple digit.

However, I cannot fathom any birthday of mine being book-less, so I grasped this opportunity on Monday the 13th to indulge myself in acquiring some books I have been wanting to get my hands on for quite some time.

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  • A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
  • Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara (I am very much into Japanese fantasy/sci-fi lately, so this book was one of my most treasured acquisitions, especially since it was rather hard to track it down)
  • Debt of Bones by Terry Goodkind
  • Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014 by Ursula Le Guin
  • Fantastic Chronicles Issue 23 (Greek sci-fi and fantasy related pamphlet)

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On Monday afternoon, my boyfriend took me to a book fair/exhibition which currently runs in Piraeus, in which many Greek publishing houses participate every year. Of course, I found many books I wanted to buy, but I ended up buying only those two:

  • Journey into the Past by Stefan Zweig
  • The Leviathan by Joseph Roth

I have already read The Leviathan and loved it, so a review of it might appear soon. And I will certainly be visiting the book fair again 😉

I’m very happy with my new books and I think they made for a wonderful birthday gift to myself 🙂 Have you read any of those books?

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Reading the World: Austria

Austria, one of the most beautiful countries which I have been lucky enough to visit thus far, is next on the list.  This is possibly my most varied list of recommendations for my Reading the World project, containing, as it does, a graphic novel, a book which nestles somewhere between child and adult literature, a novel, a piece of non-fiction, and a collection of poetry.

1. Persepolis II: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi 9780375714665(2004)
‘In” Persepolis,” heralded by the “Los Angeles Times” as one of the freshest and most original memoirs of our day, Marjane Satrapi dazzled us with her heartrending memoir-in-comic-strips about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Here is the continuation of her fascinating story. In 1984, Marjane flees fundamentalism and the war with Iraq to begin a new life in Vienna. Once there, she faces the trials of adolescence far from her friends and family, and while she soon carves out a place for herself among a group of fellow outsiders, she continues to struggle for a sense of belonging. Finding that she misses her home more than she can stand, Marjane returns to Iran after graduation. Her difficult homecoming forces her to confront the changes both she and her country have undergone in her absence and her shame at what she perceives as her failure in Austria. Marjane allows her past to weigh heavily on her until she finds some like-minded friends, falls in love, and begins studying art at a university. However, the repression and state-sanctioned chauvinism eventually lead her to question whether she can have a future in Iran. As funny and poignant as its predecessor, “Persepolis 2” is another clear-eyed and searing condemnation of the human cost of fundamentalism. In its depiction of the struggles of growing up here compounded by Marjane’s status as an outsider both abroad and at home it is raw, honest, and incredibly illuminating.’

2. A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson (1997)
‘When Ellen Carr abandons grey, dreary London to become housekeeper at an experimental school in Austria, she finds her destiny. Swept into an idyllic world of mountains, music, eccentric teachers and wayward children, Ellen brings order and joy to all around her. But it’s the handsome, mysterious gardener, Marek, who intrigues her – Marek, who has a dangerous secret. As Hitler’s troops spread across Europe, Ellen has promises to keep, even if they mean she must sacrifice her future happiness.’

97809542217203. The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig (1982)
‘It’s the 1930s. Christine, A young Austrian woman whose family has been impoverished by the war, toils away in a provincial post office. Out of the blue, a telegram arrives from an American aunt she’s never known, inviting her to spend two weeks in a Grand Hotel in a fashionable Swiss resort. She accepts and is swept up into a world of almost inconceivable wealth and unleashed desire, where she allows herself to be utterly transformed. Then, just as abruptly, her aunt cuts her loose and she has to return to the post office, where – yes – nothing will ever be the same.’

4. The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (2010)
‘The Ephrussis were a grand banking family, as rich and respected as the Rothschilds, who “burned like a comet” in nineteenth-century Paris and Vienna society. Yet by the end of World War II, almost the only thing remaining of their vast empire was a collection of 264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox.The renowned ceramicist Edmund de Waal became the fifth generation to inherit this small and exquisite collection of netsuke. Entranced by their beauty and mystery, he determined to trace the story of his family through the story of the collection.The netsuke drunken monks, almost-ripe plums, snarling tigers were gathered by Charles Ephrussi at the height of the Parisian rage for all things Japanese. Charles had shunned the place set aside for him in the family business to make a study of art, and of beautiful living. An early supporter of the Impressionists, he appears, oddly formal in a top hat, in Renoir’s “Luncheon of”” the Boating Party.” Marcel Proust studied Charles closely enough to use him as a model for the aesthete and lover Swann in “Remembrance of Things Past.”Charles gave the carvings as a wedding gift to his cousin Viktor in Vienna; his children were allowed to play with one netsuke each while they watched their mother, the Baroness Emmy, dress for ball after ball. Her older daughter grew up to disdain fashionable society. Longing to write, she struck up a correspondence with Rilke, who encouraged her in her poetry.The Anschluss changed their world beyond recognition. Ephrussi and his cosmopolitan family were imprisoned or scattered, and Hitler’s theorist on the “Jewish question” appropriated their magnificent palace on the Ringstrasse. A library of priceless books and a collection of Old Master paintings were confiscated by the Nazis. But the netsuke were smuggled away by a loyal maid, Anna, and hidden in her straw mattress. Years after the war, she would find a way to return them to the family she’d served even in their exile.In “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” Edmund de Waal unfolds the story of a remarkable family and a tumultuous century. Sweeping yet intimate, it is a highly original meditation on art, history, and family, as elegant and precise as the netsuke themselves.’

5. Poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke (ed. Edward Snow, 2011) 9780374532710
‘”The Poetry of Rilke” the single most comprehensive volume of Rilke’s German poetry ever to be published in English is the culmination of this effort. With more than two hundred and fifty selected poems by Rilke, including complete translations of the “Sonnets to Orpheus “and the “Duino Elegies,” “The Poetry of Rilke “spans the arc of Rilke’s work, from the breakthrough poems of “The Book of Hours “to the visionary masterpieces written only weeks before his death.’

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