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Search tags: 2014-Non-fiction-challenge-(20- )
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review 2015-01-18 15:20
Wir werden es schon zuwege bringen, das Leben: Briefe an Erika und Klaus Mann
Wir werden es schon zuwege bringen, das Leben: Annemarie Schwarzenbach an Erika und Klaus Mann : Briefe, 1930-1942 (German Edition) - Annemarie Schwarzenbach

"I want no relapses to the days when I always needed Eri: to get away from my mom, to get a divorce from Claude, to have a focus in life, to overcome the morphine, to heal the leg, to establish Sils, to legitimize me to myself, ... I want to be useful, mature, reliable, to be a friend to Eri instead of a problem child." 


(Original text: "Ich will keine Rückfälle, in jene Zeit, als ich Eri immer nur brauchte: um von meiner Mama wegzukommen, um mich von Claude scheiden zu lassen, um einen Lebens-Mittelpunkt zu haben, um das Morphium zu überwinden, um das Bein zu heilen, um Sils zu gründen, um mich vor mir selbst zu legitimieren,... ich will brauchbar, erwachsen, zuverlässig, für Eri ein Freund sein statt eines Sorgenkindes.")


Much of the content of the letters from Schwarzenbach to Erika and Klaus Mann focuses on day to day activities of Schwarzenbach's life between 1932 and 1942 - her studies, her travels, her writing routine, making plans for meeting up, etc. All in all quite mundane and not that interesting - just as you would expect from a regular exchange of messages between friends.


However, the letters also contain those snippets of information that reveal more about the internal thoughts and ideas of both the sender and the recipient: their disgust with the rise of fascism, their struggle to find acceptance - an audience even - in a world that is slowly turning towards catastrophe. 


What the collection also shows is Schwarzenbach's personal journey from a conflicted young person to a thoughtful adult who finally seems to have found her calling. 


Many events in her life and people surrounding her are only hinted at, and if unfamiliar with the biographies of AS and the Mann siblings or the historical background, the letters will be tough to make sense of. On the other hand, for readers who have been captivated by her books and want to know more about the thoughts and ideas of AS, even the duller parts of this collection are a treat. I'd still recommend to have a Schwarzenbach biography at hand as there are no footnotes or other explanations to the letters.


For example, in one of the letters to Klaus, AS warns him to be careful of "the devil-worshipper". I presume this is a reference to Gustav Gruendgens (Erika's actor husband who became famous for his portrayal of Mephisto), whom Klaus would later base his novel "Mephisto" on. This is one of the more obvious references.   


What really irked me about this edition, tho, is that there were so many spelling and typesetting mistakes. It really needed proofreading.

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review 2015-01-12 01:12
The Cruel Way: Switzerland to Afghanistan in a Ford, 1939 & Alle Wege Sind Offen (All the Roads are Open)
The Cruel Way: Switzerland to Afghanistan in a Ford, 1939 - Ella K. Maillart,Jessa Crispin
Alle Wege Sind Offen: Die Reise Nach Afghanistan 1939/1940: Ausgewählte Texte - Annemarie Schwarzenbach,Roger Perret

"The gist of our dialogue had been that if she was mad I was mad too: I was unwilling to let myself be strangled by that prudent life that everybody advocated. I also was convinced that— whether we succeed or not— it is our job to search for the significance of life."


The Cruel Way and Alle Wege Sind Offen (published in English as All the Roads are Open) are two accounts of an incredible road trip. In 1939, Annemarie Schwarzenbach and Ella Maillart - both women were Swiss journalists and experienced travelers - set off from their native Switzerland on the eve of WWII to escape the madness of Europe and drive (yes, drive) across Europe, Turkey, Persia (Iran) to Afghanistan (and India if they can reach it).


Though, the wish to escape was probably more AS' motive. EM quite openly discusses that her motive was to help her friend (AS) to shake a morphine addiction and to recuperate from bouts of depression - descriptions of both are described quite vividly and (as far as I can tell) earnestly in The Cruel Way.


Maillart's book (The Cruel Way) was published in 1947 (five years after AS' death), and on request of AS' family, Maillart disguised AS as the character Christina.

Schwarzenbach's account Alle Wege Sind Offen was published in 2008, though some of her articles were published during the trip. 

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review 2014-12-25 23:09
Auf der Schwelle des Fremden: das Leben der Annemarie Schwarzenbach
Auf der Schwelle des Fremden: das Leben der Annemarie Schwarzenbach - Alexis Schwarzenbach

There is not much to say about this book: Alexis Schwarzenbach's biography is a detailed, frank, unapologetic, moving, enraging, frustrating, but most of all comprehensive insight into the life of his great-aunt. 


Whether it was the description of the relationship with her family, the detailed accounts of her travels, the struggle with her addiction(s), the rather odd fascination with Erika and Klaus Mann - I clung to every page.


By the final chapter I was heart-broken and enraged. I had read the biographical notes that accompany her books but they did not detail the circumstances that led to her death following a bicycle accident: the misdiagnosed head trauma, the medical incompetence (even malpractice by today's standards), and also the cruel indifference on the part of Schwarzenbach's family.


What adds to the book and distinguishes it from other biographies about AS are the photographs, replicated letters and other documents that Alexis Schwarzenbach could retrieve from the family archives.

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review 2014-12-25 11:15
Mehr als ein Dichter: Über Heinrich Böll
Mehr als in Dichter: Über Heinrich Böll - Marcel Reich-Ranicki

The one thing about Marcel Reich-Ranicki most people will agree on is that you either loved him or hated him. He was the equivalent of Marmite when it comes to literary criticism in Germany.


But then this somewhat reflected MRR's own writing: he either praised a book with an absurd level of enthusiasm or devastated the book (and in many cases its author) with vitriolic contempt. Ironically, both efforts sold books, and in many cases the author's self-esteem suffered more from a bad review than the book itself.


Regardless of whether or not you liked MRR's reviews, they were always readable, insightful, and most of all entertaining - not least because he would often use a review to introduce a comparison with another book or author and play both books/authors against each other.


There are a few examples in this collection of MRR's reviews of the works of Heinrich Böll where MRR suddenly draws a comparison with another writer, and the only real clue as to which writer he bestows his praise on and which one MRR shreds to pieces (Böll or the other) is sometimes only found in knowing that MRR was a huge fan of Heinrich Böll's - both in a literary capacity and on a personal level. Heinrich Böll helped MRR to leave Poland and settle in West Germany at a time it was not possible to do so without taking a great personal risk. From that perspective alone, MRR always looked on Heinrich Böll as more than a writer.   

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text 2014-12-05 21:35
Friday Night Treat
Auf der Schwelle des Fremden: das Leben der Annemarie Schwarzenbach - Alexis Schwarzenbach

Delivered by courier earlier this evening. If you thought food delivered to your door on a Friday night was a treat, this beats it by far...


I promise I won't be obsessing about this author and beleaguer your feeds with with posts proclaiming my undying love for anything she's written but it is the second time this year that I am just blown away by an author I had never even heard of before - which is testament to my own ignorance rather than to Schwarzenbach's obscurity. 


Anyway, can't wait to get stuck into this... 

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