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review 2017-05-12 15:15
Die So Geliebte (Lei Cosi Amata)
Die So Geliebte. Roman Um Annemarie Schwarzenbach - Melania G. Mazzucco

Die So Geliebte (The So Beloved), originally published in Italian as Lei Cosi Amata, a fictionalised biography of Annemarie Schwarzenbach, on of the 1930s travel writers that I have become a fan of over the last couple of years, really quite surprised me.

 

I'm always hesitant about fictionalised biography because so many authors try to add an angle (usually a soppy romance - blergh!) that wasn't really there, so when I come across a book that does not dwell on this, is researched well, includes a lot of details and dates, and even goes to some effort to describe the research process in the afterword, it is exciting.

Of course, there are still aspects that I could criticise in the book: I still only have a vague concept of what Mazzucco describes as the betrayal of the MC (Schwarzenbach) on her family or the "disgrace" she's brought on her family, or that some of the re-imagined conversations were overly dramatic and sounded somewhat unnatural, or that some of the episodes in Schwarzenbach's life were missing, like her famous trip to Afghanistan with Kini Maillart.

 

However, these small criticisms fade when I look at the intent of the book, which was to tell the story of a young person in the 1920s and 30s who was searching for her own identity and purpose in a world that seemed to be falling apart. It was not the intent of the book to be a factual chronology of Schwarzenbach's life but to give context to it. And in this it really succeeded. 

 

(Btw, it is kinda ironic that the cover of the book is from a film called "Die Reise nach Kafiristan", which is loosely based on the trip with Maillart that is missing from this book.)

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review 2016-07-03 00:00
Podróże przez Azję i Europę
Podróże przez Azję i Europę - Annemarie ... Podróże przez Azję i Europę - Annemarie Schwarzenbach
Na okolicznych wzgórzach widać małe meczety o spiczastych minaretach, również otoczone cyprysami. Sziraz, podobnie jak Florencja w Toskanii, jest pogodne i sprzyjające sztukom, pełne ogrodów i fontann.
Dzień spędziliśmy w wielkim ogrodzie naszego przyjaciela, Anglika. Dużo myśleliśmy o Europie.
Bo cóż innego może robić inteligentna, spostrzegawcza, depresyjna osoba w 1933 roku?
Sądząc po artykułach, które znalazłam w sieci, trudno jest pisać o Annemarie Schwarzenbach bez patosu. Bez wątpienia miała dar dostrzegania i analizowania zła (i lepiej może, że nie przewidziała rozwoju sytuacji na Bliskim Wschodzie – oto, jak oceniła moc islamskiego separatyzmu: )
To, czego nie dowiedzieliśmy się w Al-Kazimijja, przyszło nam zrozumieć w Karbali: negatywną moc ducha, który odcina się od świata. Pojawia się również w Europie, gdzie jednak zawsze się wynaturza i przyjmuje straszliwe formy. Tutaj, mając do dyspozycji tysiąc jeden możliwości Orientu, tworzy święte miasto, wyspę sięgającą nie dalej niż pas otaczających je palmowych ogrodów.
Jednak te zjawiska, których była świadkiem w Europie, oceniała bezbłędnie: jej szkice o początkach nazizmu, pisane w drugiej połowie lat trzydziestych, choć pozornie mało drastyczne, wywołują ciarki sposobem przedstawienia ekonomicznej i edukacyjnej machiny nastawionej na prześladowanie i marginalizację niechcianych mniejszości oraz pranie mózgu większości, i są, jak dla mnie, przykładem naprawdę dobrego dziennikarstwa i świadectwem dużego talentu. Schwarzenbach, choć nie wolna od naiwności – zwłaszcza we wczesnych szkicach podróżniczych – potrafiła ujmować zjawiska w sposób ponadczasowy: "Buty upuszczone do Innu", jej szkic o bezpaństwowcach, to obowiązkowa lektura dla Europejczyków czasu wielkich nielegalnych migracji.
Szkice podróżnicze, które z początku mnie nie zachwyciły, wydały mi się bardzo dobre – bardzo opisowe, wywołujące żywe obrazy, w większości surowe w formie, poza rzadkimi poetyckimi fragmentami takimi jak ten poniżej, w którym Schwarzenbach pisze o Turcji:
Po chwili jechaliśmy galopem. Łagodne przejście między wzgórzami a równiną, między rżyskami a suchymi połaciami piasku porośniętymi wysokimi ostami, które konie pokonywały małymi skokami, wydawało się bezkresne. Przemieszczaliśmy się szybko, gwizdał wiatr. Byłam wolna od wszelkiego niezadowolenia i zastanawiałam się, dlaczego Europejczycy czują się tu tak nieswojo.
I wtedy spostrzegłam nad sobą szybującego wysoko sokoła. Przez chwilę oślepiło mnie światło - skrzydło ptaka spotężniało i zasłoniło jaśniejące niebo jak cień księżyca słoneczną tarczę. Spojrzałam w górę, ptak znów znieruchomiał na wysokości. Pomyślałam, że to właśnie jest niebezpieczeństwo. Spostrzegłam, że oddaliłam się od grupy, i pognałam z powrotem.

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review 2016-01-23 23:25
Winter in Vorderasien
Winter in Vorderasien. - Annemarie Schwarzenbach

Winter in Vorderasien is Schwarzenbach's account of her first trip to Turkey, Syria, the Lebanon, and Palestine. She made the trip in 1933 and the impressions she gained would not only serve as inspiration for a collection of short stories (Bei diesem Regen) but would also determine her fate as a travel writer - as she would continue to travel and share her experiences through both her photographic work and her writing.

 

While this not the best of her work with respect to writing style, the fascinating aspect of this book is that it is a frank account of her impressions. The short stories she would later extract from these initial sketches are much more polished stylistically, but they also loose some of the edge with which Schwarzenbach takes account of the events of her travels at the time - inconveniences, frustrations, and not all but some of the unpleasant experiences are accounted for in Winter in Vorderasien which will not feature in the later revisions. Again, it must be said that the revisions are offered as a work of fiction and must be read as such whereas this book is not and as such portrays much more of the Western European attitudes of travellers in a world which is still governed by colonialists. Although Schwarzenbach does not share all of these attitudes, she is subjected to them as she could not have undertaken the trip without depending on the established ex-pat society she meets on the way, and this does come across in her impressions - even though her own thoughts and attitudes would be developed in more detail in the subsequent short stories.

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review 2015-11-18 12:45
Gesammelte Werke - Annemarie Schwarzenbach
Annemarie Schwarzenbach: "Gesammelte Werke" (German Edition) - Annemarie Schwarzenbach,Lara Sonntag

Diese Sammlung beinhalted zwar keine von Schwarzenbach's Reiseberichten, aber dafuer ihr belletristisches Gesamtwerk, inkusive der posthum veroeffentlichten Skizze "Eine Frau zu sehen", mit der Schwarzenbach der literarischen Welt wohl Jahrzehnte voraus war.

5* schon allein fuer "Bei diesem Regen", der Sammlung von Erzaehlungen, die auf ihren Reisen in Vorderasien beruht (siehe auch Schwarzenbach's Reisebericht "Winter in Vorderasien"), und "Flucht nach oben", das fuer mich eine gelungenere Alternative zu Mann's "Der Zauberberg" bietet.

Schade, dass die meisten ihrer Buecher nicht in englischer Uebersetzung erhaeltlich sind.

 

*Review in German - I have reviewed most of the stories contained in this collection individually (in English) here:

 

Bei diesem Regen

Flucht nach oben

Das Glueckliche Tal

Freunde um Bernhard

 

It's a pity not much of her work has been translated.

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review 2015-08-30 21:15
Freunde um Bernhard
Freunde um Bernhard - Annemarie Schwarzenbach

Bernhard is a student who has a talent for playing the piano and making friends with similarly artistically minded youths in the late 1920s. When school finishes, he persuades his family that he should receive musical training in Paris. With the move from Germany to Paris, however, begins Bernhard's journey of life on his own and he has to navigate not only his new home, new acquaintances, and difficulties making a living, he also leaves behind a circle of friends, who seem to be rather lost without him.

 

Freunde um Bernhard (Bernhard's Friends) is Schwarzenbach's debut novel. Written in 1930/31, Schwarzenbach had to divide her time between writing this novel and writing her PhD, an endeavour which left her close to exhaustion on many an occasion. At the time, Schwarzenbach was only 22, and it continues to astound me that she not only was in a position to submit a postgraduate degree at this point, but also that, by this time, she had already close friendships with Klaus and Erika Mann, both of whom discussed their work with her and critiqued her work. That is, at least the Manns discussed Schwarzenbach's previous novella (Lyric Novella) with her. It seems from the correspondence between Schwarzenbach and Erika, that Erika didn't get to read Bernhard until after it was published (if, indeed, she ever did read it).

 

Freunde um Bernhard is not a book that thrives on a gripping plot. Rather, it is a coming of age story of the main character Bernhard as well as of each of the friends surrounding him that is based on the development of the relationships between each of the friends. This is not a concept that I expected to work as well as it did, tho, it does require some patience on the part of the reader to bear with the characters. The characters, themselves, i.e. Bernhard and his friends, are well drawn out, even if they are somewhat naive at times. Then again, Schwarzenbach is fully aware of this but also describes to Erika Mann that some of the characters show much of her adolescent self and her own struggles coming to terms with the world around her.

Reading the story, this was fascinating because the set of characters, modeled - no doubt! - not only on the author but also on the relationship with her friends (particularly the Mann siblings) is such a mirror of the generation of its time. A generation of the inter-war years finding it difficult to conform to the societal norms of the previous Wilhelminian Era and trying to build a society of its own, yet, not accustomed to or comfortable with the idea of fully-fledged rebellion.

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