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Search tags: German-literature
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review 2018-12-02 16:01
Noirvember Reading: ALFF by Jakob Nolte
ALFF - Jakob Nolte

Jakob Nolte is a young German playwright and author. ALFF is his debut novel, published 2015. A hideous crime has been committed at the High & Low High School of Beetaville, New England: a student was found dead, sewn into a fence. Soon a second body follows. FBI agent Donna Jones is called to investigate. But the murderer is elusive, the investigation seems fruitless, and Donna reaches the edge of his sanity.

 

Put like this, the plot sounds clear-cut - but it isn't. With Nolte, form comes before function, and so he's less concerned with telling a crime-story, and much more with a danse macabre on the grave of US High School comedies from the 1990s. Nolte, who's born 1988 and has never been to the US, spins a post-modern, absurdist yarn with little regard for reality, but sometimes touching pretty close to the truth: the truth of being a teenager in the 1990s, the time of Grunge and Silence of the Lambs and S7ven, without ubiquitous mobile phones or even ubiquitous internet. It's a bit like Twin Peaks meets Heathers, but more, well, more 90s.

 

I didn't like ALFF as much as I liked Nolte's second novel, the German Book Award-nominated Schreckliche Gewalten, one of my favourite German novels of the last ten years. ALFF felt a bit too long and could've been more punchy. I still enjoyed it a lot. If you want to see somebody using the German language as a playing field, with a sense for style and little respect for convention, Nolte's your guy.

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review 2018-08-30 19:32
Tossed Hither and Thither: "Michael Kohlhaas" by Heinrich von Kleist
Michael Kohlhaas - Heinrich von Kleist


Just back from a long train journey, I took the opportunity to read Michael Kohlhaas in German. I can't imagine this text in English; it somehow seems simultaneously modern, and of the time in which the story is set. The actual language hardly intrudes at all, but there are particular words or phrases whose recurrence or juxtaposition hints at darker, hidden meaning; horrible things are described with equanimity, but there is always just a hint of deeper feeling beneath the surface. The foreword coins the phrase "anti-rhetoric"- a deliberate toning down of the descriptive passages, in order to focus attention on single moments, character's reactions, or a gesture.

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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text 2018-08-18 15:47
Reading progress update: I've read 147 out of 190 pages.
The Solitary Summer - Elizabeth von Arnim

"A man once made it a reproach that I should be so happy, and told me everybody has crosses, and that we live in a vale of woe. I mentioned moles as my principal cross, and pointed to the huge black mounds with which they had decorated the tennis-court, but I could not agree to the vale of woe, and could not be shaken in my belief that the world is a dear and lovely place, with everything in it to make us happy so long as we walk humbly and diet ourselves. He pointed out that sorrow and sickness were sure to come, and seemed quite angry with me when I suggested that they too could be borne perhaps with cheerfulness. 'And have not even such things their sunny side?' I exclaimed. 'When I am steeped to the lips in diseases and doctors, I shall at least have something to talk about that interests my women friends, and need not sit as I do now wondering what I shall say next and wishing they would go.' He replied that all around me lay misery, sin, and suffering, and that every person not absolutely blinded by selfishness must be aware of it and must realise the seriousness and tragedy of existence. I asked him whether my being miserable and discontented would help any one or make him less wretched; and he said that we all had to take up our burdens. I assured him I would not shrink from mine, though I felt secretly ashamed of it when I remembered that it was only moles, and he went away with a grave face and a shaking head, back to his wife and his eleven children. I heard soon afterwards that a twelfth baby had been born and his wife had died, and in dying had turned her face with a quite unaccountable impatience away from him and to the wall; and the rumour of his piety reached even into my garden, and how he had said, as he closed her eyes, 'It is the Will of God.' He was a missionary."

Quintessential Elizabeth.  And yet, her own cross amounted to vastly more than mole hills, too, in fact.

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text 2018-08-18 15:37
Reading progress update: I've read 140 out of 190 pages.
The Solitary Summer - Elizabeth von Arnim

"All those maxims about judging others by yourself, and putting yourself in another person's place, are not, I am afraid, reliable. I had them dinned into me constantly as a child, and I was constantly trying to obey them, and constantly was astonished at the unexpected results I arrived at; and now I know that it is a proof of artlessness to suppose that other people will think and feel and hope and enjoy what you do and in the same way that you do."

True. But then, you also had the courage to defy convention, Elizabeth ...

 

And I still think at least when it comes to cruelty vs. common decency, there is something to be said in favor of "don't do to others what you don't want to have done to yourself."

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text 2018-08-18 15:27
Reading progress update: I've read 133 out of 190 pages.
The Solitary Summer - Elizabeth von Arnim

"I am frightened once more at the solitariness in which we each of us live. I have, it is true, a great many friends -- people with whom it is pleasant to spend an afternoon if such afternoons are not repeated often, and if you are careful not to stir more than the surface of things, but among them all there is only one who has, roughly, the same tastes that I have ..."

Once again -- I hear you, Elizabeth.

 

Though I also think you'd have been very much at home in an internet book community.

 

Even though ... a Wordsworthian goose girl?  Hmm.

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