Eine Buchrezension – A Book Review of Miss Hamburg

The beauty of language is that it opens up so many new avenues of communication. We can talk to more people, watch movies and read books in their original form, learn about different cultures. This blog site features write-ups mostly in English to cater to a wider reader base. When I post in any other language, the English translation follows the original post. I started learning German a few months ago, and have been attempting to read books in the original language, on the recommendations of librarians. The past few weeks have been busy, and I just finished my Deutsch A1 exam yesterday. I’ve barely even scratched the surface of the vast expanse of German literature. Like every little drop adding to the ocean, we start with baby steps and gradually increase our strides towards bigger things.

This is a review of the book Miss Hamburg. I’m attempting to write in German (and the English translation will follow below).

Der Buchtitel – Miss Hamburg

Die Autoren – Theo Scherling und Elke Burger

Genre – Fiktion

Sprache – Deutsch

Ein Buch aus der Leo & Co. Serie – des Bücher über eine Kneipe. Leo is einen Maler und eine leidenschaftlicher Koch, und Besitzer der Kneipe “Leo & Co.” Unsere Protagonistin Anna ist eine Studentin, die Teilzeit in der Kneipe arbeitet. Anna liest eine Anzeige von einer Modelagentur und möchte mit einem professionellen Portfolio einsteigen. Ihre Freundin Veronika, Boss Leo und Oma Trude, zusammen mit dem Fotograf Kai helfen Anna dabei. Ihr anderer Freund Paco scheint es nicht glücklich, dass Anna mit dem Modeln anfängt. Das Buch führt uns durch die Reise diese Gruppe von Charakteren, die Anna bei ihrer Verwandlung von der Kellnerin zum Model unterstützen und im Miss Hamburg-Wettbewerb beenden. Nervenkitzel, Missverständnisse, Freundschaften, Familie – der Leser wird zussamen mit Anna.

Eine mittelmäßige und kurz Geschichte. Gut herausgeätzte Charaktere und eine interessante Übersicht, die von Klischees ferngehalten wird. Eine etwas ausgedehnte Erzählung hätte das Leseerlebnis verbessert. Das Buch wird von einer Audio-CD begleitet, die eine große Hilfe ist, um die Aussprache beim Erlernen einer neuen Sprache zu üben.

Empfehlenswert, wenn Sie Bücher mit einfachen Handlungssträngen mögen – aber ohne Klischees – die menschliche Gefühle berühren.

Bewertung – 3/5

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For English readers,

Title – Miss Hamburg

Authors – Theo Scherling and Elke Burger

Genre – Fiction

Language – German

A book from the Leo & Co. series – a number of books featuring various incidents surrounding a pub of the same name. Leo is a painter and passionate cook, who runs the pub “Leo and Co.” Our protagonist Anna is a student who works part-time at the pub. Anna chances upon an ad by a modelling agency, and wishes to enter by creating a professional portfolio. Her friend Veronika, boss Leo, and grandma Oma Trude, along with Kai the photographer, encourage and help Anna in the endeavor. Her other friend Paco doesn’t seem too keen on Anna taking up modelling. The book takes us through the journey of this motley group of characters as they assist Anna in her transformation from waitress to model, culminating in the Miss Hamburg contest. Thrills, apprehensions, misunderstandings, friendships, family – the reader is taken on a roller coaster along with Anna.

A mediocre story line, which I felt passed too swiftly. Well etched out characters, and an interesting synopsis that stay away from clichés. A little drawn out narration would have enhanced the reading experience and given us more time with each character and their role in Anna’s life. The book is accompanied by an audio CD, which is a great aid to practice pronunciations when learning a new language.

Recommended if you like books with simple story lines – but without clichés – that touch on human emotions.

My rating – 3/5

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Reader’s Delight – Learning A New Language

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Günter Grass, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Böll, Franz Kafka, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche – whether literature or philosophy, German writers have given us some of the finest works in novels, short stories, and non-fiction. Several literary gems have been made accessible to us through translators. The curiosity over what might be lost in translation, however, coupled with the quest to read what the original writer has written, in his/her own words, is something that drives me to learn new languages. The ocean of these literary giants is too vast to dive into so soon, so I’m momentarily dipping my toes into the smallest pond of German literature.

This site has not seen many write-ups lately, because I started German classes a few months ago.  I have daily lectures, along with working full-time, and haven’t had much time to write.

So, I just finished reading my first German book – EINE SPEZIELLE BAND by Sabine Werner. I will attempt to write a full review in German in a separate post. For the time being, this is a YA book featuring its protagonist Michael who hates school, doesn’t like the area he lives in, and doesn’t get along with the kids around him. His only happiness lies in music – listening to his favorite musicians and trying to recreate their music on his guitar. At a concert one day, a chance encounter with a random stranger and fellow music lover, leads him to being invited to join a band. And thus we set out on a musical journey with this group of youngsters who love hearing and making music.

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Sabine Werner narrates a simple story, accompanied with beautiful illustrations for each chapter. The book came along with an audio CD. I highly recommend audio accompaniments when learning a new language. Often, even voracious readers mispronounce words since they’ve only read them and never heard them. When starting a language from scratch, it is important to learn correct spellings and pronunciations. The audio uses different voices for the various characters, which is a good learning aid since people speak differently, even in the same language. There are questions pertaining to each chapter, so the reader can practice how much of the text has been understood at the end of every chapter. Interspersed between chapters, are a handful of pages sharing general information about Germany – something that relates to the chapter you just finished, as well as educates about the country’s culture.

A beautiful package of reading and hearing a delightful story. A must-read for music lovers, or those looking for a simple story on friendships and life surrounding music. It’s always a sense of achievement to learn something new. As a reader, studying a new language gives one access to a whole new ocean of literature in its true form. The giants of German literature are still a long way off, but baby steps with easier books will get me closer there some day.

P.S. If there are any German speaking bloggers who follow this blog, your suggestions and recommendations on German books to read will be highly appreciated.

 

Feline Linguists

When curiosity flares up and you can’t help yourself…

The first picture was taken about three years ago, when my older cat was obstructing my Italian lessons. The second picture features the newest kitten in the household snooping around my German workbook. They’re not called curious cats for nothing! 😸

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When Nature Sells…What Will You Buy?

Being ebullient in nature. A poem that appreciates the wonder and beauty the world has to offer.

 

BARTER

~Sara Teasdale

 

Life has loveliness to sell,

All beautiful and splendid things,

Blue waves whitened on a cliff,

Soaring fire that sways and sings,

And children’s faces looking up

Holding wonder like a cup.

 

Life has loveliness to sell,

Music like a curve of gold,

Scent of pine trees in the rain,

Eyes that love you, arms that hold,

And for your spirit’s still delight,

Holy thoughts that star the night.

 

Spend all you have for loveliness,

Buy it and never count the cost,

For one white singing hour of peace

Count many a year of strife well lost,

And for a breath of ecstasy

Give all you have been, or could be.

 

The Blind Owl – Book Review

Title – The Blind Owl

Original language – Persian/Farsi

Author – Sadegh Hedayat

English translation – D.P. Costello

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The year takes off with a literary bang! The first book of the year and what a treat it has been. In continuation with my Birthday Reading Goals of reading translated books from languages starting with each letter of the English alphabet, I had selected this literary masterpiece from Iran for Persian.

There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker.” When a book opens with such haunting lines, you marvel at the author’s ability to keep the reader hooked from the start, and at the same time to not discourage one with its morose theme. According to folk lore, screech owls are considered to be harbingers of death. The Blind Owl is considered as one of the major literary works of the twentieth century, and is a story of romance as much as it can be seen as autobiographical. The story opens with an unnamed narrator – a painter of pen cases – who has confined himself to a room, as he lumbers about within its four walls thinking of death, and gives the reader glimpses into his murderous thoughts as he shares his writings with the shadow on the wall. “My shadow on the wall had become exactly like an owl and, leaning forward, read intently every word I wrote. He understood perfectly. Only he was capable of understanding.” The narrator considers only solitude and his shadow as friends, to the extent of believing his shadow to be more real than himself. “The shadow that I cast upon the wall was much denser and more distinct than my real body.” He is in poor health and is waiting to die, while remembering an unrequited love that brought him to this state. Or maybe his ill health caused his love to be unrequited in the first place. Who knows for sure? “Was not my room a coffin? This bed that was always unrolled, inviting me to sleep, was it not colder and darker than the grave?” Is he waiting for death, or considers himself dead already (as he often refers to himself as a living corpse)?  Who are the familiar faces he sees, and what are the experiences he remembers as already having experienced in another life?

The narrative spans different times and eras, but the writing is almost surreal and leaves you wondering whether you’re reading about the same person or different people. We know the unnamed narrator is sinking into despair after the death of a loved one, and his own worsening health. But which one was the cause and which one is the effect? “I would cut up her body, pack it in a suitcase, take it away with me to some place far, very far from people’s eyes.” The writing swirls with memories, dreams, nightmares, a gory past, a fearful future, a confusing present, leaving the reader to figure out what is actually happening and which parts are in the head of a madman. Sightings or hallucinations? Dreams or reality? “It seems as though I have forgotten how to talk to the people of this world, to living people” , writes the narrator. So can we, as readers, be sure of what he writes for us?

Hedayat seamlessly weaves the overlapping narratives, often reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s morbid themes, but makes you read in awe as his writing, without for a moment, causes the book to appear sad. (The novel was originally banned in Iran with the reason that it made people suicidal.) He teases the reader with ironic lines from his narrator like, “How sick I am of well-constructed plots and brilliant writing!” But it is this very writing that makes this book so brilliant and a treat for literary enthusiasts. In spite of the narrator’s obsession with death, the lines are beautifully composed.

Death was murmuring his song in my ear like a stammering man who is obliged to repeat each word and who, when he has come to the end of a line, has to begin it afresh.”

It seemed a miracle to me that I had not dissolved in the bath like a lump of salt.”

The fact of dying is a fearful thing in itself but the consciousness that one is dead would be far worse.”

Some more beautifully constructed figures of speech:

It was more pleasant to sit in the dark, that dense liquid which permeates everything and every place.”

The sun, like a golden knife, was steadily paring away the edge of the shade beside the walls.”

The interlocking trees with their wry, twisted branches seemed in the darkness to be gripping one another by the hand for fear they should slip and crash to the ground.”

The night was departing on tip-toe. One felt that it had shed sufficient of its weariness to enable it to go its way.”

Several lines strike a chord of what haunts us as humans – fear of death, loss of time, soul searching, hope, random musings being universal themes.

I stood in front of the mirror and stared at my face. The reflection was unfamiliar to me. It was frightening.

What do days and months matter? Time has no meaning for one who is lying in the grave.”

If it were possible for my being to dissolve in one drop of ink, in one bar of music, in one ray of colored light…

Silence is a language which we do not understand.”

All my life has passed within four walls.” I read somewhere about Hedayat’s writing – it is meant to be an experience in itself, and not a book about an experience.The themes are dark, but the lyrical prose shines a light on what great writing truly is. The Blind Owl  was originally published in 1937 in Bombay (India), and only released in Hedayat’s native Iran in 1941. The novel was written when Hedayat was a student in Paris in 1930, and ironically, the French translation by Roger Lescot during WWII was what first brought it popularity. The English version by Costello (which I read) was published in 1957. Hedayat committed suicide at age forty-eight, following years of addiction and disillusionment. (He allocated money for his burial, closed up the doors and windows and turned on the gas in his apartment in the heart of Paris city, where The Blind Owl was written years ago.)

Another one of those books where a review cannot do sufficient justice. It needs to be read to be experienced. The book has been translated into numerous languages, and much gratitude needs to be expressed to the translators who make such wonderful literature accessible to readers everywhere.

My rating – 5/5

A Bibliophile’s Farewell to 2018

Last book of the last weekend of the year. We got this! 💪😼📖

The curiosities of cats never cease. This little guy is about two months old. He was found abandoned soon after birth, and has been hand-reared. He’s one among the bookworm coterie now. 🤓 We’re looking forward to a cozy weekend with a classic Christmassy mystery – a whodunit written in the 1940s.

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Literary Christmas Tree

In keeping with the Christmas tradition in a house filled with bibliophiles, here’s my teensy, bookish Christmas tree for this year.

Story behind the picture: I’m out of shelf space and the latest purchases and gifts have nowhere to go. They’ve been in boxes the last few weeks, and ably supported the festive decor. The upper layers of the tree have Christmassy books that I’ve been reading this month. The lower ones, I will get to gradually through the new year. The bottom layer has books already read that need to be donated.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 🙂

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Have Yourself A Literary Christmas…

Season’s greetings to my bibliophile family! Five days to go for Christmas. Woohoo!! Here are my ongoing reads for the festive season. From thrillers and mysteries, to humor and drama, in the form of novels, anthologies or novellas, literature sure has some variety to offer through Christmas. Has anyone read any of these? Feedback is always appreciated.

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Books and Pets

“There are many little ways to enlarge a child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

~Jacqueline Kennedy

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When you belong to a reader family, a walk around the house is met with treasures scattered everywhere. This curious little kitty peeks into the bibliophilic world. Or maybe he’s drawing inspiration from Agatha Christie – Christmas is drawing near; time to find out where the humans have kept the Christmas pudding.

 

Burial Rites – Book Review

Title – Burial Rites

Author – Hannah Kent

Genre – Fictionalized biography

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Picture sourced from the internet. I read the e-book version.

“People claim to know you through the things you’ve done, and not by sitting down and listening to you speak for yourself.”
~Agnes Magnúsdóttir (1828)

When I love a book, I waste no time in talking and writing about it – people need to know, and they need to read. There are very few books which strike such a chord that I’m left dwelling on them long after reading – whatever I say will not be enough; no review would ever do justice. “Burial Rites” falls in the latter category. This book came highly recommended from an online literary forum I follow, and in spite of receiving numerous recommendations I only recently got around to reading it. And what a treat it has been! I usually avoid reading fictional accounts of true incidents, and rather opt for non-fiction books on the same subject, if available. But Hannah Kent’s debut work was highly spoken of and I decided to give the then twenty-eight year old writer a shot. “Burial Rites” is a novelization of a true story set in the early 1800s cold, wintered landscape of Iceland, and is centered around the conviction and final days of a woman sentenced to death for a double murder – commonly known as the Illugastaðir murders, the farm where the killings took place. Capital punishment was abolished in Iceland in 1830, and Agnes Magnúsdóttir was the last woman to be beheaded.

Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a thirty something housemaid, is charged with the murder of her master and his friend. The district commissioner Björn Blöndal has entrusted her to the household of one of the officers – where she needs to be kept until her execution. In his words, death row convicts need to be placed in the homes of upright Christians who would set a good example and inspire repentance in the criminals, and at the same time benefit from the work these prisoners do in and around their farms as they await their judgement. The family is compensated by the government for their contribution to society, and officers are also present on the premises to ensure no harm comes to the locals. A young priest, Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jónsson is required to visit the household and pray with the criminal to ensure she is repentant by the time of her execution. The family is horrified at the prospect of housing a murderess and avoid interacting with her. The reverend has no prior experience in dealing with murder convicts, and all he can contribute are passages from the Bible. Agnes has nothing to do at the farm since the family is wary of giving her any “tools” – suspicious of what she can use to kill them with. Even a request to knit is almost a plead, with the possible harm she could do with knitting needles. Having to idle away time till her death and no one to talk to, Agnes hopes to be killed then and there itself. “Why not kill me here and now? It is the waiting that cripples.”

The story is narrated through a series of correspondence between the various officials involved in the case – the district commissioner, the priests, the district officer, various clerks and officers handling the criminal records. Not to be confused with an epistolary novel, these were actual letters exchanged at the time which the author has translated and presented to the reader. Each chapter begins with numerous letters, and then follows changing narratives from the third person’s accounts of the happenings in the case, to Agnes herself speaking in first person. And step by step, the reader is led through Agnes’ story – her childhood and adulthood, her parents and siblings, her work life, ultimately leading to the core of the murder mystery that shook Iceland in the early nineteenth century – What exactly happened on the day of the murder that led Agnes to her present state?

“They have strapped me to the saddle like a corpse being taken to the burial ground” , says Agnes, when taken to the farm that will house her till her death. And this is the crux of “Burial Rites” – the entire book is a rite of passage for Agnes as she readies herself for death. Agnes looks forward to living at the farm even when none of the residents want her there (and are only abiding to the district commissioner’s orders), being “grateful that I am returning to the valleys, even if I will die there”. Because living (and dying) in nature is better than “rotting slowly like a body in a coffin” – the atmosphere of the prison she was housed in before being transferred to the farm. Set in the present moment at the farm, the story is narrated in flashback mode through conversations and interactions with various family members – the officer, his wife Margret, the daughters Steina and Lauga, the priest Toti, and Agnes’ thoughts. And as the day of execution nears, the wife, daughters and priest learn of the other side to the sensational double murder story as projected by the authorities and rumor mills. Her final audience to life’s lonely narrative. An absolutely riveting account as Agnes goes from wanting to die to wanting to live, when people finally hear and understand her. “I don’t want to be remembered, I want to be here!” But can they do more? Appeal to the government? Stop the execution?  No spoilers here since we know what finally happened to Agnes Magnúsdóttir – the last person to be executed in Iceland, before the country finally abolished capital punishment in 1830.

Some of the quotes are so beautiful I thought they deserved a mention here:

~I was worst to the one I loved best.

~I will speak in bubbles of air. They will not be able to keep my words for themselves.

~The home had begun to disintegrate, a hovel that had spread its own state of collapse to its inhabitants.

~A tight fear, like a fishing line, hooked upon something that must, inevitably, be dragged from the depths.

~A tremble of exhilaration passes along my skin, like the tremor on the surface of a pot of water about to boil.

~Memories shift like loose snow in a wind, or are a choral of ghosts all talking over one another.

~There was some comfort in talking about death aloud, as though in naming things, you could prevent them from happening.

~There is so much illness in the world…so much that can go wrong with a person.

~A person you love as much as you hate the hold they have on you.

~They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine.

Kent’s interpretation of the Illugastaðir murders and executions is based on years of research through accessing ministerial records, parish archives, local publications,  historical records, letters and documents. There are several works of literature and poetry mentioned, highlighting the high literacy rates among Icelanders since the end of the eighteenth century. Some sagas quoted go as far back as 1245. I loved the snippets of Icelandic, and was glad to learn some phrases in the local language. Kent’s meticulously researched and written account is commendable indeed – for a debut writer, and just at twenty eight years of age when the book was published. When you already know how the story ends, it takes a great writer to hold the reader’s attention till the end. In today’s social media age, people’s opinions and judgements of each other are often based on what is read or heard or seen on feeds, posts and pictures. In the early 1800s, Agnes Magnúsdóttir raised the same question – What happens when one’s life is based on the stories told by others? Without speaking to the person, the world claims to know all about them. The fairness of the original proceedings of Iceland’s “most notorious woman” was questioned even centuries later, and reading “Burial Rites” is not for everyone. A difficult story to read but one that needs to be read for the many questions it raises. Kent is a talented writer and efficient researcher, and this is one of the few books where the author and protagonist of his/her story compete for attention – such is the brilliance of this speculative biography, a beautifully haunting, gripping, and outstanding debut work of literature. I read this on Kindle, but plan on procuring a paperback – it deserves a place in the library.

My rating – 5/5