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07/12/2006

Books this Season: Fiction

Autumn 2006

Fiction / Nonfiction & Political Books

India

As the guest country at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, India dominated not only the business section of the papers but also the feuilleton pages. This window of opportunity was eagerly seized upon by a new generation of Indian authors who used it to present themselves confidently and copiously.

Kiran Desai won the Booker Prize for "The Inheritance of Loss" a parallel story about young Indians in the Himalayas and New York. The feuilletons approve. The book's colourful kaleidoscope of national history and personal destiny reminded the SZ of Uwe Johnson's "Anniversary". The FAZ found it a welcome antidote to nostalgic colonial literature, and remarkable for its shocking resignation, an opinion echoed by the taz. The NZZ is determined, despite all this, that Desai's generous, cosmopolitan and benevolent humour does not go unmentioned.

Kiran Nagarkar worked on "God's Little Warrior" for seven years. Zia, who tries out every religious and political fanaticism he can get his hands on, became too much of a handful at times. The SZ, left quite breathless by this whirlwind of extremes, believes the book has done an excellent job of capturing the chaos of Bombay and India. "Effervescent", "effusive" and "teeming" are the sort of words that spill from the pages of the FAZ and Die Zeit to describe Nagarkar's visually opulent narrative.

For a run-down on Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found", Vikram Chandra's giant novel "Sacred Games" and Altaf Tyrewala's "No God in Sight", see our feature "Hieronymous Bosch on acid" by Ilija Trojanow.


Poetry

Two weeks before he was to receive the Büchner Prize, and on the eve of his 80th birthday, the Rumanian-German poet Oskar Pastior passed away. The first part of his collected works "...sage, du habest es rauschen gehört" ("...say, thou hast heard the whirring") which was published just before his death, contains early poems and writings. For the SZ, it revealed a whole new side to Pastior, a "highly-talented Lied poet", wistful and romantic, whose ingenious feel for language was already making itself felt; only his ingratiating himself with Rumania's socialist regime was embarrassing. The FAZ, however, much prefers the later poems of the "high-spirited, formally stringent and gentle poet" Pastior. (See our feature on Pastior, "The spell of a tender eel".)


Eastern European writers

The taz enjoyed the good solid plot and the coarse emotions in Daniel Odija's novel "Das Sägewerk" (the saw mill) which tells the tale of an unscrupulous provincial businessman, who in the end falls victim to even more Machiavellian individuals. Added to the company are a handful of impoverished and brutalised post-communism casualties, who are scraping a living in the grimness of provincial North-East Poland. The taz reads the novel as a study of evil and current-day Poland rolled into one and found it reminiscent of Andrzej Stasiuk, minus the nostalgia. The NZZ encountered tristesse and darkness against "magically lit landscapes".

Sasa Stanisic's debut novel about his childhood during the civil war in Bosnia got a more mixed reception. "Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert" (how the soldier repaired the gramophone) brought on thunderous applause from the taz with its "wild, impetuous and poetic" story. And from the NZZ and the FR which was even reminded of Grimmelshausen. The FAZ vouches for Stanisic's talent, penchant for story-telling and "breath-taking scenes". Die Zeit was left cold by all the "smiling picaresque, Balkan quaintness and the touristy-twee image of Bosnia."


German-speaking writers


Great expectations lay in wait for Martin Walser's new book about betrayal between old friends, money, madness and love. The verdict barometer went from unadulterated pleasure – for the SZ, Walser's novel was wonderfully, shamelessly erotic and definitely better than Marx – to chilly disgust – the taz was appalled by the sweaty, drooling impression it left. The FAZ says the younger generation should take a leaf out of his book and the NZZ passes a Swiss-Solomon judgement that the 477-page "Angstblüte" (angst blossom) delivers at least 300 pages of undiluted reading pleasure.

Austrian author Christoph Ransmayr, alias the world's slowest writer, took a total of eleven years to pen "Der fliegende Berg" (the flying mountain). An epic free verse poem about two mountain-climbing brothers which drives the critics to the edge of transcendence. The NZZ is enchanted by the intensity of the narration and praises the stupendous qualities of Ransmayr the travel writer. While Die Zeit finds itself teetering along the safe side of kitsch and enjoying the deadly beauty of the black sky with unprecedented intensity, the SZ finds this rare and precious book uncanny. Is this a but a celebration of the sublime?

Botho Strauß met with unanimous approval for his short prose pieces in "Mikado", which is worth mentioning because his relationship to the culture industry was not always unstrained. The taz is pleased to see that Strauß has put his hatred of the present to one side, allowing him to write from the hip, with ease and versatility. The book deals with the growing timidity and pallor of the individual, the FR reveals, and is rather taken by the unselfconscious impression the stories make. Die Zeit is particularly partial to Strauß's love of incompatibility.

Annette Pehnt was also highly commended for her novel "Haus der Schildkröten" (house of the tortoises), a story of two people who cold-heartedly hand over their parents to the desolation of an old people's home only to get trapped in the tristesse of their own loneliness. The NZZ attests to the author's "fine eye for the abysses of love". The taz recommends this book as "a depressing novel of the quietest timbres".


Fiction / Nonfiction & Political Books
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