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A Few Reading Highlights, After a Third of a Year – 2021

This seemed like a good time to pick out a few of the best books that I have read this year that haven’t made it into my blog. Just as a reminder, I write a little bit about every book I read during the year on the 2021 Reading Log, which can be found at the top of my blog. (I know the link wasn’t working earlier this year, but that has been corrected.)

At the top of my list of favorites are two Virginia Woolf classics, Mrs. Dalloway and The Years, but I won’t say anything more about them here. And I have already written at some length about two outstanding books by Wolfgang Koeppen, Death in Rome and The Hothouse. If you’ve followed Vertigo for awhile, you probably know that I greatly value good detective stories and police procedurals. So far this year, three have stood out among the handful that I’ve read: Ben H. Winters, The Last Detective (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2012); Nicholas Freeling, Love in Amsterdam (Gollancz, 1962); Kate London, Post Mortem (London: Corvus, 2015). But here are seven books that I thought warranted your attention.

Caryl Pagel. Out of Nowhere Into Nothing. Tuscaloosa, AL: FC2: 2020. The following statement is blandly appended to the copyright page of this book, but don’t overlook it: “This book is interested in memory, accumulating particulars, and retelling a good story. It is a work of nonfiction and fiction. Though it includes research and aims for veracity, the narratives ultimately rely on the author’s version of events. The author has been, and could still be, mistaken.” The pieces in this wonderful book (one hesitates to call them essays) morph slowly and mysteriously from subject to subject. Anything is game to Pagel’s curiously open mind—from sinkholes to Spiral Jetty, from Alexander Humboldt to Lucy Lippard. There are photographs, but they usually don’t explain or illustrate. Instead, they tend to complicate the words around them. Pagel seems obsessed with those moments when the wobbling mind daydreams about “strange associations, abstract anxieties, and bewildering, unintelligible images.” Most of us gloss over such moments, but Pagel probes them for the creative leaps they take across our mind’s synapses.

Enrique Vila-Matas. Vampire in Love and Other Stories. NY: New Directions, 2016. Selected and translated from the Spanish originals by Margaret Jull Costa. Let’s just say that the characters in Vampire in Love have issues. Several characters are mute, one communes with the paintings in a museum, one is a petty and unlikable liar. There is a hunchback in love with an altar boy, a man who rides the bus so that he can collect phrases that he overhears, and a father who wishes his eldest son was dead. Many of them seem to have, as one character does, “an inexhaustible trail of vague sadness.” The reader quickly learns that some of Vila-Matas’s narrators can be very unreliable. In other words, Vampire in Love is a great deal of fun to read. I didn’t love every story, but a number of them were superb.

Javier Marias. Berta Isla. NY: Knopf, 2019. Translated from the 2017 Spanish original by Margaret Jull Costa. In many of his books, Javier Marias has been obsessed with the trappings of traditional marriage. He has found ways to put the marital ideals of faithfulness and honesty to the spouse to the ultimate test through infidelity, murder, and other trials. A here he tests a marriage by dishonesty and then disappearance. In Berta Isla, Marias returns to some of the characters of his Your Face Tomorrow trilogy from a decade ago. A Spaniard, Tomás Nevinson, is a spy for Britain’s MI6. He’s married to Berta Isla, has two children, and goes off frequently for weeks or months at a time on jobs he is not permitted to explain to her. Much of the book is told from her perspective as she tries to cope with a husband she can never really, truly know. And then, without warning, Tomás disappears, apparently for good. As always, Marias is interested in the themes of identity, trust, betrayal, and, of course, country. This thought-provoking and compelling novel is set among the ethical uncertainties of post-Franco Spain and asks the question why a Spaniard might want to spy for Great Britain.

Percival Everett. Erasure. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2001. In this extraordinary novel, Everett takes on those critics and readers who have said or thought that he’s not “black enough,” that his novels don’t tend to deal with the black people that live (in the stereotypical imagination) in poor, single-parent homes in crime-ridden ghettos, that his characters don’t speak in the gangsta rap of “The Wire.” Thelonius “Monk” Ellison is a an academic and a novelist much like Everett, accused of writing “dense, obscure novels.” When he sees the kind of money and movie offers thrown at the authors of books like We Lives in Da Ghetto, he’s initially scornful. But eventually, under personal economic pressures, he writes a ghetto novel of his own in pseudo-vernacular Black language under a pseudonym and becomes rich. The dialectic between remaining a pure, marginalized novelist read by an elite few or becoming an economically independent black entrepreneur who has caved to popular demands becomes a fascinating tug of war.

John Banville. Athena. NY: Knopf, 1995. I first read Athena twenty-five years ago and it entranced me even more this second time around. Banville’s lyrical, “idiosyncratic” (according to one blurb) prose is perfectly attuned to the quirky blend of snobby art history and Dublin criminal underworld of this novel. There are times when I wondered if Banville ever met an adjective he didn’t like, but I really admire the power of his prose style in the era of Athena and The Book of Evidence (1989). These are books with long spiraling sentences, written with a robust vocabulary that made me check my dictionary now and then. So when Banville breaks stride and writes a simple declarative sentence, it stops you dead in your tracks and you realize you are in the hands of a master writer at the top of his game.

Anuk Arudpragasam. The Story of a Brief Marriage. London: Granta, 2016. Having been stunned by his story “Last Rites” in the Fall 2019 issues of The Paris Review, I couldn’t wait to read his first novel. It doesn’t disappoint. The Story of a Brief Marriage follows roughly twenty-four hours in the life of Dinesh, a young man living in a desperate refugee camp of some tens of thousands of people in Sri Lanka. At a clinic where he volunteers, he meets a young woman, Ganga, whose father suggests that they marry. For a variety of reasons, it is likely that such a marriage might lessen the risks they each might face from the soldiers who occasionally raid the camps. Amidst chaos, death, and total uncertainty about the future, Dinesh and Ganga each try to discover themselves in relation to the sudden appearance of this new person in their lives. This is beautifully observed writing that deserves slow reading; Anuk can take three or four delicious pages to describe Dinesh bathing or simply watching Ganga breathe as she sleeps. This is a book about tenderness in the midst of unbelievable horror. I eagerly await his next novel, A Passage North, which comes out in July.

Jenny Erpenbeck. Not a Novel: A Memoir in Pieces. NY: New Directions, 2020. This odd, sometimes prickly collection of pieces written between 2006 and 2018, many of which were written for presentation as lectures or talks, serves as a sketchy sort of accidental memoir (the subtitle is notably not part of the title of the book in its original German publication). The pieces mostly deal with her own development as a writer and her work as a theater and opera director. But for me, the real emotional heft in Not a Novel comes through when she writes about the fall of the Berlin Wall and, as she puts it, the sudden absorption of East Germany by West Germany. “When the wall fell, many East Germans ran straight into the arms of the new, the unknown. They ran with open arms to greet this new era, not knowing that its arrival would make them forever as second-class citizens.” Erpenbeck writes fondly of the few things that East Germany did well and of the concerns she had (and has) over reunification. Nevertheless, she credits this transition with making her a writer and with opening her eyes to the troubles of other refugees. “Why do we still hear laments for the Germans who died attempting to flee over the wall but almost none for the countless refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean in recent years, turning the sea into a giant grave? Why?”

There is a bit more about each of these books along with all of the more than thirty other titles I have read this year at my 2021 Reading Log.

Recently Read: Stephen Downes & Louis Armand

Here are two novels I recommend, both with embedded photographs and both, oddly, by Australian writers, although Louis Armand is now based in Prague.

Here’s the premise of Stephen Downes new book The Hands of Pianists (Fomite Press, 2021): “A neurotic freelance writer aims to prove that pianos kill elite pianists. For decades, he has grappled with the guilt that followed an accident in which he severed his talented sister’s fingers. ending her promising career at the keyboard. His investigations centre on the violent deaths at 31 of three great pianists.” At first, I will admit that I was skeptical. Downes’ narrator is an obsessive driven by his guilt and I don’t have much patience with obsessives. But as it turned out, I read the book in two non-stop sittings, fascinated and ready for more. My initial prejudices melted away when I saw that the narrator’s true obsession was a global search for meaning through music.

The three men whose deaths are being investigated by the narrator are genuine virtuoso pianists who all curiously died at the age of 31. American William Kapell died in 1953 returning from Australia when the commercial airplane he was in crashed south of the San Francisco airport. Australian Noel Mewton-Wood also died in 1953, committing suicide. He apparently blamed himself for failing to notice symptoms of the disease that would cause the death of his partner a few days earlier. New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell died as a passenger in a car crash in Sussex in 1958. In this well-written, digressive, almost Sebaldian novel, Downes takes the reader into the minds of pianists to explore what music and performance means to them. For someone like me, who frequently listens to classical music and attends concerts, Downes gives an insider’s window from the professional’s perspective. He writes about stage-fright, pianists hands, the quality of different pianos, recorded music, and much more, in addition to writing about the aesthetic qualities of music. The book moves from Australia to London to the Czech Republic. My favorite section is a visit to the Czech campus of Paul McNulty, the foremost builder of fortepianos, who builds them completely by hand for some of the foremost musicians of our time, one fortepiano at a time. In Prague, during a visit to the Kafka Museum, the narrator encounters a ghostly “Dr. K,” who challenges him on the nature of his quest. Have you transferred “your guilt about your sister’s accident,” he asked, “to a dead instrument?” By the end of the book, the narrator admits that “my notion that pianos kill pianists was unraveling.”

The Hands of Pianists includes several dozen small black-and-white photographs, many apparently by the author. A few are purely documentary in function, but many are very evocative, helping the narrative feel more like fiction.

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Passing Time, Weaving Time

Then I decided to write in order to get things straight, to cure myself, to explain to myself what had happened to me in this hateful town, to offer some resistance to its evil spell, to shake myself awake from the torpor it instilled in me with its rain, its bricks, its dirty children, its lifeless districts, its river and its stations, its sheds and its parks, in order not to become like those sleepwalkers who passed me in its streets, in order that the grime of Bleston should not seep into my blood, into my bones, into the lenses of my eyes; I decided to erect around me this rampart of writing, feeling how deeply tainted I must already be to have come to such a stupid pass and to be so distressed about it, feeling how completely Bleston had outwitted my pitiful vigilance and how, in a few months of loathsome caresses, its slow poison had oozed into my brain.

If you want to read one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century (in its English translation, that is), be prepared to pay at least $75 to obtain one of the six used copies currently available for sale on AbeBooks.com. Michel Butor’s Passing Time has lamentably been out of print since 1969. I was shocked to see that my worn copy of two novels by Butor—Passing Time and A Change of Heart in one volume (Simon & Schuster, 1969)—was selling for at least $100. But my copy will probably be worthless in late May when Pariah Press of Manchester comes out with a new edition of Passing Time for the first time in fifty-two years. (See below for a special pre-publication offer.) Just imagine James Joyce’s Ulysses or any one of Virginia Woolf’s books being out of print that long. Inconceivable.

First published in France in 1956 as L’Emploi du Temps and in the U.S in 1960, the basic storyline in Passing Time is simple. Jacques Revel, a Frenchman, arrives in the English city of Bleston (modeled after Manchester), having been hired by a small company for one year to translate business documents between French and English. Over the course of his year he makes a few friends, starts to fall in love with one woman, then shifts his attention to her sister, all the while exploring the city on foot and by bus. Midway through his term, one of his acquaintances is nearly killed by a car in a hit-and-run accident, and Revel believes that something he did may have set off the chain of events that led to the attempted murder. So he sets out to play detective and try to discover if his actions were in any way connected to that event. To aid himself, he decides to recall and document in writing everything he can remember about his stay in Bleston, and that becomes the book we are reading.

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New Podcast About Sebald’s “Austerlitz”

The podcast About Buildings & Cities has recently done a two-part broadcast on W.G. Sebald’s final work of prose fiction, Austerlitz. You can track down episode numbers 77 & 78 through the website here.

Sebald’s novel is a natural for this podcast since Jacques Austerlitz is an architectural historian and a number of architectural spaces figure prominently in the book’s story, including London’s Liverpool Street Station, the Palace of Justice (Brussels), and the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris). The podcast’s hosts, Luke Jones and George Gingell, read from Sebald’s book, give an overview of the plot, and discuss some of the key themes, including the kindertransport, the uses of photography in the novel, and, of course, some of the buildings referred to in Austerlitz. The two have a terrific conversation about the way in which Sebald continually hints at the Holocaust in Austerlitz, without quite discussing it overtly, and they ask if Sebald might have been too coy at times. Did Sebald see the Holocaust as a single aberrant event or part of a long-standing pattern of imperial genocides in Western history?

A long-time reader of Vertigo turned me on to the About Cities & Buildings podcast and now I’m a dedicated fan. Earlier episodes include subjects such as the filmmaker Patrick Keiller, New York’s Robert Moses, urbanist Jane Jacobs, and a four-part series on architect Zaha Hadid. Take a listen.

Photography-Embedded Fiction & Poetry 2020

Every year I post a bibliography of works of fiction and poetry recently published that containing embedded photographs. By the term “embedded photographs,” I mean photographs that are intended by the author as a part of the original “text.” Here is my list for books published in 2020. You can see bibliographies for the years 1970-2019 underneath the pull-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of Vertigo. If you know of a book that I have not mentioned, please let me know in a comment and I will add the book to this or any of my yearly listings. My thanks to the many Vertigo readers who have already pointed me to books that I had not known about. As far as I know, this is the only public bibliography of this kind. [Updated April 19, 21, 2021.]

Choi DMZ 2

Don Mee Choi. DMZ Colony. Wave Books, 2020. Poems, prose, photographs, and drawings that deal with the history of the U.S. involvement in Korea.

John Clark. Conversations with a Novel Virus. Sheffield: self-published in an edition of 100 copies, 2020. Quirky, humorous, angry, and thought-provoking poems in the form of conversations between the poet and the coronavirus. Appended to the back of the volume are beautiful pen and ink drawing by Sarah Grace Dye made from the windows of her Frankfurt, Germany apartment. Inside the book is a double-page spread photograph showing two pages of Dye’s sketchbook and her bookmark, which is a flattened Corona beer can top, dangling from a string. Who knew that talking with a virus could be so witty? I want one of Dye’s sketches.

Donoghue Akin

Emma Donoghue. Akin. NY: Little, Brown and Co., 2020. A retired chemistry professor and a young boy attempt to figure out the origins of a handful of puzzling photos that the man discovered relating to his mother’s wartime years in France. Donoghue’s novel includes a number of images that look like the old snapshots with crinkly-cut edges. The copyright page gives the credit for “photographic illustrations” to Margaret Lonergan. There are also several stock photographs in the book.

Caleb Femi. Poor. NY: Penguin, 2020. Poems, largely about the North Peckham estate in London where Femi grew up, along with color and b&w photographs by the author of residents and friends from the same neighborhood.

Ferrante

Elena Ferrante. “The Lying Life of Adults.” The New York Times Magazine August 16, 2020. Special fiction section. An excerpt from her forthcoming novel with “photo illustrations” by Kensuke Koike that appear to slice up and rearrange old snapshots to suggest the duplicity of people. These images were done especially for the Times excerpt and don’t appear in the novel as published by Europa Editions in 2020.

Fonseca History

Carlos Fonseca. Natural History: A Novel. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020. Translated from the 2017 Spanish original by Megan McDowell. The novel contains a number of photographs. In his Acknowledgements, Fonseca thanks Gabriel Piovanetti and Jorge Méndez for “their talent as photographers.”

Peter Gizzi. Ship of State. Kingston, NY: The Brother in Elysium, 2020. Peter Gizzi’s poem “Ship of State,” a meditation on death, grief, empathy, and survival, is combined with unique photo collages by artist and designer Jon Beacham. The book produced in a very limited edition of 12, no two copies exactly alike.

Griffiths Body

Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Seeing the Body. NY: W.W. Norton, 2020. The book contains a section of poems entitled “daughter:lyric:landscape” that consists of poems dealing with the death of Griffith’s mother and self-portrait photographs. She writes that these images show herself as “woman as ghost, woman as body, geography, and imagination, woman as a self, as a resistance, that is ever tense in the progression of frames, woman in the perpetuity of language, and woman in the sanctity of intuition.” See my review here.

Bruno Lloret. Nancy. San Francisco: Two Lines Press, 2020. Translated from the 2015 Spanish original by Ellen Jones. A deathbed novel with photographs by the Chilean writer.

Mayer memory

Bernadette Mayer. Memory. Catskill, NY: Siglio, 2020. From the publisher’s website: “In July 1971, Bernadette Mayer embarked on an experiment: For one month she exposed a roll of 35mm film and kept a daily journal. The result was a conceptual work that investigates the nature of memory, its surfaces, textures and material. Memory is both monumental in scope (over 1100 photographs, two hundred pages of text and six hours of audio recording) . . . This publication brings together the full sequence of images and text for the first time in book form, making space for a work that has been legendary but mostly invisible. Originally exhibited in 1972 by pioneering gallerist Holly Solomon, it was not shown again in its entirety until 2016. The text was published without the photographs in 1975 and has been long out of print.”

mccann aperiogon

Column McCann. Apeirogon: A Novel. NY: Random House, 2020. This novel, based on the true lives of two men—one Israeli, one Palestinian— whose daughters were both killed as a result of the ongoing conflict in Israel, contains about a dozen photographs, mostly from stock photo agencies.

olsen heaven

Lance Olsen. My Red Heaven. Ann Arbor: Dzanc Books, 2020. Olsen’s novel, inspired in part by an abstract painting by Otto Freundlich called “Mein Roter Himmel” (My Red Heaven), 1933, takes place on a single day in 1927 Weimar Berlin. Olsen brings to life numerous German luminaries, including Otto Dix, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Vladimir Nabokov, among others. The final pages of the book include ten b&w uncredited photographs of the interior of a decaying building that was once obviously quite grand.

Bojan Savić Ostojić, Ništa nije ničije. Belgrade: Kontrast, 2020. A novel in Serbian (“Nothing Belongs to Anyone“) with photographs, dedicated to Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. While exploring Belgrade flea-markets, the narrator finds many libraries that had belonged to dead writers, a heritage to the former Yugoslavia.

Caryl Pagel. Out of Nowhere Into Nothing. Tuscaloosa, AL: FC2: 2020. On the copyright page of this book is the following statement: “This book is interested in memory, accumulating particulars, and retelling a good story. It is a work of nonfiction and fiction. Though it includes research and aims for veracity, the narratives ultimately rely on the author’s version of events. The author has been, and could still be, mistaken.” The pieces in this wonderful book (one hesitates to call them essays) morph slowly and mysteriously from subject to subject. Anything is game to Pagel’s curiously open mind — from sinkholes to Spiral Jetty, from Alexander Humboldt to Lucy Lippard. There are photographs, but they don’t often explain or illustrate. They suggest, instead.

Riggs Conference

Ransom Riggs. The Conference of Birds. NY: Dutton, 2020. The fifth in the series of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children’s books based on Riggs’s extraordinary collection of snapshots, cabinet cards, cartes-de-visites, etc., all used to tell stories largely intended for young adult audiences. To quote the publisher, this volume’s story is: “With his dying words, H—Jacob Portman’s final connection to his grandfather Abe’s secret life entrusts Jacob with a mission: Deliver newly con­tacted peculiar Noor Pradesh to an operative known only as V. Noor is being hunted. She is the subject of an ancient prophecy, one that foretells a looming apocalypse.”

Schad Paris Bride

John Schad. Paris Bride: A Modernist Life. California: Punctum Books, 2020. Schad recreates the life of a completely obscure woman who, in 1924, after twenty years of marriage, walks out and seems to disappear. He borrows from texts by a number of authors from the time, including Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, several Paris Surrealists, Stéphane Mallarmé, Oscar Wilde, Katherine Mansfield, and Walter Benjamin. And he includes thirty-two period photographs, some of which show documents or works of art. Several of the images are stills from René Clair’s 1924 film Entr’acte.

Tabucchi Stories

Antonio Tabucchi. Stories with Pictures. Brooklyn: Archipelago Books, 2020. Tabucchi responds to photographs, drawings, and paintings from his dual homelands of Italy and Portugal, among other countries.

Manuel Vilas. Ordesa. NY: Riverhead, 2020. Translated from the 2018 Spanish original by Andrea Rosenberg. An “autobiographical novel” with photographs by the author. A nostalgic love letter to the town in which Vilas grew up (Ordesa, Spain), to his father, and to the 1970s.

Hans Jürgen von der Wense. A Shelter for Bells: From the Writings of Hans Jürgen von der Wense. Point Reyes Peninsula, CA: Epidote Press, 2020. Von der Wense is described as a “composer, translator, folklorist, wanderer, aphorist, encyclopedist, poet, and consummate mystagogue of the landscape” and “A radical, tireless, nearly obsessive walker (not unlike his Swiss contemporary Robert Walser or German compatriot W. G. Sebald).” This volume is “a collection of fragments and aphorisms” that includes photographs and other types of images. Von der Wense appears to be the creation of artist Herbert Pföstl.

Kate Zambreno. Drifts. NY: Riverhead, 2020. A novel about writing a novel (this novel), creativity, and what it means to be an artist, with photographs by Peter Hujar, Sarah Charlesworth, the Rodin Museum (Paris), and the author.

Enrique Vila-Matas’s Old Married Couple

In the middle of Mac’s Problem, the recent novel by Enrique Vila Matas, Mac, our narrator, tells a story of two strangers getting drunk in a bar in Basel, Switzerland. One man tends to embellish every aspect of his story, the other sticks strictly to the facts. “Fiction and reality, an old married couple,” Mac remarks. At the end of the story, he tells us “fiction and reality fuse so intensely that, at certain moments, it seems impossible to separate them.” Like a torero and a bull, they “appear to be engage in a game of reciprocal influences.”

Mac’s Problem is full of short stories that are all stitched together with a narrative that primarily focuses on Mac (a man whose prosperous family business has just imploded) and his neighbor, Sánchez (the “celebrated Barcelona writer”). Mac, who has always aspired to be a writer, decides to keep a private diary, which is the book we are reading. One of Mac’s many problems is that the diary keeps trying to become a novel. It keeps drifting off into literature. And Mac is not too happy about that.

I’ve noticed that these two sequences together form a very slight novelistic plot: as if, all of a sudden, certain autobiographical incidents had decided to piece together for me a single story, and one with literary overtones to boot; as if certain chapters of my daily life were colluding and crying out to be turned into fragments of a novel.
But this is a diary! I shout. . .

Mac’s compelling fantasy is to take up one of Sánchez’s early, nearly forgotten books called Walter’s Problem, which Mac finds “insufferable,” and completely rewrite it. Every chapter of Walter’s Problem is a short story written “in a style reminiscent of” another author, a list that includes John Cheever, Djuna Barnes, Ernest Hemingway, Jorge Luis Borges, Jean Rhys, and Raymond Carver. Throughout the first half of his diary, Mac will very briefly outline for us his version of each of the ten chapters in Walter’s Problem. In the second half of his diary, Mac tells us what was wrong with Sánchez’s version and how he would write a story to replace the original. As Mac writes his own version of each story in his imagination, he is, in effect, erasing Sánchez’s version of the ten stories, one by one.

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Wolfgang Koeppen’s “The Hothouse”

Proud that he had survived the Second World War in his homeland of Germany without somehow having to serve in Hitler’s military, the German writer Wolfgang Koeppen once said “I asked myself what I had been waiting for all those years, why I had been a witness and why I had survived.” (From his obituary in The Independent.) The question I kept asking myself as I read the triptych of novels that Koeppen wrote in the early 1950s was: What did Koeppen’s role as a “witness” play in the outcome of these novels? What might we, as readers turning the pages of Koeppen’s novels, identify as evidence of “witnessing” Hitler’s rise to power, propelling the Nazi movement, and turning the German nation into sheep while he and his generals pursued the Final Solution against the Jews and a World War that killed tens of millions of people? Were these novels really different from those of someone who had not lived through what Koeppen had experienced, someone who might observed the Nazi years from Canada, say?

The first book in his trilogy, Pigeons on the Grass, set in postwar Munich (reviewed here), involves some ordinary German citizens—along with a handful of Americans. At most, this novel suggests that we don’t actually listen to other people very well. The final novel in the series, Death in Rome (reviewed here), involves several truly heinous Germans, including an SS officer who has been found guilty and condemned to death in absentia at the Nuremberg Trials. This novel, which I think is the best of the three, provides the most serious indictment of German mindset and German civilization through its critique of Teutonic ideals that extol dangerous hypermasculine traditions. The Hothouse, on the other hand, which is the series’ middle novel, is about bureaucracy of the postwar West German government in Bonn. It deals exclusively with postwar life and its main character, Herr Keetenheuve, was not in Germany at all from 1933 through 1949, but was in self-imposed exile in Canada.

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2021 Reading Log

Other year’s reading logs can be found under the pull-down men Old Reading Logs, which is found at the top of this blog.

April

32. Giorgio Bassani. The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles. in The Novel of Ferrara. NY: Norton, 2018. This brief novella of 1958 is a lead-in to Bassani’s famous The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, written four years later. The unnamed narrator tells the story of Dr. Athos Fadigati, who arrives in Ferrara from Venice in 1919 to set up a new modern ENT clinic, soon become head of the ENT department of the hospital and one of the most popular men in town. But then, some twenty years later, rumors began to circulate that he was “one of them.” A homosexual. Slowly, the more ardently fascistic and Christian members of Ferrara society begin to boycott his clinic and insult him in public. In 1939, the new Race Laws were enacted, which started to limit Jewish life in Italian society. Liberal Italians assured each other and Fadigati that such laws would never be enforced. The narrator, despite his friendship and concern for Fadigati, doesn’t do enough, and the doctor commits suicide. As Ferrara’s liberals congratulated themselves on their sense that anti-Semitism in Italy “will burst like a soap bubble in the end,” they also worried about the fate of the handful of Ferrara’s aristocratic families that were Jewish—like the Finzi-Continis—who had chosen to isolate themselves from the community instead of safely entrenching themselves in the society at large.

31. Kate London. Post Mortem. London: Corvus, 2015. In her first police procedural involving London Detective Sergeant Sarah Collins, Kate London—herself a former homicide cop—continually asks the tough question about when cops need to support each other and when they need to report each other. A senior cop, nearing retirement, and a young immigrant woman go hurtling to their deaths off the roof of a high-rise building, witnessed by a rookie cop and a young boy. DS Collins has to figure out why the rookie, Lizzie Griffiths, fled and, when caught, seems to be hiding something. Is she covering for the cop who died? Or does she have another secret? London writes well, keeps the tension up, knows her police work backwards and forwards, and doesn’t get carried away by some of the things that are trendy in detective fiction lately, such as her main character’s personal backstory or a female’s cop’s struggles in a testosterone-driven profession. London lets these elements simmer quietly in the background until absolutely essential.

30. Nicholas Freeling. Love in Amsterdam. Gollancz, 1962. Freeling takes some fascinating liberties with his first mystery involving Inspector Van Der Valk of the Amsterdam Police Department. Half of the chapters are narrator by Martin, the supposed murder “suspect”, who really isn’t a suspect in Van Der Valk’s mind, even though he has Martin locked up for several weeks “under suspicion.” Van Der Valk is simply trying to keep everyone thinking that the case is solved so that the real murder might slip up and show himself. In the end, Van Der Valk has to let Martin free and use him as bait in one last dangerous attempt to lure the murderer out into the open. Yes, this is Amsterdam, but still. Police procedurals were often less constrained fifty years ago. This series is off to a good start. We’ll see where it goes.

29. Caryl Pagel. Out of Nowhere Into Nothing. Tuscaloosa, AL: FC2: 2020. On the copyright page of this book is the following statement: “This book is interested in memory, accumulating particulars, and retelling a good story. It is a work of nonfiction and fiction. Though it includes research and aims for veracity, the narratives ultimately rely on the author’s version of events. The author has been, and could still be, mistaken.” The pieces in this wonderful book (one hesitates to call them essays) morph slowly and mysteriously from subject to subject. Anything is game to Pagel’s curiously open mind—from sinkholes to Spiral Jetty, from Alexander Humboldt to Lucy Lippard. There are photographs, but they don’t often explain or illustrate. They suggest, instead.

28. John Clark. Conversations with a Novel Virus. Sheffield: self-published, 2020. Quirky, humorous, angry, and thought-provoking poems in the form of conversations between the poet and the coronavirus. Appended to the back of the volume are beautiful pen and ink drawing by Sarah Grace Dye made from the windows of her Frankfurt, Germany apartment. Inside the book is a double-page spread photograph showing two pages of Dye’s sketchbook and her bookmark, which is a flattened Corona beer can top, dangling from a string. Who knew that talking with a virus could be so witty? I want one of Dye’s sketches.

27. Virginia Woolf. The Years. 1937. Woolf consider The Years a failure, but it’s a delicious novel to read right on the heels of Mrs. Dalloway, which I re-read last month. It seems like she couldn’t figure out how to keep the disparate sections of this multi-generational novel smoothed over, but the writing makes up for the clunky jumps that happen as the years pass by. It’s a novel in which we find “the nineteenth century going to bed,” as one character puts it, and we witness the evolution of feminist issues, the Irish question, numerous social causes, open homosexuality, and other welcome liberal changes in the early years of the twentieth century.

March

26. Henry Chang. Chinatown Beat. NY: Soho Press, 2006. The first in a series featuring Detective Jack Yu, who works the Chinatown beat in New York City. He’s already looking for a serial rapist when a community leader and tong boss is murdered. On top of everything, his white superiors in the department don’t completely trust him simply because he’s Asian. Chang write in a better than competent noir style and he kept my interest going throughout the book, which serves as an excellent introduction into modern Chinatown. Even if detective stories aren’t your thing, Chang seems to give an insider’s view into an otherwise closed world full of secret societies, illegal activities, and hopeful immigrants.

25. Edward Dolnick. The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece. NY: Harper Collins, 2005. I was mostly interested in the 1994 theft of Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream from the National Gallery in Oslo and its eventual recovery by famed Scotland Yard detective Charley Hill, but the book is mostly filler. Dolnick gives us the story of other art thefts, Hill’s life story, and more padding. The general reader will probably find this of interest, but I was already familiar with most of it.

24. Patrick Modiano. Little Jewel. New Haven: Yale, 2016. Translated from the 2001 French original by Penny Hueston. Modiano tries on a female narrator for the first (and apparently only) time, though I don’t think there is much difference between this narrator and a male narrator. Thérèse, also known as Little Jewel, was abandoned by her mother years ago, but thinks she sees a woman who could be her in the Paris Metro. In rather typical Modiano fashion, she obsessively follows the woman and tries to learn more about her. But the more interesting half of the story deals with her part-time job. For several hours a day, Thérèse babysits the daughter of the Valadiers, a couple who suspiciously live in a furniture-free apartment. Thérèse notices that the parents never refer to the girl by her name (though neither does Thérèse, and the girl is simply called “the little girl” throughout the novel). And, indeed, one day Thérèse’s suspicions are born out and the family simply disappears. And with that, the novel ends, leaving Thérèse’s curiosity about the old woman hanging.

23. Javier Marias. Between Eternities: And Other Writings. NY Vintage, 2017. Every Sunday since 1994 (except August, when he takes a vacation) the Spanish novelist Javier Marias has written a weekly newspaper column, and it is from these that most of the pieces in this volume have been selected. They range from somewhat autobiographical pieces, to travel writing, to musings on literature and books, to cinema reviews. In fact, Marias is quite the movie lover and reviewer, perhaps because it was in the family. He had an uncle who was a movie director. The actor he deeply admired was Vincent Price, who had “a kind of hidden nobility.” For the most part, these pieces are not really essays, they are intended for a Sunday newspaper reader, so they are sometimes on the light side. Nevertheless, one comes away from the book with a better sense of Marias the man.

22. John le Carré. Call for the Dead. NY: Penguin. First published in 1962 by Walker and Co. A very early Smiley novel, in which le Carré is still figuring his character out a bit. Still, Smiley carries the book on his shoulders. The plot’s not much and le Carré cheats a lot by letting Smiley solve things and explain later. But, God, you have to love a pudgy, clutzy spy who is several moves ahead of everyone else.

19. Emily St. John Mandel. The Glass Hotel. NY. Penguin, 2020. I am a big fan of Mandel’s previous book, Station Eleven, but this one didn’t live up to my hopes. The Wall Street broker who owns the remote “glass hotel” on Vancouver Island happens to be running a Ponzi scheme that is creating an endless flow of cash for a handful of people for a limited time period. And when that time period runs out, some people flee, some end up in jail, and most end up with their life’s savings having vanished into thin air. In the midst of all of this, a handful of characters come and go across two decades, impacting each other’s lives in ways they usually unaware of. I’m afraid that Mandel asks us to overlook or buy into a few too many coincidental occurrences, a few too many long shots, in a story that is otherwise all about getting the details just right. Still, The Glass Hotel is very readable and largely entertaining.

18. Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Dalloway. 1925. This is my first re-reading of the year and it still astonishes. Every page is a delight to read. Mrs. Dalloway is even better than I remembered, though I think Woolf struggled to make the party section work as well as the rest of the book. What I had forgotten was how little of the book is seen through Clarissa Dalloway’s perspective—maybe one-tenth? I’ve queued up several more of Woolf’s books in the near future.

17. Ben H. Winters. The Last Detective. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2012. Tired of thinking about the Covid pandemic, I thought it might be more interesting to imagine our Earth being destroyed by a giant asteroid. That’s the premise behind this entertaining mystery. Scientists have just discovered that a giant asteroid is on a collision course with Earth and half the planet’s population will die immediately, the rest somewhat more slowly, when Henry Palace is finally promoted to detective in his small New Hampshire town. Despite the gloomy future, he is determined to discover who murdered the man found dead in the restroom of the local McDonalds, even though no one seems to want to help him. A large swath of the work force seems to have quit their jobs in order to pursue their bucket lists in the remaining months. As the collision date gets closer, people are choosing suicide over an unknown fate with an asteroid. And very few people care about ideas like justice or punishment any longer.

February

16. Manuel Vilas. Ordesa. NY: Riverhead, 2020. Translated from the 2018 Spanish original by Andrea Rosenberg. An “autobiographical novel” with photographs by the author. I normally don’t say anything about the books I dislike, but I disliked this with such a passion that I won’t hide my distaste for the writing in Ordesa, which is a nostalgic love letter to the town in which Vilas grew up (Ordesa, Spain), to his father, and to the 1970s. I guess this is what the writing of Karl Ove Knausgaard has made possible—an unedited version of what the narrator does during the day (showers, cooks, paces in his apartment) and whatever the narrator thinks, much of which is overblown or simply weird. “Teachers destroyed adolescence.” “My father never told me he loved me. My mother didn’t either. And I see beauty in that.” Poetry is precision, like capitalism. Poetry and capitalism are the same thing.”

15. Nathalie Sarraute. Tropisms. NY: New Directions, 2015. Translated from the 1939 French original by Maria Jolas. Written in the 1930s, these stunning, mysterious micro-stories are really dramatic situations that take place in the midst of everyday life, while cooking, at the dinner table, taking a walk. Sarraute makes something undefinable rise up out of snippets of action, brief conversations, cliches. The twenty-four Tropisms are scarcely more than a page long each, though it would take considerably longer to explains what happens in each one. Sarraute called them Tropisms because she thought of each as a slow dramatic movement that was of a “spontaneous, irresistible, instinctive nature, similar to that of the movements made by certain living organisms under the influence of outside stimuli, such as light or heat.”

14. Claire Tomalin. Samuel Pepys: A Life. NY: Knopf, 2002. I have been somewhat obsessed with Samuel Pepys and his Diary for a half century, fascinated by Pepys’s account of daily life in the 17th-century, of living through the Great Fire of London of 1666, the Second English Civil War, and the reigns of several important English monarchs. This is a well-researched, but rather workman-like biography. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and generally pretty scholarly. When she has to cut corners (because there is no evidence to support a supposition), Tomalin is usually pretty clear to tell the reader what she’s doing. She did a great job of situating the reader with whatever was needed to properly understand the context of the 17th-century situations in which Pepys found himself.

13. Enrique Vila-Matas. Vampire in Love and Other Stories. NY: New Directions, 2016. Let’s just say that the characters in Vampire in Love have issues. Several are mute, one communes with the paintings in a museum, one is a petty and unlikable liar. There is a hunchback in love with an altar boy, a man who rides the bus so that he can collect phrases that he overhears, and a father who wishes his eldest son was dead. Many of them seem to have, as one character does, “an inexhaustible trail of vague sadness.” The reader quickly learns that some of Vila-Matas’s narrators can be very unreliable. In other words, Vampire in Love is a great deal of fun to read. At least a half dozen of the nineteen stories are outstanding and only a few fell flat for me. The stories in this volume were both translated and selected by Margaret Jull Costa and they span “the author’s entire career,” we are told. The problem is that New Directions doesn’t bother to tell the reader which of Vila-Matas’s short story collections these stories have been plucked or when they were written. So, it’s really hard to understand how these stories might blend into his writing practice as a whole.

12. Dominique Crenn. Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters. NY: Penguin, 2020. I am always fascinated by chefs and cooking, but Crenn’s story particularly appealed to me since we are both adopted, and part of the story within Rebel Chef is her search of her birth mother. The other part of her story that is appealing is how she says she has set up her San Francisco restaurants to be the opposite of the stereotypical sexist male-dominated kitchens we’ve all seen in countless television documentaries and Anthony Bourdain stories.

11. Enrique Vila-Matas. Mac’s Problem. New Directions, 2019. Translated from the 2017 Spanish original by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes. Mac, who has always aspired to be a writer, decides to keep a private diary, which is the book we are reading. He also has a compelling fantasy to take up and completely rewrite one of the early, nearly forgotten books of his neighbor, Sánchez (the “celebrated Barcelona writer”), called Walter’s Problem, a novel which Mac finds “insufferable.” During much of the novel, Mac tells us what was wrong with Sánchez’s book and how he would rewrite it chapter by chapter. See my longer review here.

10. Javier Marias. Berta Isla. NY: Knopf, 2019. Translated from the 2017 Spanish original by Margaret Jull Costa. Marias returns to some of the characters of his Your Face Tomorrow trilogy from a decade ago, Oxford Don Sir Peter Wheeler and English spy boss Bertram Tupra, who recruit Spanish student Tomás Nevinson to become a spy for MI6. Nevinson returns to Madrid, marries Berta Isla, has two children, and disappears frequently for weeks or months on jobs he is not permitted to explain to her. Much of the book is told from her perspective as she tries to cope with a husband she can never really, truly know. And then Tomás disappears, apparently for good. As always, Marias is interested in the subjects of identity, whether and how people know each other, trust, betrayal, and, of course, country. This thought-provoking and compelling novel is set among the ethical uncertainties of post-Franco Spain and asks the question why a Spaniard might want to spy for Great Britain.

January

9. Percival Everett. Erasure. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2001. In this extraordinary novel, Everett takes on whichever of his critics and readers have said or thought that he’s not “black enough,” that his novels don’t tend to deal with the black people that live (in the stereotypical imagination) in poor, single-parent homes in crime-ridden ghettos, that his characters don’t speak like the black characters in the gangsta rap of “The Wire.” Thelonius “Monk” Ellison is a novelist much like Everett, accused of writing “dense, obscure novels.” When he sees the kind of money and movie offers thrown at the authors of books like We Lives in Da Ghetto, he’s initially scornful. But eventually, under economic pressures of his own, he writes a ghetto novel of his own in Ebonics under a pseudonym and becomes rich. The dialectic between staying a pure, marginalized novelist read by few or becoming an economically independent black entrepreneur becomes a fascinating tug of war for the reader to watch as it unfolds.

8. Gabriel Josipovici. On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion. Josipovici argues that since the time of the Romantics, artists have lost faith in the tools of their art and have looked back at the times of Homer and the Hebrew Bible as a period before the Fall, when the Arts were pure, were created in good faith. He then suggests how writers like Proust and Beckett and other artists such as Stravinsky and Picasso and the philosopher Wittgenstein have successfully negotiated the dialectic between trust and suspicions.

7. John Banville. Athena. NY: Knopf, 1995. I first read Athena twenty-five years ago and it entranced me even more this second time around. This time, it was easier to appreciate and savor, if you will, the foreshadowing gloom that hangs over the love affair between the narrator and Athena from the very moment they meet. This adds greatly to both the tenderness and the raw sense of animal magnetism they feel for each other. Banville’s lyrical, “idiosyncratic” (according to one blurb) prose is perfectly attuned to the wonderful blend of art history and Dublin criminal underworld of this novel. There are times when I wondered if Banville ever met an adjective he didn’t like, but I really admire the power of his prose style in the era of Athena and The Book of Evidence (1989). These are books with long spiraling sentences, written with a robust vocabulary that made me check my dictionary now and then. So when Banville breaks stride and writes a simple declarative sentence, it stops you dead in your tracks and you realize you are in the hands of a master writer at the top of his or her game.

6. Wolfgang Koeppen. The Hothouse. NY: W.W. Norton, 2001. Translated from the 1953 original German by Michael Hofmann. This book follows a few days in the life of Herr Keetenheuve, a member of the postwar Bundestag and whose life is beginning to feel like a failure. Many of Keetenheuve’s positions make him a thorn in the side of his own political party, which, along with the German Chancellor, is pushing for significant German rearmament after the war. Keetenheuve has also lost his marriage, as his wife has fallen for another woman. The Hothouse is part of a triptych of compelling novels that Koeppen wrote in the early 1950s, angry at what his country had done during the Hitler years. See my longer review here.

5. Anuk Arudpragasam. The Story of a Brief Marriage. London: Granta, 2016. Having been stunned by his story “Last Rites” in the Fall 2019 issues of The Paris Review, I couldn’t wait to read his only novel. It doesn’t disappoint. It follows roughly twenty-four hours in the life of Dinesh, a young man living in a refugee camp of some tens of thousands of people in Sri Lanka. At a clinic where he volunteers, he meets a young woman, Ganga, whose father suggests that they marry. For a variety of reasons, it is possible that marriage might lessen some of the risks they might face from the soldiers who occasionally raid the camps. Amidst chaos, death, and total uncertainty about the future, Dinesh and Ganga each try to discover themselves in relation to the sudden appearance of this new person in their lives. This is beautifully observed writing that deserves slow reading; Anuk can take three or four delicious pages to describe Dinesh bathing himself or simply watching Ganga breathe as she sleeps.

4. Hisham Matar. A Month in Siena. NY: Random House. 2019. A Month in Siena went by, um, like a breeze. After the heaviness of The Return, in which Matar went looking in post-Qaddaffi Libya for clues to the disappearance and presumed murder of his father twenty-two years earlier, this book struck me as a bit too light. Seeking an escape, Matar plunges into the ancient streets and cemeteries of Siena, ponders a few of the city’s great examples of Sienese paintings, signs up for Italian lessons, and suddenly the month is over. This is a book of many small discoveries and bits of wonder (along with some good color illustrations of Sienese paintings), but Matar admits that any larger message continues to elude him.

3. Jenny Erpenbeck. Not a Novel: A Memoir in Pieces. NY: New Directions, 2020. In her preface, Erpenbeck refers to this volume as a collection and that’s exactly what it appears to be—a collection of pieces written between 2006 and 2018, often for presentation as lectures or talks. It does serve as a sketchy outline of a memoir, but that seems accidental (the subtitle is notably not part of the title of the book in its original German publication). The pieces deal with her own development as a writer and her work as a theater and opera director. But the real emotional heft in Not a Novel comes through when she writes about the fall of the Berlin Wall and, as she puts it, the sudden absorption of East Germany by West Germany. “When the wall fell, many East Germans ran straight into the arms of the new, the unknown. They ran with open arms to greet this new era, not knowing that its arrival would make them forever as second-class citizens.” Nevertheless, she credits this transition with making her a writer and with opening her eyes to the troubles of other refugees. “Why do we still hear laments for the Germans who died attempting to flee over the wall but almost none for the countless refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean in recent years, turning the sea into a giant grave? Why?”

2. Wolfgang Koeppen. Death in Rome. NY: Norton, 2001. Translated from the 1954 German original by Michael Hofmann. Throughout this novel, we will follow members of the Pfaffrath family members as they explore the Eternal City of Rome, meet in various combinations, plot, sin, and discover family secrets. The two most prominent family members are Gottlieb Judejahn, a former SS general who has been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia at the Nuremberg Trails, but who now runs the military of an unnamed Arab nation under an assumed name, and Siegfried Pfaffrath, a young German composer whose composition is having its premiere soon at a concert hall here. But family secrets and irrepressible personal urges that will ultimately prove fatal. It is Koeppen’s conceit is to bring these Germans to Rome, a city “built on the bodies of its victims,” let them loose and watch them self-destruct. In doing so, he intends to let everyone’s true nature shine through, exposing whatever might have led the German people to go astray. Full review here.

1. Leslie Thomson. The Detective’s Daughter. London: Head of Zeus, 2013. When her father, a retired police detective drops dead of a heart attack while pursuing a cold case with files he unofficially took home, his daughter Stella, who runs a house cleaning service, decides to keep looking into the 20-year old murder of a woman on a nearby beach while her child played a few yards away. The book is eminently readable, but is far too long and, ultimately, I didn’t find that the denouement was worth the wait.

Death in Rome

From the title until the last words of the novel, Wolfgang Koeppen’s 1954 novel Death in Rome moves relentlessly towards its predicted fatal end. In our era, when novels so often consist of one digression after another, it’s a little startling to read a novel that signals its intentions from the start and never wavers for a moment. Like the first novel in Koeppen’s triptych, Pigeons on the Grass (which I wrote about recently), Death in Rome funnels everything toward one culminating event—in this case, a performance of a new piece of symphonic music by the young German composer Siegfried Pfaffrath, which will take place in a concert hall in Rome sometime in the years shortly after World War II. Siegfried doesn’t know it yet, but his parents, one of his brothers, and an uncle are also in Rome for a unique kind of family reunion. The most prominent of these relatives is Gottlieb Judejahn, a former SS general who has been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia at the Nuremberg Trails, but who now runs the military of an unnamed Arab nation under an assumed name. The family hopes to convince Judejahn to return to Germany to help revive the struggling National Socialist cause. Unbeknownst to everyone, Judejahn’s son Adolf is also in Rome, waiting to be ordained as a Catholic priest. Throughout the novel, we will follow these family members as they explore the Eternal City, meet in various combinations, plot, sin, and discover family secrets.

No sentence is wasted in this compact book of a mere 202 pages. The opening sentences let us know right away that Koeppen is not likely to allow any of his characters get through his novel unscathed. A group of tourists passing through Rome’s Pantheon.

Once upon a time, this city was a home to gods, now there’s only Raphael in the Pantheon, a demigod, a darling of Apollo’s, but the corpses that joined him later are a sorry bunch, a cardinal of dubious merit, high-flying civil servants, scholars that made it into the reference books, artists of academic distinction. Who gives a damn about them?

It will be family secrets and irrepressible personal urges that will ultimately prove fatal in Death in Rome. Koeppen’s conceit is to bring a handful of Germans to Rome, a city “built on the bodies of its victims,” let them loose in an inviting atmosphere, and watch them self-destruct. In doing so, Koeppen intends to let everyone’s true nature shine through, exposing, if everything goes according to plan, whatever might have led the German people to go astray in the first place.

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Esther Kinsky Wins First Sebald Prize

Photo of Esther Kinsky
Courtesy Transit Books

The new W.-G.-Sebald Literature Prize, endowed with 10,000 euros, was announced earlier this year by the German Sebald Society in conjunction with the cities of Kempten (Allgäu) and Sonthofen and the municipality of Wertach, where Sebald was born and grew up. Now, the first winner has been announced: writer and translator Esther Kinsky has been selected for her text “Kalkstein.” The jury selected Kinsky’s text from 900 entries submitted anonymously. Authors from Germany and abroad were able to submit an unpublished German-language prose text dealing with the topic of “Remembrance and Memory.” The jury included: Hans Jürgen Balmes (S. Fischer Verlag), Prof. Dr. Claudia Öhlschläger (University of Paderborn), Prof. Dr. Jürgen Ritte (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris), Marie Schmidt (Süddeutsche Zeitung) and Dr. Kay Wolfinger (Ludwig Maximilians University Munich).

“We are really overjoyed to have found such a worthy and suitable winner. The award of a writer who began working as a translator in a competition dedicated to a writer who had a worldwide impact through the translation of his texts written in England into German is a coincidence that can almost be described as fateful, “explains Prof. Ricardo Felberbaum, the first chairman of the society. “We have selected a text that lets landscape and stone speak in a fascinating way and thus develops a new poetics of remembrance that can be found in a similar way in the work of W. G. Sebald,” says Dr. Kay Wolfinger, lecturer at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and second chairman of the society. [Google translation of https://www.sebald-gesellschaft.de/preistraegerin-des-ersten-w-g-sebald-literaturpreises-esther-kinsky/%5D

This is the fourth prize Kinsky has won in 2020. The other three have been the Deutscher Preis für Nature Writing (German Prize for Nature Writing), the Christian-Wagner-Preis (Christian Wagner Prize), and the Erich Fried Preis (Erich Fried Prize).