Friday, October 22, 2010

Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country.

Ezra is a little lackadaisical in manning the back pocket. Geilston Bay, October 2010.

Friday means Book Club Friday in this part of the world, and a super-busy week has meant that I’ve not had too much spare time to read. That said, I did manage to finish an odd little book from a German author I’d not read before, The Book of Words by Jenny Erpenbeck.

I’ll admit that I struggled through the first fifty or so pages, and I only kept going because it is quite a short novel. It’ll be hard to reflect on it without venturing into possible SPOILER territory, so proceed with caution…

The novel is transmitted through a very fragmented, vaporous kind of narrative voice, which initially reads very much like a creative writing exercise written by a talented, but raw and inexperienced writer. While I don’t mind fiddling about with narrative, the almost deliberately obtuse expression initially jars with what concerns the inner life of a young girl.

Eventually (after about fifty pages, funnily enough), it emerges that this young girl experiences her life in a country under a repressive political regime, whose brutality increasing becomes apparent as the book moves on. One of the things that irked with me was the obvious Teutonic influence – Erpenbeck grew up the former-East Germany – in both style and cultural flags in the story, but its inconsistency with what appeared to be a story set in Argentina during the Dirty War. Thankfully, a kind of resolution emerges.

The book itself is ultimately quite a moving mediation of the nature of life in a totalitarian state, and is ethereal and dreamlike, as well as brutal and shocking. The author has done a great job in triggering a mediation on the nature of repression, with comparison inevitably drawn between Nazi-era repression, the Stalinist German state and South American junta. Ultimately, the fact that the reader is afforded this while all the while remained true through the eyes of a young girl, is a great achievement.

Thus, the book is well worth the (early) effort. It seems a good translation, and at little over a hundred pages it is not a lot to ask for in time. It does demand somewhat more of the reader after the fact, and I think that this one will stay with me for some time.

Currently, I’m enjoying the very-well constructed autobiography of Don Walker, who some may recall as the keyboard player from Cold Chisel. It’s a beautifully constructed bit of work that really breaks convention in terms of biography. I’ll talk about that next week.

As ever, if you are a keen reader (or would like to be), and want to track your habits or see my recommendations or make some of your own, feel free to check out my profile at Goodreads!


me said...

I had a similar experience to this reading The Land of Green Plums by Herta Mueller (which sounds like a similar story). I found the style - very dreamy and sort of vague on details - rather distracting for the first quarter of the book, and by the time I got a handle on it I think I missed a few critical elements (like the plot). Still, it worked out in the end.

Might have to grab this one some time. Maybe re-read the first half to nail down some details before I move on!

Kris said...

Well worth the effort. If you had the time, you could knock it over in a few hours.