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Category Archive for 'Germany'

From the outset of this tragicomic novel, Spanish author David Trueba’s ability to visualize and create intense word pictures dominates his style, making the reading of this novel a special treat on several different levels. Not only does he show the places and people surrounding his main character, Beto Sanz, instead of simply telling about them, but he also channels Beto’s own inner thoughts, providing lively commentary on virtually every aspect of his life and the activity around him. As the narrative opens, Beto has just arrived in Munich from Madrid for a conference for landscape architects, where his firm is a finalist for an international prize. He is nervous but full of hope as he prepares for his presentation to the jury, after which he and Marta, his partner and lover, will return immediately to Spain. Unfortunately, while he is there, Marta mistakenly sends him a message meant for her lover, and she returns to Spain alone, while he remains, miserable, in Munich. What follows is the intimate story of one calendar year from January, when Marta and Beto end their relationship, through December, when Beto begins to take some control of his life. The author, a well-regarded film maker, allows the reader to share Beto’s innermost thoughts and experience some of his questionable activities, while he also uses visual elements from art and architecture to ground Beto’s life in a greater reality.

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The Shoe Tester of Frankfurt by German author Wilhelm Genazino begins as an existential investigation by a self-conscious 46-year-old man into who he is and why he behaves as he does. His hypersensitive observations about the world around him show a man who “hardly thinks at all anymore—I only look round and about.” The unnamed speaker has been working for seven years as a “shoe tester,” a man who walks around Frankfurt testing quality shoes for a manufacturer and then reviewing them. The speaker enjoys this job, as his walking gives him unlimited opportunity to muse about his life, observe people from the past with whom he has had relationships, reminisce about their mutual experiences, and contemplate “the collective peculiarity of all life.” While he walks, he thinks about his childhood, his failed relationship with Lisa, with whom he has lived for several years, and his lack of professional motivation, and the reader observes him as he has an afternoon interlude with his hairdresser, begins a new relationship, meets a friend who is a failed photographer, gets a drastic cut in salary, and begins work as a vendor in a flea market. The author’s dry, tongue-in-cheek humor keeps the novel from imploding under its own weight, while the conclusion offers an upbeat future. Slow to start, the novel evolves into a delightful exploration of one man’s memories and his halting steps toward a new life.

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Following the crushing defeat of the Italian army in 1917 by the Germans during World War I, the Villa belonging to the Spada family in Refrontolo, just north of Venice, is requisitioned by the German army and stripped of all its valuables. Crude victorious soldiers, drunk on their power, delight in tormenting the owners, tearing up cupboards and smashing the contents and even riding horses inside the Villa until they are stopped by officers in charge. The safety of young females is constantly at risk if they are caught out alone. As one character says, “War and loot are the only faithful married couple.” Living at the Villa which the family has occupied for generations, are the speaker, Paolo, age seventeen, an orphan who has lost his parents and other immediate family in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914; his grandfather Guglielmo Spada; grandmother Nancy; unmarried aunt, Donna Maria, who acts as the house manager; Teresa, the imaginative cook; and Loretta, her daughter, in her early twenties. Living in a house nearby are the red-haired Giulia Candiani, who has returned to her place of birth because of an indiscretion, a twenty-five-year-old who has bewitched Paolo; and her tenant, Grandma Spada’s “third paramour,” Pagnini, who occupies a basement room there. Author Andrea Molesini, who has lived in this area of northern Italy for much of his life, has absorbed every aspect of its history and is uniquely qualified to describe the effects of the German, and later, the Austro-Hungarian occupation on the lives of the inhabitants, not just of the Villa but of the surrounding area, during the final months of World War I.

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In his third book, the first to be published in English, German author Christopher Kloeble creates a thematically complex novel in which he examines the most crucial aspects of everyday life for several families over several generations as they try to figure out who they are and what their roles are within their own family histories and in the histories of others close to them. Though most thoughtful people reflect on their parents and siblings and their own roles within their families as part of their growing-up process, the relationships in this novel are not as clear-cut as they are in most readers’ lives. Even the question of who is your father or who is your mother does not inspire an automatic answer for some of the characters here. As Kloeble examines three generations of characters in two story lines, from the aftermath of World War I to the present, the exact nature of their connections is often hidden, not only from the reader but also from the characters themselves. During this novel, the author explores some of mankind’s most important themes in unique ways. Who are we as individuals (a question raised by Albert and sometimes Fred) exists alongside questions about who we are within our families and what is the role of love in our lives. What obligations, if any, do we have toward a new generation, and to what information is that new generation entitled by their elders? How, if at all, is the present a direct outgrowth of the past? As Albert begins to grow up and feel the stirrings of love and sex, he also experiences three serious loves, another complex theme well developed through the action, in addition to more platonic loves which teach him about humanity.

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In this marvelous combination of photographic portraits by famed German artist August Sander (1976 – 1974) and modern poems by American poet Adam Kirsch, which accompany them, Kirsch introduces readers to new worlds. Explaining the difference between “snapshots,” which record moments in time and bring back memories for the viewer, portraits like Sander’s, in which the subjects have no names and are identified only by “class, occupation, gender, [and] family role are independent of time and appear to posterity as types. Kirsch’s poems give imagined identities to these subjects, bringing them to life in new ways and connecting them directly with times and places at the same time that they maintain a universality that goes beyond the individual. Forty-six poems, all illustrated, provide a broad look at Germany’s people between 1910 and 1950.

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