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Literary roundup: From Dresden to Dickens
February 13 is the anniversary of the Dresden bombing that took place in 1945. The bombing continues to provoke debate and beyond its historical significance has a number of connections with literary and cultural history.
Photo - Deutsche Fotothek, Richard Peter
Literary roundup: Polish vampires, Russian apartment sellers and German inadequates (take your pick)
A new book from the Nobel Prize winner Gunter Grass, The Box, explores the complicated yet precise contours of memory and what we learn when called upon to relive our experiences.
“Once upon a time there was a father who, because he had grown old, called together his sons and daughters—four, five, six, eight in number—and finally convinced them, after long hesitation, to do as he wished. Now they are sitting around a table and begin to talk . . .”
In an audacious literary experiment, Günter Grass writes in the voices of his eight children as they record memories of their childhoods, of growing up, of their father, who was always at work on a new book, always at the margins of their lives. Memories contradictory, critical, loving, accusatory—they piece together an intimate picture of this most public of men. To say nothing of Marie, Grass’s assistant, a family friend of many years, perhaps even a lover, whose snapshots taken with an old-fashioned Agfa box camera provide the author with ideas for his work. But her images offer much more. They reveal a truth beyond the ordinary detail of life, depict the future, tell what might have been, grant the wishes in visual form of those photographed. The children speculate on the nature of this magic: was the enchanted camera a source of inspiration for their father? Did it represent the power of art itself? Was it the eye of God?
Recalling J. M. Coetzee’s Summertime and Umberto Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, The Box is an inspired and daring work of fiction. In its candor, wit, and earthiness, it is Grass at his best.
”It may not be a memoir, but it is an exercise in soul-searching…this is a novel of great humility, questioning whether the measure of a life really is a life’s work… [Grass] shows a remarkable willingness to kick a hole in the usual self-importance of a prize-winning author.”
-The New York Times Book Review
NOW IN PAPERBACK!
Get your hands on the international phenomenon THE HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER by Oliver Poetzsch today!
Magdalena, the clever and headstrong daughter of Bavarian hangman Jakob Kuisl, lives with her father outside the village walls and is destined to be married off to another hangman’s son—except that the town physician’s son is hopelessly in love with her. And her father’s wisdom and empathy are as unusual as his despised profession. It is 1659, the Thirty Years’ War has finally ended, and there hasn’t been a witchcraft mania in decades. But now, a drowning and gruesomely injured boy, tattooed with the mark of a witch, is pulled from a river and the villagers suspect the local midwife, Martha Stechlin.
Jakob Kuisl is charged with extracting a confession from her and torturing her until he gets one. Convinced she is innocent, he, Magdalena, and her would-be suitor to race against the clock to find the true killer. Approaching Walpurgisnacht, when witches are believed to dance in the forest and mate with the devil, another tattooed orphan is found dead and the town becomes frenzied. More than one person has spotted what looks like the devil—a man with a hand made only of bones. The hangman, his daughter, and the doctor’s son face a terrifying and very real enemy.
Taking us back in history to a place where autopsies were blasphemous, coffee was an exotic drink, dried toads were the recommended remedy for the plague, and the devil was as real as anything, The Hangman’s Daughter brings to cinematic life the sights, sounds, and smells of seventeenth-century Bavaria, telling the engrossing story of a compassionate hangman who will live on in readers’ imaginations long after they’ve put down the novel.
German author Oliver Poetzsch is visiting bookstores in select cities this week to celebrate the publication of The Hangman’s Daughter (translated by Lee Chadeayne). Also be sure to listen to him on the Leonard Lopate Show this Wednesday at 1PM.
Boswell Book Company
2559 N. Downer Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53211
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, CA 94925
1760 4th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Third Place Books
17171 Bothell Way NE
Lake Forest Park, WA 98155
Susan Bernofsky on “The Woman with the 5 Elephants,” playing this week at Film Forum in New York.
Vadim Jendreyko’s documentary The Woman with the 5 Elephants is quite possibly the most beautiful movie ever made about a translator. The film’s protagonist, Svetlana Geier, who died last year at the age of 87, is famous for her translations into German of Dostoevsky’s five huge novels (the “elephants” of the title). But this film is no mere biopic - it is a gorgeous essay on the art of translation and the complex and often fraught ways in which the life’s work of this talented woman resonates with the self-transformations she herself underwent, having been born in Kiev, where her world was turned upside-down first by Stalin’s purges, then by the German occupation.
The German Book Office’s Book of the Month is Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, translated from the German by Anthea Bell. Publishing Perspectives says of this YA novel: “filled with the perfect combination of romance, intrigue, time travel, and humor, it takes readers on a journey through the past, present, and an unusual family history.”
Is there a general method with which you approach book design, or is each case different? On average, how many iterations do you go through before you’ve reached the final version?
Each case is fairly different, depending on the type of book. It also feels hit or miss as to which covers will take many rounds to approval and which will be winners right from the start. I’m often surprised.