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Festive incomings at the Ramblings!

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I do hope everyone has had a lovely seasonal break; if you’re anything like us at the Ramblings, there’s been a lot of food and drink and silly games and laughter with family, which has been quite lovely. There were also plenty of parcels to unwrap, and inevitably there have been books – in fact, rather more than I might have anticipated!

Things were slightly complicated by my birthday also being a December one, and so I thought I would split the arrivals into the two categories and share some of the bookish arrivals! 😁

This rather modest pile is the birthday books. My BFF J. presented me with another beautiful Beverley for my collection (which gets larger daily!) and the Vegan cookbook was from a local friend. “Dayglo”, about the amazing Poly Styrene, was from my brother in law, and the rest of the books were inspired gifts from Mr. Kaggsy. There is an intriguing sounding book about D. H. Lawrence in there which will become particularly pertinent as this post continues… I was very excited to get the new translation of the Bruno Schulz stories too!

Well – let’s get on to Christmas… Here’s the rather daunting pile of new arrivals!

I must admit I wasn’t anticipating quite so many bookish gifts – here’s a little more detail… ;D

This impressive pile of D.H. Lawrence titles comes from my BFF J., who has obviously decreed that 2020 will be the year that I read DHL! Let’s hope I like him… She actually lugged them all the way round London when we met up at the end of November, which is no mean feat – thanks J.!

These books are from other pals! “The House with the Stained Glass Window” comes from my old friend V., and as a fascinating translated work, it sounds right up my street! The Vita and Carter books are part of my Virago Secret Santa this year, and my Santa turned out to be Simon at Stuck in a Book – thanks Simon! 😀

And this stunning pile comes from family – including the Copenhagen trilogy from Middle child, Montaigne, Oscar Wilde, the Cold War, Buzzcocks and the wonderful behemoth at the bottom – The Penguin Book of Oulipo. I am ridiculously excited about all of these, and the Oulipo book is the icing on the cake!

So I’m obvs going to have to rearrange the shelves and have a bit of a clear out to house these wonderful volumes – and fortunately Mr. Kaggsy rather cleverly gifted me something which will be the perfect aid:

This is a rather wonderful library stool/step (the bottom bit slides out when you want to use it as a step) which I can keep in the spare room where the books live and use to hop up and down from the higher shelves, and sit on to have a quick sneaky read whenever I want! It’s absolutely fab and will no doubt help my investigations of some of my top shelves (and may even help me locate my missing Shostakovich books…)

So – I have been thoroughly spoiled over recent weeks with books and am now going to have even more issues deciding what to read next! I’m very lucky to have been so gifted. I hope all my bookish friends have had some wonderful Christmas arrivals, and do share what lovely books have been incoming at your homes! 😀

 

(Post)#GermanLitMonth – A State of Mind

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The Wall Jumper by Peter Schneider

Even though we’re comfortably into December, I’m going to claim this one for German Literature Month, as I did *read* it in November – I just ran out of reviewing time! And actually, bearing in mind its length, I’ll also claim it for #novellanov!

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, the divide between East and West, as exemplified by the Berlin Wall, has an enduring fascination. So when I stumbled across mention of Peter Schneider’s “The Wall Jumper” I was very keen to track it down, as I do have something of a fascination with the GDR (which I think I’ve mentioned on the Ramblings!)

wall jumper

Schneider is an author I hadn’t heard of before, and from a cursory look online it seems as if this might be his best known work in English; certainly there are only a few other titles obviously available, and he’s not a writer I’ve seen discussed much. However, on the evidence of “The Wall Jumper” I’d certainly like to read more.

The book is narrated by an unnamed writer who may or not be Schneider himself, and is set in Berlin before the fall of the Wall. It’s populated by characters who live on both sides of the divide: there is Pommerer, the friend in the East the narrator visits and who spins legends of jumpers; Robert, an escapee to the West who tells tales from his bar stool; and there is Lena, the narrator’s past love whose reactions were conditioned by the East which left her temperamentally incapable of a relationship with a Westerner. Binding them together is the narrator, attempting to find the perfect tale of a wall jumper, as he flits back and forth across the Wall. And the tales themselves are fascinating: there are the three youngsters who regularly cross the Wall in its early days to watch Hollywood films; a man who feels compelled to jump back and forth for no good reason; and people with more sinister intent who end up paying the ultimate price. It’s a chilling reminder of just how recent the Cold War was, particularly when you notice that those in the West can visit the East and leave, but those from the East can only escape illegally or if their freedom is bought by the other side.

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But as he searches for the perfect story, it becomes clear that the wall jumper of the title is in fact the narrator himself; shuttling back and forth between East and West, collecting stories and legends of other jumpers and weaving them into his tale, he’s unable to resist his fascination with the city’s great divide.

Every story lacks something the next one has; but then the next story is missing something from the one before. Maybe the story I’m looking for doesn’t exist.

The story is dominated by the Wall, of course and the effect that it has had on those living around it. You would think that simply plonking an arbitrary divide through a city wouldn’t change the people on either side, but in fact it has. Those on the opposing sides of the wall have either chosen where to live according to their belief or mindset, or else have tailored their thought to where they live. Either way, their personality is set by the side of the wall which they inhabit and because of this they constantly misunderstand each other. The Wall is shown to be something that exists in the mind, perhaps more so than the physical

It will take us longer to tear down the wall in our heads than any wrecking company will need for the wall we can see. Pommerer and I can dissociate ourselves from our states as much as we like, but we can’t speak to each other without having our states speak for us.

And what of the narrator? I felt that he vacillated, unable to decide exactly where his sympathies lay. Like the jumpers themselves, his narrative shifted constantly, from past to present, East to West and in many ways he seemed unsettled in both regions.

Schneider

“The Wall Jumper” was an absolutely fascinating read. In this short novel, Schneider crystallises and encapsulates the ideological divide that used to exist between East and West (and probably still does); and it has a powerful message about how different beliefs and mindsets can affect the world today. Essential reading!

Recent Reads: The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell

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I have a little confession to make – this week I’ve been doing something I haven’t done for a long time, which is reading two books in tandem. Not the biggest crime in the world, I know, but a tendency I’ve suppressed recently as I often ended up not finishing books because of doing this.

But I started “Underground Overground” at the start of the week, which I’m over halfway through and still enjoying. I paused while I did a little research on old Tube maps online, as maps are the only thing lacking in the book, and got sidetracked a little by the last Wallander – “A Troubled Man” by Henning Mankell, which Youngest Child got me for Christmas.

THE-TROUBLED-MAN

I’ve read all of the Wallander books; in fact, I had quite a Scandinavian crime fiction fad a few years back, and I read all of the Martin Beck series, all of the Wallanders and some Inspector Irene Huss books by Helene Tursten. I confess that I haven’t followed through with more of the modern authors – tried a Jo Nesbo and the Stieg Larssons, but I found these disappointing, just too violent and without the depth of the other books I read. I am, however, inordinately fond of Arnaldur Indridason’s Icelandic detective Erlenudur!

Anyway – anyone who has read any of Mankell’s Wallander books will know what to expect – a complex plot, some lovely scenery, Wallander going through various stages of confusion, depression and anger…. Well, that probably makes them sound a little clichéd – they’re not, really, and at nearly 500 pages this is certainly an absorbing read!

The troubled man of the title is Håkan von Enke, the prospective father-in-law of Wallander’s daughter, Linda – but it’s obvious that the epithet also applies to the detective himself, as he is beset with a variety of issues throughout the book. Håkan inexplicably disappears, after half-confiding some vague secrets to Wallander, and this is followed by the later disappearance of his wife Louise, who then turns up murdered halfway through the book. There are a number of complex sub-plots about spying, submarine incidents and relationships between various countries during the Cold War, plus quite an array of characters.

The plot and the denouement themselves are absorbing enough, but Mankell is also using the book to settle most of Wallander’s accounts and tie up the loose ends in his life, leaving him to slope off into the proverbial sunset. Kurt’s past loves, in the form of his ex-wife Mona and lover Baiba, are revisited and settled up with. There’s a lot of ruminating on his relationship with his father, his daughter and colleagues. Many of the locations and events of past cases are referenced.  There’s disillusionment with the state of the modern world and also the way Sweden is currently running its police force. All of this is interesting, and is never so long-winded that it detracts from the plot. Wallander’s health has its ups and downs, and he manages a lot of travel in the book. There’s also plenty of tragedy waiting in the wings…

author_mankell_sweden

Obviously, this is not the place to start if you are coming to Mankell’s Wallander books for the first time and they should definitely be read in order. But it’s a fitting finale for the detective, moving in places, exciting and intriguing – I read it at a gallop and really enjoyed it! Mankell’s books are not my favourite Swedish crime fiction – as far as I’m concerned, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series holds the crown, they’re just a magnificent series of books. But Mankell’s stories run a very close second and this is a worthy addition to the canon.

Now I need to get back to the Tube!

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