Book-a-Day x-mas Challenge

It’s this time of the year again and I’m introducing a book a day that caught my interest. You will find old and new, obscure and mainstream titles next to each other so hopefully an interesting mix.

I would like to start today with a book I had picked from the shelves for the wonderful #autorinnenschuber and got sucked into it before I could place it back on the shelf.

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Mind you, this is no comfy feelgood literature. This book is hard, it hurts and it is one of the most painful description of the horrors of WW2 that I ever read.

Agota Kristof (1935-2011) was a Hungarian author who lived Switzerland, and the wrote in french. Das große Heft (The Notebook in english) is the first volume of a trilogy. It quite difficult to describe the ambiance of this weird and chilling story. I have read a lot of books on WW2, but can’t think of many that that made such a strong emotional impression on me.  It paints the impact of war on the people enduring its horrors in cold and dark pictures.

The story is told in the first person plural by twins named Claus and Lucas, who were taken by their mother from the city to the countryside where they should stay with their grandmother until the war is over. This granny is not a warm and welcoming spirit, she is quite mean and unwelcoming and in response to their harsh environment at home and with the war outside, the both numb themselves. They practice surpressing their emotions and harden themselves in physical excercises.

They response to life and its uncertainties in a pragmatic and often amoral way, taken advantage of any situation that promises them a benefit. But there are also moments of altruism that come about very unexpectedly when they help others even less fortunately in life than themselves.

 The book ends in a very unexpected way and left me pretty speechless.

I rarely encountered a book as terrifying, numbing and painful as this one. It has immense emotional power which is only increased by the minimalistic language and will haunt you for a long time. I highly recommend this slender book even though it is a tough read.

Combine Agota Kristof’s „The Notebook“ with Ilse Aichinger’s „Die größere Hoffnung“ and Anna Funder’s „All that I am/Alles was ich bin„.

I’m looking forward to seeing you back here tomorrow where I promise it will be a little more light-hearted.

Do you know the book? What was your impression and did you read the rest of the trilogy?

„Das große Heft“ was published in Piper Verlag.

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