Day 16 A book that everyone hated and I liked

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OK – vielleicht nicht jeder, aber schon eine ganze Reihe Leute. Fast konnte man den Eindruck haben, wer „Unterleuten“ liebte, war schwer enttäuscht vom dystopischen „Kalte Herzen“. Mir haben beide Bücher gefallen.

 

Ein dystopischer Thriller der in der sehr nahen Zukunft spielt und erschreckend realistisch wirkt. Angela Merkel verliert die Wahlen und die „Bewegung Besorgter Bürger“ kurz BBB genannt gewinnt mehr und mehr Einfluß und stellt sogar die neue Kanzlerin Regula Freyer. Der BBB infiltriert nach und nach sämtliche demokratischen Bereiche und verschlankt den Staat auf ein Mimum, ganz und gar dem Effizienz-Gott huldigend und scheint dabei oberflächlich auch einige Gute Sachen zu schaffen: Das bedingungslose Grundeinkommen für alle ist da und garantiert einen einigermaßen ausreichenden Lebensstandard, die Terrororganisation Deash sinkt immer weiter in die Bedeutungslosigkeit und hat die Terrorangst weitestgehend vergessen lassen, der Krieg in Syrien ist beendet und sogar Israel und Palästina haben sich auf eine Zwei-Staaten-Lösung einigen können.

Und dennoch braut sich was zusammen in diesem Deutschland im Jahr 2025. Die Menschen haben keinerlei Prinzipien mehr und sind eigentlich nur noch zynisch. Politische Desillusioniertheit und eine gewisse Lethargie verbreiten sich. Jeder kümmert sich nur noch um sich selbst, das Gemeinwohl geht den Bach runter und mehr und mehr Leute wählen die Sicherheit und Waschmaschine statt Demokratie.

Britta Söldner lebt ein Doppelleben. Auf der einen Seite ist sie Ehefrau und Mutter in Braunschwein lebend mit Freunden und einem guten Leben. Mit ihrem Geschäftspartner Babak leitet sie eine sehr erfolgreiche psychiatrische Praxis „Die Brücke“ ein Zentrum für „Life-Coaching, Self-Managing, Ego-Polishing“, das sich auf die Heilung von Selbstmordkandidaten spezialisiert hat.

Tatsächlich heilen sie auch eine ganze Reihe von Menschen von ihren Selbstmordabsichten. Die die sich allerdings nicht heilen lassen, vermitteln sie sehr erfolgreich und lukrativ an unerschiedliche Terrororganisationen. Terror als saubere Business-Transaktion mit überschaubaren kalkulierbaren Risiken.
Alles läuft gut, bis eines Tages ein Konkurrent im Markt auftaucht und dann ist da noch das zunehmend schlechte Gewissen, dass Britta Söldner mehr und mehr zu quälen scheint.

Die Geschichte ist ein leidenschaftlicher Appell für unsere demokratischen Prinzipien zu kämpfen, es geht um die Sinnsuche im Leben und Juli Zeh gelingt es mühelos Gesellschaftskritik in einem cleveren psychologischen politischen Thriller zu einem spannenden brandaktuellen Buch zu verbinden.

Ein rasantes Leseerlebnis, das mich noch länger beschäftigen wird und definitiv zum Nachdenken anregt.

Bei Buchrevier findet sich eine weitere positive Besprechung, Masuko13 und Zeilensprünge waren nicht so angetan wie ich 😉

Hier ein spannendes Interview von Dennis Scheck mit Juli Zeh zu ihrem neuen Roman:

 

Ich danke dem Luchterhand Verlag für das Rezensionsexemplar.

 

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Day 15 – The perfect Winter Read

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For today’s challenge „The perfect winter read“ I chose Anna Karenina. It has been years ago that I read it but it was the perfect setting. Travelling from Moskau to then Leningrad by train through the most wonderful winter landscape.

I remember the wonderful language, the hopelessness of the situation and Anna Karenina’s despair.The psychological finesse of Tolstoi is unique and it is impossible not to feel and often suffer with the characters.

Remember when Anna confesses to her husband that she is pregnant by her lover ?

Or when Anna realises her and Wronskis love is fading away:

„Die zwischen ihnen bestehende gereizte Stimmung hatte keine äußere Ursache, und alle Versuche einer gegenseitigen Aussprache dienten nicht zur Beseitigung dieser Stimmung, sondern im Gegenteil zu ihrer Verschärfung. Diese gereizte Stimmung kam von innen her und hatte bei Anna ihren Grund in dem Schwächerwerden seiner Liebe und bei Wronski in der Reue darüber, daß er sich um ihretwillen in eine so peinliche Lage gebracht habe, die sie ihm, statt sie ihm zu erleichtern, immer noch schwerer mache. Keiner von beiden sprach sich über den Grund seiner Gereiztheit aus; aber jeder von ihnen war überzeugt, daß der andere im Unrecht sei, und bemühte sich bei jedem Anlaß, es ihm zu beweisen. “

Should you ever travel to Russia don’t travel without Anna Karenina. It was a wonderful trip but incredibly cold –  I had to buy hand muffs and a hat which made me look quite Anna Karenina like. We walked over the the frozen Baltic Sea in St. Petersburg with Krim Sekt and I never felt more like being in the novel I’m currently reading than at that time.

What is your perfect Winter Read ?

Day 14 – A book that made you cry

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Well it would probably be a bit over the top to say the book made me cry – I don’t cry that easily usually only when fictional people (or Octopus) die. The “Hillbilly Elegy” didn’t make me cry, but quite sad actually for the generations of kids that get born in f*** up families.

The book keeps being mentioned as the one that helps explain why the white working class in the US voted for Trump and coming from white working class with a hint of white trash background myself that kinda stuff interests me a lot.

Poverty, Chaos, Helplessness, violence, drugs and alcohol that is the vicious cycle for a lot of white American working class families in the US. Detached from their political leadership class and suspended from the rest of society and therefore susceptible for populistic slogans. In the past “Hillbillys” had at least the chance to work their ways up in factories in the Manufacturing belt in the old industries but latest with the end of the 20th century the decline of these industries dragged the Hillbilly families down with them and they have never recovered from it turning the manufacturing belt into the rust belt of the country.

“Barack Obama strikes at the heart of our deepest insecurities. He is a good father while many of us aren’t. He wears suits to his job while we wear overalls, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. His wife tells us that we shouldn’t be feeding our children certain foods, and we hate her for it—not because we think she’s wrong but because we know she’s right.”

JD Vance talks about the history of his family and draws a picture of failure and the resignation of a complete society class. Vance manages to make the situation of the people in the huge Appalachian area more tangible and understandable. His Grandparents were typical Hillbillys in a sense that they believed in Guns and Gods and hard work, they were probably the last generation that had at least partially the sense that they can influence their own fate.

“What separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.”

 

“If you believe that hard work pays off, then you work hard; if you think it’s hard to get ahead even when you try, then why try at all? Similarly, when people do fail, this mind-set allows them to look outward. I once ran into an old acquaintance at a Middletown bar who told me that he had recently quit his job because he was sick of waking up early. I later saw him complaining on Facebook about the “Obama economy” and how it had affected his life. I don’t doubt that the Obama economy has affected many, but this man is assuredly not among them. His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.” 

JDs most powerful influences were his grandparents that he called Mamaw and Papaw: very fierce, hard-drinking fighters with a strong belief in honor and family solidarity. They might beat their kids but beware if an outsider would ever say one harsh word to them… Both did their own children not much good especially not JD’s mother, a heroin and painkiller addict with a bewildering number of boyfriends and husbands – but by the time JD needed them they had softened a bit and gave him the love and support he needed to succeed.

“For kids like me, the part of the brain that deals with stress and conflict is always activated…We are constantly ready to fight or flee, because there is a constant exposure to the bear, whether that bear is an alcoholic dad or an unhinged mom”

On one hand there are a lot of similarities. My brother and I were also (more or less successfully) rescued by my Grandmother and would it not have been for her,  my life would have been completely different and certainly not nearly as good as it is now. I can also relate to the feeling of being a stranger of not belonging after the social upward move, I still have lot’s of awkward moments when being in company that somehow gives me the feeling (to be honest I give this feeling to myself most of the time) of not belonging, of not exactly knowing “how to behave”.

“social mobility isn’t just about money and economics, it’s about a lifestyle change. The wealthy and the powerful aren’t just wealthy and powerful; they follow a different set of norms and mores. When you go from working-class to professional-class, almost everything about your old life becomes unfashionable at best or unhealthy at worst.” 

“We don’t study as children, and we don’t make our kids study when we’re parents. Our kids perform poorly in school. We might get angry with them, but we never give them the tools—like peace and quiet at home—to succeed.” 

“interviews showed me that successful people are playing an entirely different game. They don’t flood the job market with résumés, hoping that some employer will grace them with an interview. They network. They email a friend of a friend to make sure their name gets the look it deserves. They have their uncles call old college buddies. They have their school’s career service office set up interviews months in advance on their behalf. They have parents tell them how to dress, what to say, and whom to schmooze.” 

The difference is I didn’t feel I belonged to the grim council estate working class reality of my childhood either. I was always drawn to the people that are now often labeled so  unfavorably “Elites”. I hated the violence around me, I never saw it as anything to be proud of and was trying to escape as quickly as I could (dragging my Granny along as far as it was possibly). And I had many kind more intellectual people who helped me see a more positive future and who acted as role models and supporters.

So this is probably my personal biggest challenge with the book, that I generally highly recommend and found very insightful: He felt he belonged with the Hillbillys and had to adapt to live in the world of Yale etc. That was not the case for me. I never felt home where I came from but I don’t always feel 100% accepted in the social order that I moved into. Maybe I’m just jealous of him 😉

The most important factor to escape poverty is to have a stable environment around you and at least one person that protects and helps you.

JD Vance is doing a good job in not offering over simplified solutions for huge problems. Interesting how partially pretty similar experiences turn one into quite the religious convervative guy and another one into an atheist liberal.

Where I 100% agree with him: Not just in the US – the same is true here in Germany:  It’s dangerous if huge parts of society have the impression they have absolutely no influence on their own fate. If people don’t even try because they are born in a culture of learned helplessness, that turns them into victims and makes them remain victims if they don’t manage to change this perspective.

“I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”

Das Buch erschien auf deutsch unter dem Titel: „Hillbilly Elegy: Die Geschichte meiner Familie und einer Gesellschaft in der Krise“

Day 13 – Turned into a good movie

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„Roadside Picnic“ is an incredibly gripping SciFi novel written while the U.S.S.R. was still alive and kicking, although it wasn’t published until years after it was first written. The authors are two brothers and their way of tackling SciFi is definitely different from your standard Anglo-American Futurism.

In the town of Harmont, in an unnamed country (that quite clearly isn’t Russia), exists a so-called „Zone“, one of several around the world, left behind by „The Visitation“ of unknown aliens years ago.

„Roadside Picnic“ is a story about so-called „stalkers“. These guys vemtire into the extremely dangerous Zone to retrieve alien artifacts. The aliens have left behind many unique, useful and beautiful objects some of which humans cannot even begin to understand or manufacture themselves. Still there is quite the demand for these objects and because it’s pretty dangerous to obtain them, the stalkers are paid pretty well for them. There are a lot of dangers in the Zone and many Stalkers were killed or severely injured in the Zone.

The title „Roadside Picnic“ refers to the idea that maybe the aliens just left a bunch of junk behind at the sites of their visits, quite like Humans when they go to a roadside picnic and leave behind some paper plates, empty beer cans, a bbq etc.

„A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. Cars drive off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out carrying bottles, baskets of food, transistor radios, and cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that watched in horror through the long night creep out from their hiding places. And what do they see? Old spark plugs and old filters strewn around… Rags, burnt-out bulbs, and a monkey wrench left behind… And of course, the usual mess—apple cores, candy wrappers, charred remains of the campfire, cans, bottles, somebody’s handkerchief, somebody’s penknife, torn newspapers, coins, faded flowers picked in another meadow.”

This complete trivialisation of the contact is so different from anything you read about in SciFi. No first contact, no failed communication attempts. No obvious reason for this visit whatsoever. We were just not that interesting to this visiting species from outer space.
A pretty pointless roadstop and a bunch of leftover rubbish – which still affects the lives of people around the mysterious Zones.

Stalking in the Zone is forbidden and dangerous so there are just a few left have that have not been hounded by the police, killed or are imprisoned. The main character is Redric „Red“ Schuhart. He is one of the last real stalker left. He’s tough and experienced and although he does have a soft spot for family members but he can be pretty mean and hard some times.

He is in love with Guta, his girlfriend at the beginning of the novel, who gets pregnant and they have a little daughter they call monkey. Being in the Zone seems to alter the DNA of the Stalkers and their offspring often is misfigured or disabled.

Directly or indirectly, the Zone plays havoc on Harmont, the treasures bring money but at a pretty high price to Harmont’s inhabitants. In Red’s life nearly everyone around him is harmed directly or indirectly by the Zone. A lot of people die and his family is affected in various but enough of the details, I want to avoid spoilers.

The book is short, the writing crisp and refreshing and it was hard for me to believe that this book was written years before the catastrophy in Chernobyl. A desaster that created Zone-like areas and ghost cities just like Harmont.

“The hypothesis of God, for instance, gives an incomparably absolute opportunity to understand everything and know absolutely nothing. Give man an extremely simplified system of the world and explain every phenomenon away on the basis of that system. An approach like that doesn’t require any knowledge. Just a few memorized formulas plus so-called intuition and so-called common sense.” 

I loved the novel, it made the TOP 10 of my favorite SciFi novels – did I now convince you to read it? 🙂

This is the novel on which Andrei Tarkovsky based the motion picture Stalker and incredibly great movie with a wonderful soundtrack. Here is a link to the movie in Russian with english subtitles:

Auf deutsch erschien der Roman unter dem Titel „Picknick am Wegesrand“ beim Suhrkamp Verlag.

Day 12 – Massive Tome

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… also known as Doorstopper 😉

Margaret Atwood’s „Alias Grace“ is such a doorstopper and one I totally loved when I first read it and I’m looking forward to watching the mini-series on Netflix.

Let me introduce the story so you might wanna read it as well 😉

Toronto 1843, Grace a young servant is found guilty of the doppel murder of her employer. At the last second the death penalty gets transformed into a life long prison sentence. She spends years in prison before she can finally leave. In the household of the Director she meets the psychatrist Simon Jordan, who tries to get to the bottom of the story: is Grace indeed a cold blooded murderer or actually quite innocent?

 

The topic of Grace Marks kept the press in Canada, the US and Great Britain pretty busy at the time. The question if the – at the time sixteen year old servant – was responsible for the death of her employer and his lover was a question people tinkered about for ages.

The story is told from her perspective and from the young psychiatrist Simon Jordon who opened a modern mental asylum and hoped initially that the case of Grace Marks brings him enough popularity to have a positive influence on his asylum.

The story is supplemented with extracts from court and medical cases, newspaper articles, books and other sources.

Besides the question of Grace’s guilt, the novel draws an elaborate picture of the situation of women, poor people and the development of psychiatry in the 19th century.

The story is beautifully written, an absolute page turner that you will have a hard time to forget.

I hope I made a convincing case for Alias Grace – what was the last doorstopper you read and would like to recommend?

 

The book has been published in German under the same title by Piper Verlag.

Day 11 – A funny read

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Funny Books are not exactly my strong point as you might have noticed before. Our December Bookclub book seemed to belong to this scary category that I usually try avoid like the plague.

“This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything. Never cheated on my taxes or at cards. Never snuck into the movies or failed to give back the extra change to a drugstore cashier indifferent to the ways of mercantilism and minimum-wage expectations. I’ve never burgled a house. Held up a liquor store. Never boarded a crowded bus or subway car, sat in a seat reserved for the elderly, pulled out my gigantic penis and masturbated to satisfaction with a perverted, yet somehow crestfallen, look on my face. But here I am, in the cavernous chambers of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, my car illegally and somewhat ironically parked on Constitution Avenue, my hands cuffed and crossed behind my back, my right to remain silent long since waived and said goodbye to as I sit in a thickly padded chair that, much like this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks.” 

It won the Booker Prize in 2016 and one of the Booker judges, Olivia Williams claims on the back of the novel that she was banned in bed, because she was laughing so much. So I had hopes and prepared myself to have my underdeveloped laughing muscles ticled.

“Silence can be either protest or consent, but most times it’s fear.”

„The Sellout“ is about a young man’s isolated upbringing by his single father , a controversial psychologist who administered racially charged experiments on him. His dad made him believe that this work will result in a memoir that will resolve the family’s financial troubles. When his father is killed in a police shooting it turns out there never was a memoir all that is left for him is the bill for a drive-thru funeral. (The idea of a drive-thru funeral made me actually laugh) and I had to google to find out if that part was satire of if that really does exist in the US.

Fun fact: the do seem to exist:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2098849/Drive-funeral-parlour–mourners-want-come-dead-stop.html

“I’m so fucking tired of black women always being described by their skin tones! Honey-colored this! Dark-chocolate that! My paternal grandmother was mocha-tinged, café-au-lait, graham-fucking-cracker brown! How come they never describe the white characters in relation to foodstuffs and hot liquids? Why aren’t there any yogurt-colored, egg-shell-toned, string-cheese-skinned, low-fat-milk white protagonists in these racist, no-third-act-having books? That’s why black literature sucks!” 

But back to the story. In his angry state of mind and the general despair of his hometown the protagonist aims to right another wrong. His hometown Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from embarassment. He enlists the help of some friends and initiates the most bizarre idea: reintating slavery and segregating the local high school which lands him in front of the Surpreme court.

To be clear – there were funny bits in the book and the main reason the book didn’t really work for me was less the humor than the missing context. I had a hard time getting into the book and often wasn’t really sure what he was talking about.

So far the book has not been translated into German, I wonder if it had worked for me better in this case. I really wanted to like it but just as an example, one of the questions that come for the book is about the cover art where you see an illustration of a lawn jockey and the question is how the cover art summarizes the narrator’s core conflict.

I didn’t even know what a lawn jockey is, so I didn’t pay particularly attention to the cover. To truly enjoy the book I probably should have googled a lot more of the references in the book to get the subtle ironies so my not taking to the book very much is more my fault than the author’s.

What was the last funny book you read and did you like it?

Day 10 – Book of Poems

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„Seit sie dichtet, haben sie viele Menschen, die sie nie gesehen haben, lieb: Mascha Kaléko. Stimmt, ich auch.

Die Lyrikerin Mascha Kaléko wurde als Tochter eines russischen Vaters und einer österreichischen Mutter geboren. Nach Schul- und Studienjahren in Berlin wurde sie 1930 für die „Vossische Zeitung“ entdeckt. Hier und im „Berliner Tageblatt“ erschienen jahrelang ihre Gedichte, die sie rasch zu einer literarischen Berühmtheit machten, über die Grenzen der Stadt Berlins hinaus. Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Alfred Polgar rühmten die Verse dieser jungen Großstadtdichterin, die Erich Kästners wachen Sarkasmus besaß, ihn aber in zärtlich-weibliche Rhythmen kleidete, in Strophen, die ihren Charme einer eigentümlichen Mischung von Melancholie und Witz, Aktualität und Musik, romantischer Ironie und politischer Schärfe verdankten.

Seit 1938 lebte die Dichterin als amerikanische Staatsbürgerin in New York, sie starb nach jahrelangem Aufenthalt in Jerusalem 1975 in Zürich.

(Info zur Autorin aus dem obigen Rowohlt Band)

Welches Gedicht könnte zu meiner denglischen „Book-a-Day Challenge“ besser passen als die Momentaufnahme eines Zeitgenossen.

Wenn unsereins se lengvitsch spricht,
So geht er wie auf Eiern.
Der Satzbau wackelt, und die grammar hinkt,
Und wenn ihm etwa ein ti-ehtsch gelingt,
Das ist ein Grund zum Feiern.

Nicht so der Herr, den ich im Auge habe,
Oder besser gesagt. uffm Kieker
Dem ist alles Emigrantische fremd.
Er ist der geborene Inglisch-Spieker.
Der Forrenlengvitsch-Göttin Auserkorner.
Kommt es drauf an, so spricht der Mann
Selbst Esperanto wie ein Eingeborener.

Befreit vom Zwang, gebüldet zu parlieren,
Im engen Kreis, wo man einander kennt,
Fährt diese Ausgeburt von Sprachtalent
Des „Königs Englisch“ hoch zu Roß spazieren,
In seinem Oxford-(second hand) Akzent.

Se pörfekt Lord. – Ich kenn ich noch aus Sachsen.
Da sprach er auch des „Geenigs“ ABC.
Wie war das heimatliche weiche B
In Leibzich ihm zurzeit ans Herz gewachsen!
Den Untertanenstolz aus königstreuen Tagen
Hat er auf achtundvierzig Staaten übertragen.

Der kroch in Preußen schon auf allen vieren.
Hier sinds die angelsächsischen Manieren.

Wer mit den Wölfen heult, der heult mit allen Tieren.

Welches Poetry-Buch hättet ihr ausgewählt?