Category Archives: Gelesen



The photo book Companions by Yana Wernicke and the graphic novel Chernobyl’s Dogs by Johanna Aulén were two birthday presents that I really treasure. They tell their stories with a loving appreciation of animals that I share.

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Companion piece

That’s the title of the book I just finished reading. It’s a companion piece to Ali Smith’s season series, and it has been my companion for a while, particularly its final part telling the story of the girl and the curlew, their unlikely companionship and her struggle to find her place in a hostile world. It resonated with me, and if I quote from it, you may want to read it too:

„But the world with people in it is a kind of filth compared to this afterlife she actually did not need to die to find.“


„Take care what you make. Beauty can anger as well as please.“

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An audio book in print

Reading Michelle Gallen’s Big Girl, Small Town, her words came to life. Another mother with a serious alcohol problem, this time with a daughter. Set in Northern Ireland, hinting at problems past and present through the eyes of Majella, the daughter who works in a chipper. Her graphic descriptions of her customers made me laugh out loud and I really tuned into her voice. The book is full of dark humour, Majella’s life without her dad – missing but never officially proclaimed dead – is far from easy, but I somehow felt that she would be ok. So I recommend that you read until the end of this rather unusual book to see whether I was right.

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Ein Buch, das Mut macht

UNBEDINGTE LESEEMPFEHLUNG für die Ostertage und darüber hinaus ist Annette, ein Heldinnenepos von Anne Weber. Da sind Sätze drin, die mich jetzt immer begleiten werden. Macht euch auf die Suche nach diesen Sätzen für euch, liebe Mitleser*innen. Ein Sprachkunstwerk, das Geschichte erzählt. Ganz nebenbei. Und ein sanftes Licht auf eine ganz besondere Frau wirft, die sehr viel Leben gewagt hat.

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Reading in the times of the corona virus ….

… hasn’t been as easy or straightforward as one might think. More time? Maybe. But also change to get used to, new ways of being with each other to adapt to, and queues at my favourite stalls at the local markets. And the insecurity about a deadly virus that has taken so many lives, yet remains intangible (as viruses tend to be). So it took me a while to pick up a book and read it from beginning to end. A book about two very ambivalent people marked by life struck me as a good choice. Plus it was set in London, the city I miss and think about with a mix of yearning and anguish right now. The two main protagonists are Meg and Jon, and they write to each other. A very old-fashioned concept. And a way of getting close without getting too close. Or very close indeed. So the perfect novel for our times, really. A. L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet is a masterpiece of internal monologues. And a love letter to London.

Part 2

Yes, I continue to read, and after I’d finished the mesmerising and quite disturbing ‚The Long Take‘ by Robin Robertson, I was longing for a novel, a story to draw me in. Along came ‚The Friend‘ by Sigrid Nunez. Quite clearly a book about a dog, with an imposing Great Dane on the cover. So I expected to read about this far too big animal’s antics while living in a New York appartement. But Apollo’s role is not to amuse, his is to provide insights through his story. Insights into his previous owner’s suicide and his relationships, his new owner’s fears and her need for closeness – and literature. Rainer-Maria Rilke, Heinrich Heine, T. S. Eliot and others weave through this book with their stories about the dogs in their lives, but also about their loves and losses. Hector, the caretaker of the house, seems to represent the changes that can take place when something really unexpected happens. Changes that defy rules. The book’s end is one of the most beautiful endings I’ve ever read. And as was to be expected, it is not entirely cheerful.

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Spring ….

is not here in January in Berlin. But I’m reading Ali Smith’s book with that title. Everybody needs a Florence Smith in their life. You don’t think so? Well, you haven’t read the book yet ….. It belongs to the seasonal quartet, and it is out there to shake up the reader with changes of register and perspective. Masterfully done and with great empathy for those who suffer – the people who are locked away at the immigration removal centre and the bereaved film director. Also for Brit, who works at the refugee centre, whose suffering is of a different kind, and who makes others suffer. Maybe to numb her own pain.
I hope to catch the scent of spring when January is over …..

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A Little Life

A friend gave me this book by Hanya Yanagihara, and if a friend gives me a book, I try to stick with it and read it to the end. I must admit that I struggled for the first 150 pages or so. And there were a total of 816 pages to get through … Why did I struggle? I didn’t really feel that I got to know the main protagonist, Jude, and that all the stories around him were meant to distract the reader away from him. Which is true, in a sense. I just had to stop being irritated by the distractions, enjoy the descriptions of New York, the people and their art, be it a painter’s or a lawyer’s artwork. Abuse is not an easy topic to tackle. And Jude’s story is full of it. Relentless, violent abuse. He survives, he is loved, but right until the end, to the very last of the 816 pages, the feeling didn’t leave me that he was hiding. But I’m glad I looked at the kaleidoscope that was his fictional life. If only to have met Willem.

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Different things to different people

Milkman by Anna Burns is a masterpiece. It doesn’t give answers. It doesn’t name. It leaves many blank spaces for the reader to fill in. Yes, it talks about a specific part of the world, but it never mentions where it is. Yes, it describes a specific political situation, but it doesn’t take sides. Yes, it uncovers many layers of issues in an unjust society, but it’s fiction, isn’t it? So we can just “watch”, or we can take in what the problems are and think about the balance of power in this fictitious, yet not so fictitious society – and in our own. There is one scene in Milkman that feels like a nightmare come true. It is now engraved in my memory. It comes with a glimmer of hope. And that sums up the entire book for me. But it won’t for other readers. Who will find a place they know or a family they’ve met or that is their own. Or a relationship they would rather not have been in. Or none of that.

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My first book in 2019

I bought Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir in Dublin – a little Christmas present to myself. It’s about a man’s journey, his relationships and his skills as a handyman – and about war and suicide. Not cheerful. But thoroughly heartwarming. The war took place in an unknown country, one assumes it was a civil war, neighbours against neighbours, the choir’s baritone against the tenor. Really messy, destructive and without much hope for the future. But somehow, Jónas’s arrival  – also meant to be (self-)destructive – mends instead. How that happens is wonderful to read, because it feels like it could happen to all of us. Throughout the book are diary entries by Jonas and quotes that made me pause my reading. Step back, take a different point of view, disagree, understand the young and the older mind.
Because I would have not been able to read this book in Icelandic (yes, it won the Icelandic Literature Prize), I’m very grateful that Brian FitzGibbon translated it into English. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on this enriching book.

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Ein besonders schöner Buchtitel ….

ist Shrinking Violets – A Field Guide to Shyness von Joe Moran. Ein ungewöhnliches Buch, für dessen Lektüre man sich Zeit nehmen sollte. Es taucht in die Geschichte schüchterner Menschen – auch die des Autoren – ein und beleuchtet diesen ‚Zustand‘ von vielen Seiten (historisch, soziokulturell, psychologisch). Viele Menschen leiden unter ihrer Schüchternheit, gehen oft Situationen aus dem Weg, die für andere unproblematischer Alltag sind und werden häufig Opfer von „Heilungsversuchen“. Joe Morans unkonventioneller Denkansatz zeigt, dass Schüchternheit auch bereichernd sein kann, wenn man sich mit dem Blick nach innen anfreundet, sich selbst freundlich betrachtet und sich nicht ganz vor äußeren Einflüssen verschließt wie jener Leuchtturmwärter, der keinen Kontakt mehr mit der Außenwelt hatte und verrückt wurde.
Zum Schluss des Buches erfahren wir, dass der Begriff ’shyness‘ sogar in der Pflanzenwelt Anwendung findet. ‚Crown shyness‘ in den Regenwäldern von Papua Neuguinea und Australien ist ein spannendes Phänomen, das in ähnlicher Form auch bei Korallenriffen vorkommt. Und wenn sich dieser lebenserhaltende Ansatz auch bei uns Menschen mehr durchsetzt, wäre das ein Gewinn für alle – ob schüchtern oder nicht.

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