Category Archives: Gelesen


Read. This. Book.

I just finished reading Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. It’s an unusual candidate for an unputdownable book. The medical details are sometimes not just a little unpalatable, yet they firmly belong into the wider story that is life. In the beginning I thought: „Ah well, he’s coming up with the same answers how to change things – idealising large family units, etc.“ How wrong I was. Atul Gawande masterfully reveals his own ambiguities as a doctor and ultimately, as a son who is confronted with the painful loss of his father. His inquisitive mind guides his explorations and he continuously stops in his tracks to check what he’s doing in his work. My own experience is that it must be very hard as a medical professional to flip the switch from being a life saver to somebody who has to admit that human power has its limits. Not to be afraid to confront this conflict is one of the great achievements of this book. And the ending, which made me roll my eyes once more – just to be proven wrong again. Now I would like to know what others think about this book ….

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Christmas books

I wanted to read so many books over the Christmas season – but then one kept me busy for quite a long time, so I ended up reading two. Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World needed time and reflection. It’s a brave book, because it imagines the unimaginable – a woman that is not successful simply because she is that – a woman.
So she takes on the (art) world with her metamorphoses. The book has many layers of family life, New York and its art scene, love and spiritualism, attachment and loss and one woman’s rage – culminating in a sad and wonderful ending that leaves a glimpse of hope in a world of misogyny that comes in many disguises.

Brave women seemed to have been a theme for me – next on the list was Kate Adie. Her approach to journalism fascinated me from page 1. She kind of „fell“ into the job and became a truly professional reporter, always challenging the way she told a story. Emotions needed to be kept at bay in the news, yet were omnipresent. Kate Adie’s take on this is very moving, especially when she writes about Tiananmen square or a funeral in Armenia. The autobiography’s title The Kindness of Strangers  is something she encountered in the form of a rose or meals shared or toilet facilities pointed out to her in difficult circumstances. A successful woman in frequently very male environments who has found her very unique way of telling the truth. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her story and getting her take on recent historical events.

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Tour de force

Language. There’s so much that a writer can do with it. Eimear McBride took it apart – just like the girl, her protagonist, is taken apart. By men. By her mother. By all those things that happen to her beloved brother. Never to be whole again. The sentences that were complete came almost as a relief when I was reading … and those that were incomplete made sense most of the time. This book is a linguistic revelation-revolution. Emotions lay bare. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is not an easy read – and I already admire the translator who takes on this debut novel!

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Translation Theory

Dear colleagues – read Translation in the Digital Age by Michael Cronin!

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Hair and Identity

Americanah by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie is the story of Ifemelu and Obinze. Both see the United States as a place where they can achieve more than in their native country Nigeria. Ifemelu lives there – Obinze doesn’t. And it is through Ifemelu’s eyes that I as the reader explored her encounters with love, loss and prejudice. Race was not an issue in Nigeria, but in the USA, Ifemelu learns what it feels like to be judged because of the colour of her skin, her way of speaking the English language and because of – her hair! Whether she straightens it or not is a question of belonging. For me, one of the best parts of the book are set in a braiding salon, where Ifemelu reflects on her surroundings and her decision to return to Nigeria – burning all bridges in the USA, it seems, although she’s a successful blogger and academic. Thankfully, her move is not the end of her blog – the contents simply change after a short work interlude at a publishing house in Lagos. Again, her writing helps her to make sense of the world, of her love for Obinze, who seems to be close and still out of her reach. Obinze, who didn’t quite get to the land of his dreams and ended up in the UK instead – to live a nightmare rather than a nice, sunny promise. Their two lives are intertwined and touch on the lives of many others – and the writer, who holds all threads of their stories in her hand – weaves them into a complex tapestry. I learnt a few things about Nigeria and continue to admire Ifemelu’s integrity.

Translated from English into German by Anette Grube.

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Ein Buch für mich

Kristof Magnusson hatte mit Das war ich nicht bereits ein Buch geschrieben, von dem ich mich (nicht zuletzt wegen des Berufs der Protagonistin) besonders angesprochen fühlte. Und nun das – ein ‚Arztroman‘ – der eigentlich ein Ärztinnenroman ist – über das Berliner Urban-Krankenhaus. Ich habe eine Geschichte mit diesem Krankenhaus – dort waren schon Freunde und meine Mutter und ich habe mehr als einmal in der Notaufnahme gesessen und auf gute Nachrichten gehofft. Und nun fährt Anita Cornelius, von Beruf Notärztin, im Rettungswagen durch die Straßen von Berlin und bringt hin und wieder Patienten in besagtes Krankenhaus. Sie rettet gern, diese Anita – und ich mag sie von Anfang an. Sie macht ihren Beruf gut, verliebt sich nach der Trennung von ihrem Mann (auch Arzt! auch im Urban-Krankenhaus!) neu, bekommt Angst und rennt sich mehrfach den Kopf ein – zumindest im übertragenen Sinne. Damit landet sie nicht in der Notaufnahme, aber beinahe komplett im privaten Abseits. Wenn da nicht der wunderbare mitfahrende Kollege wäre, der sie hin und wieder darauf aufmerksam macht, dass sie sich in die falsche Richtung bewegt. Bis Anita begreift, dass retten auch anders gehen kann. Wie? Bitte nachlesen.

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… dort war sie die erste Frau, die uns die Nachrichten ins Wohnzimmer brachte. Wibke Bruhns, die Autorin eines jener Bücher, bei denen ich gerne missionarisch werde. Meines Vaters Land ist eine sehr autobiografische, ehrliche Geschichte – die Geschichte eines kleinen Mädchens, das seinen Vater gewaltsam verlor und die Geschichte einer erwachsenen Frau, die sich auf die Spuren dieses Vaters begibt. Die beiden Weltkriege haben das Leben der Familie Klamroth in Halberstadt (der Familie, in die Wibke Bruhns hineingeboren wurde) geprägt und wirken bis heute nach. Dieses Buch ist eine Suche nach Antworten, die nicht mehr gegeben werden können. Weil Briefe verschwunden sind, weil Menschen nicht mehr leben und vielleicht auch, weil machmal eine Antwort nicht auszuhalten wäre. Allerdings hält Wibke Bruhns bei ihrer Spurensuche sehr viel aus – und fragt sich zwischendurch immer wieder, ob sie an dieser oder jener Weggabelung noch weitergehen möchte. Gerade das hat mich sehr bewegt, dieses Innehalten und in sich Hineinhorchen. Um sich dem Vater, den Eltern anzunähern und  eine Art Frieden zu finden. Ich empfehle Meines Vaters Land allen, die noch immer nicht müde sind, sich in die deutsche Vergangenheit hineinzulesen, die unbequeme Fragen hören wollen und wissen wollen, warum Konflikte der heutigen Zeit nicht erst gestern begonnen haben.

Und hätte mir für die Übersetzung einen anderen englischen Titel gewünscht….

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Mixing fact and fiction

„Do you know Ernst Toller?“ asked the friend who lent me All that I am by Anna Funder. I didn’t – but now I do. Both the person that lived in Berlin and emigrated and the fictional character in the book. Deeply human, successful, flawed – and betrayed by life. Anna Funder doesn’t judge her characters – she lends them her voice and brings their reality to us. A reality that allowed some of them live and sent some of them to an early or later death. This book pays tribute to the free spirits in Nazi Germany and raises the all-important question once more: „What would I have done back then? Who would I have been?“ Everybody has to answer this question for themselves – and for a moment feel alone like the characters in the book when they have to decide in which direction to go. „These objects made sense only to Ruth; Ruth held them together in a constellation of story.“ This is what it means to have a place in life as a human being. When we’re alive, the objects are meaningful to us and we make sense of them for others. Maybe these objects tell a story to the next generation – or maybe they are lost or „junk“, when we leave this world.

I took Anna Funder’s book with me on a trip to Weimar & Buchenwald. And wondered about the origins of this broken piece of china on the grounds of the former concentration camp.Shard

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Families and a War

A book that ends with a warm soup is comforting – together with all the other emotions The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt evokes. I was lucky to hear the author read from this book in Berlin and plunged into the world of Olive, Humphry, Major Cain and his friend, the ceramic artist Benedict Fludd and  their children. It is a time of change and upheaval in Britain and Germany, portrayed through this microcosm of people in search of fulfilment that isn’t always found – or sometimes – in the case of Philip and his sister Elsie – found in the most unexpected circumstances. Lives are intertwined and families aren’t always the safe heaven they are supposed to be. The title reveals the author’s great empathy for her children characters, and it is often heartbreaking to read what one misunderstanding, a bully or a war can do to (very young) people.

I recommend this book – a slow read – for long winter evenings and as  a present to really good friends and to your family, of course – either in the English original or the  translation Das Buch der Kinder by Melanie Walz, advisor on all things related to Munich/Bavaria and creator of the German version.

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Another literary journey to India

I enjoy it immensely when travelling friends share their stories with me. Sometimes, it almost feels as if I went with them – particularly if the friend’s story is followed up by a great novel about the travel destination. This was the case after Amélia Polonia’s return from a research trip to the Sundarbans. Her photos showed a remote and beautiful world, where people try to preserve the precious ecosystem that is their home. Images of lush greenery and beautiful sunsets were followed by – a book! Amélia kindly lent me Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide, suggesting that I might want to read about this enchanted part of India. Little did I know that a translator was one of the main characters in this novel. And that it would make me think about dreamers and realists. And go-betweens. The power of language – albeit unspoken at times – is a recurrent theme in the novel. Thinking that I almost parted with it after reading the first few pages, because I felt the perspective was too ‚male‘ and a little bit one-dimensional when describing Piya and her research, I’m reall glad I persevered, because I realised that this description was exactly right to describe Piya’s environment at the  beginning of the story. Everything began to grow once she entered the realm of her research and found the right people to pursue her passion. Fokir, who helps her in this pursuit, is a very strong character that made me think about fitting in and caring for oneself and for others. All in all, lots of food for thought while exposed to the forces of nature – albeit in the four walls of my Berlin flat.

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