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German Lit month and other bookish things

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

December is almost there and I haven’t finished Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum and I won’t be able to participate to German Lit Month this year. I first tried to read Berlin Alexanderplatz by Döblin but I never managed to read it past page 30. The style didn’t appeal to me although it’s a brand new translation. I wish I could read in German but my German is very poor, despite all the years I spent learning it. I never got along with this language; it never came naturally. As often, Romain Gary says it all for me and depicts perfectly what it was for me to study it:

Je venais d’entrer dans ma chambre pour préparer ma leçon d’allemand, langue qui me donnait beaucoup de mal, par le cérémonial rigoureux et empesé de ses circonvolutions grammaticales.Les Enchanteurs. I had just entered my room to study German. This language was difficult for me because of the rigorous and starchy ceremonial of its grammatical circumvolutions.
(My attempt at a translation)

Perhaps it’s also because the only things we heard about Germany – except from the two world wars –was Derrick and car manufacturers. Not exactly glamorous. Anyway, I abandoned Berlin Alexanderplatz to try it later, when I have more brain cells available. I started Grand Hotel instead and I like it a lot so far. I enjoy the characters, the location and reading about M&A in Berlin in the 1920s.

As I’ve had problems concentrating on books, I paid more attention to the radio and magazines around me. I stumbled upon a fantastic article about translations of Noir novels. I was happy to read that new translations are on the way. The Killer Inside Me and The Getaway have already been released. It’s great because the translations from the 1950s or 1960s are outdated. This I already knew. The argot is almost incomprehensible to the modern reader and it sounds very strange. The article I read explains that major countersenses were made in translations (For example gay became, gai –cheerful— instead of homosexuel) and that 24% of the book is missing in the 1966 translation of The Killer Inside Me and so is one third of The Long Good Bye. The reason? Crime fiction wasn’t “real” literature, didn’t deserve excellent translators and books couldn’t be thicker than 250 pages. A crime to this excellent kind of fiction. Well, I’d rather struggle with the English version than read about un bar sans toita bar without a roof– instead of a topless bar. Sounds like Google Translate, doesn’t it? I hope these new translations will help the genre. If you’re interested, you can read the entire article here.

As Christmas approaches, publishers release special version of books, with new covers, new translations or like for Gros Câlin by my beloved Romain Gary, a new edition with a bonus chapter: the initial ending written by Gary and that Gallimard asked him to change. Of course, I had to have it as I wanted to discover that last chapter. It was finished on November 30th, 1973, 39 years ago and it comes from the manuscripts kept at the Musée des Manuscrits.  Alexandre Gary approved of this new edition. Well, I can understand why Gallimard didn’t want to take the chance to publish such an unorthodox ending. It’s crazy like The Breast by Philip Roth. It’s not the first time I see parallels between the two writers and Roth’s recent decision to stop writing reminded me of Gary’s exit. (I had a lot of fun, good bye and thank you)

Talking about Christmas, it’s still time to join us for our Humbook Christmas Gift event. We’ll post about the participants on December 1st. Sorry about all the personal posts I wrote this month instead of proper billets about books. This was just not a good month for reading or writing billets.

PS: What the hell happened to my Link Categories. How did they become Bookmarks?

  1. November 29, 2012 at 12:16 am

    I’ve just posted on ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’. It was a difficult book to get into, but a very good one, a novel that plays with language in a very Joycean way at times, as well as showing us a picture of Berlin in the late 1920s. Well worth another try 🙂


    • November 29, 2012 at 12:27 am

      I have your post in my mail box, I sure want to read it. The reference to Joyce wasn’t a good idea to make me try it again: the book was difficult, now it’s daunting.


  2. November 29, 2012 at 12:52 am

    I managed to get three books in for German Lit month. I’m reading another but I doubt I’ll have time to finish and write about if before the end of the month. Great to hear about those new translations. It’s about time crime and noir got more respect.


    • November 29, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      I knew you’d be interested in this article. The translation of The Killer Inside Me mentions the death of Kennedy! The book was written in the 1950s! I can’t believe it!


  3. lizzysiddal
    November 29, 2012 at 1:03 am

    Dear all, just announced an extension to Germanlitmonth ….. So you might be able to get those reviews in after all!


    • November 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm

      Great news! I would have written a billet anyway.


  4. November 29, 2012 at 3:26 am

    Emma: If you want to amuse yourself, go to Amazon US and take a look at the range of cover art for Grand Hotel.


    • November 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm

      I’ll have a look at it, thanks. I like comparing covers. The one from the French edition is very nice but it doesn’t really relates to the book.


  5. November 29, 2012 at 7:27 am

    I’m glad you like Grand Hotel. It’s no use rushing through books we like or force ourselves to read those that just won’t open up to us – sort of.


    • November 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm

      I’ll try it again later.
      More about Grand Hotel is a future billet.


  6. November 29, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    I like berlin alexanrdaplatz ,when read was in middle of few books from same time and similar style so was in the groove hope you get one in now Lizzie has extend the month ,all the best stu


    • November 30, 2012 at 8:35 pm

      Thanks Stu. I think I’ll try it again when my concentration is better.


  7. December 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    I’m reading Berlin Alexanderplatz at the moment and rather enjoying it, it reminds me strongly of Dos Passos and feels like (like him) it has a strong influence from outside literature – from cinema. Of course given I’ve been reading Krasznahorkai and then Proust I’m finding like Stu did that I’m in a groove which makes the prose feel quite natural.

    Grand Hotel I’m quite keen to read, but I couldn’t find a decent English language translation.

    Regarding bad translations, Jules Verne apparently is basically unavailable in English because the translations we have are so bad. We may think we’re reading Verne, but my understanding is that at best we’re reading abridged versions and often heavily changed ones.


    • December 12, 2012 at 9:51 pm

      I might try Berlin Alexanderplatz again. Perhaps your review will convince me to. I wonder if it flows better in English than in French. Tony has read it in German and you have an English translation. In French, the few pages I’ve read are a messy stacato. I didn’t get in the language but I know I started it at a time I had the concentration of a goldfish.

      Too bad there is no translation of Grand Hotel, you’d enjoy it.

      I didn’t know you couldn’t find decent translations of Jules Verne. He’s so famous and his books are easy, like Dumas for example.


  1. April 1, 2013 at 4:23 pm

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