Saturday, November 30, 2013

Challenge Complete: Vintage Mystery 2013

. With the reviewing of Friedrich Glauser's In Matto's Realm, I have completed the
Vintage Mystery Challenge 2013, hosted by Bev @ My Reader's Block. I had opted to read 16 titles in eight or more categories. Well, I am happy to note that I have read 16 books in 16 categories (or scattergories).

Here are the books read:

1. Colorful Crime: a book with a color or reference to color in the title : BLACK PLUMES by Margery Allingham (1940).

2. Amateur Night: a book with a "detective" who is not a P.I.; Police Officer; Official Investigator:
BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR by Mildred Wirt (1940).

3. Leave It to the Professionals: a book featuring cops, private eyes, secret service, professional spies, etc.: HEADS YOU LOSE by Christianna Brand (1942).

4. World Traveler: one mystery set in any country except the US or Britain: DEATH IN CYPRUS by M.M. Kaye (1956).

5. Wicked Women: a book with a woman in the title--: THE RELUCTANT WIDOW by Georgette Heyer (1946)

6. Malicious Men:  LADY KILLER by Anthony Gilbert (1951).

7. Cops & Robbers: a book that features a theft rather than murder : THE AFFAIR AT ALIQUID by G.D.H and Margaret Cole (1933).

8. Country House Criminals: a standard (or not-so-standard) Golden Age country house murder:
DEATH IN RETIREMENT by Josephine Bell (1953).

9. Things That Go Bump in the Night: a mystery with something spooky, creepy, gothic in the title:
DEATH WHISPERS by J.B. Carr (1933).

10. Repeat Offenders: a mystery featuring your favorite series detective or by your favorite author :
THE MUSICAL COMEDY CRIME by Anthony Gilbert (1933)

11. Dynamic Duos: HOLOCAUST HOUSE by Norbert Davis (1940).

12. Psychic Phenomena: a mystery featuring a seance, medium, hypnotism, or other psychic or "supernatural" characters/events: BURGLARS IN BUCKS by G.D.H and Margaret Cole (1930).

13. Serial Killers: Books that were originally published in serial format: IN MATTO'S REALM by Friedrich Glauser (1936).

14. Killed in Translation: Works that originally appeared in another language and have been made available in English: MYSTERIES by Knut Hamsun (1892).

15. Somebody Else's Crime:  Read one book that someone else has already reviewed for the Vintage Mystery Challenge: SOME BURIED CAESAR by Rex Stout (1939).

16. Genuine Fakes: Authors who wrote under a pseudonym: THE BODY ON THE BEAM by Anthony Gilbert (1932).

Needless to add that I enjoyed the challenge immensely and now am off to join the 2014 edition of the challenge.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Forgotten Book: In Matto's Realm by Friedrich Glauser

THE GLAUSER is Germany's most prestigious crime-fiction award. Named after Friedrich Glauser, the Swiss-German who in his short life worked with the Foreign Legion in North African, was a coal miner besides being a hospital orderly. He was also a schizophrenic, addicted to opium and morphine, who spent most of his life in psychiatric wards and insane asylums.

Glauser's personality disorder adds a touch of verisimilitude to his novel In Matto's Realm which is set in a lunatic asylum. Matto means crazy in Italian and hence a worker at the asylum calls the place the realm of Matto.

" The devil's been dead for ages, but Matto is still alive..."

 Sergeant Studer, a police-officer, who has had to claw his way back in the police hierarchy because of an unfair deal being meted out to him, is called to an insane asylum in Bern. A child murderer has escaped from the asylum and the Director too is missing. The Deputy-Director Dr. Ernst Laudner specifically asks for Studer to be assigned to the case as they had met briefly once years before.

As Studer starts his investigations, he realizes that he is slowly losing focus. He becomes interested in the inmates and what has led to their being incarcerated in the asylum. Even when the stakes become high with the discovery of the body of the director, his compassion for the patients and the doctors prevents him from grilling them. In many ways thus this book is not a conventional whodunit let alone a police-procedural. The focus is more on the nature of madness and how and why society decides that some people be kept apart. The author's own personal history makes the book present a sympathetic portrayal of the people kept in confinement. One wonders as to who really is diseased: those branded mad or those outside the walls? In one of the most chilling passages of the book, Studer and Launder listen to a speech on the radio:

The military march faded out and a foreign voice filled the room. It was an urgent voice, but its urgency was unpleasant.

It said:
"Two hundred thousand men and women are gathered here to cheer me. Two hundred thousand men and women have come as representatives of the whole nation, which is behind me. Foreign states dare to accuse me of breaking a treaty. When I seized power this land lay desolate, ravaged, sick... I have made it great, I have made others respect it... Two hundred thousand men and women are listening to my words and with them the whole nation is listening...."

Laudner slowly got up and went over to the shiny box from which the words were coming. A click, the voice fell silent.

"Where does Matto's realm end, Studer?" the doctor asked quietly. (206)

In fact, the novel first published in serial form in 1936, turns prophetic when the doctor continues in the same vein:

"The man who was talking just now was lucky. Had he had a psychiatric examination at the beginning of his career, perhaps the world might look a little different today. As I said before, contact with the mentally ill is contagious. And there are people who are particularly susceptible - whole nations can be susceptible. I once said something in a lecture to which people objected. Certain so called revolutions, I said, are basically nothing more than the vengeance of psychopaths....." (207)

Vengeance of psychopaths...the phrase made me pause. I never quite saw revolutions in this light. And there are many places in this novel that made me stop in tracks and reflect. Distressing questions that have no answers, or not easy ones at any rate. The book even ends with a question mark, with one not really certain that the correct conclusion has been reached.


First Line: It's five o'clock in the morning , a time when respectable people are still fast asleep in their beds, and the telephone rings.

Title: In Matto's Realm

Author: Friedrich Glauser

Original Title: Matto Regiert

Original Language: German

Translator: Mike Mitchell

Publication Details: London: Bitter Lemon Press, 2006

First Published: 1936

Pages: 261

Other Books read of the same author: None


The book can be purchased on the Net. I was sent this book by the publishers after the first German Literature Month in 2011. In fact, this book used to make me feel extremely guilty because though I have received a few books from the publishers, this was the first time that a note accompanied it:

Not to have read it after such a sweet note was pretty guilt-inducing but I wanted to read it specifically during a German Literature Month. Last year, with the whole of November almost in the hospital, I couldn't do so. I am glad I read it this year and have discovered an author whose works I'd like to read. My thanks to Caroline and Lizzy for holding the German Literature Month year after year and to the people at Bitter Lemon Press.


Submitted for various challenges and Friday's Forgotten Books at Pattinase.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review: Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun by Sister Jesme

Convents, monasteries, dargahs, mathhs, are places separated from the world. The deceit and falsehood that is so abundant in the outside world, one thinks, will never be able to penetrate those hallowed walls. Unfortunately, it does not happen. Greed, lust, corruption, everything seeps in; the only thing is that there is a veil of secrecy round it. And it takes a brave person to rip-off that mask.

Sister Jesme attempts to do just that in her memoirs titled Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun. Belonging to the Congregation of Mother of Carmel, Sister Jesme spent thirty three years in a convent. Deeply interested in Literature and the Arts, she holds a doctorate in English Literature, which she taught for many years in a college in Kerala. She also served as the principal of a college before leaving the Congregation in 2008.

Her autobiography first published in her mother-tongue Malayalam caused a furore as she exposed many unsavoury details about life in a convent. And there are many things over there that Sister Jesme who had joined the congregation as a young, naive girl, finds shocking. There were class-distinctions between nuns whereby the less-educated sisters coming from less-privileged backgrounds and known as cheduthies have to do the menial jobs; something called 'special love' between sisters which might just be a bond of affection between the nuns but can also be a physical relationship; the favouratism shown to the priests vis-a-vis the nuns; corruption by way of donations for college seats to sisters secretly hoarding money even after taking the Vow of Poverty; and sexual exploitation.

Thus, Jesme finds herself at loggerheads with the powers-that-be when she protests against some of these practices. She also feels that is a conspiracy brewing against her to declare her insane and confine her to an asylum. Finding no other way, she escapes one day in disguise, and later leaves the Congregation. 

The book is disturbing in many ways, one of the main reasons being that we are just presented with the

 p-o-v of Sister Jesme. Not her fault because while writing her own life-history she can only show things how they appeared to her and it is to her credit that she doesn't try to hide her weaknesses but diverse viewpoints would have definitely enriched the text. There are certain points that I'd like to know more. What happened to the loving family of Jesme? The sisters and brothers - who joked that Jesme should seek a recommendation for them, whenever necessary, from their new brother-in-law - why did some of them turn against her and not provide her support when she most needed it? 

However, all through her travails Jesme's faith in Lord Jesus Christ shines through. Once she is asked to release the autobiography of a sex-worker. She is at first disturbed and asks for guidance from Christ and realises from a close reading of the Bible that Christ always helped those who had lost their way. Finally, she is unable to release her book because of an order from her superiors but it makes her aware that Christ's message of love and forgiveness has been lost in petty moralising.

In many ways a brave attempt, Jesme's book (in her own words) is an attempt to let the fresh breeze enter the closed walls and purify its stinking corners. May the Holy Spirit liberate the chained souls in the dungeon-like interior of the Holy Abode. Amen!


First Line: The Mangala Express from Delhi to Ernakulam is speeding up.

Title: Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun

Author: Sister Jesme

Publication Details: ND: Penguin, 2009

First Published: 2009

Pages: 178

Other books read of the same author: None


The book can be purchased on the Net, I borrowed it from DPL, opposite Old Delhi railway station. [921-JES]


Submitted for various challenges.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Forgotten Book: Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand

I first heard of Christianna Brand sometime last year when there was a flurry of posts about her in the blogosphere. Since she was compared to Agatha Christie I was really keen to read her. Finally, this fortnight it did happen. Heads You Lose is her second book and the first that features Inspector Cockrill of the Kent County Police. The Inspector would subsequently appear in seven more of her books.

Stephen Pendock, the squire of the village, is playing host to Lady Hart and her twin grand-daughters, Venetia and Francesca. Also among the guests are Venetia's husband Henry Gold and another young man James Nicholl. Pendock is a troubled man, however. He has fallen in love with Francesca though he is in his fifties and she is years junior to him. In fact, he has seen her grow in front of his eyes. He also feels that Francesca and James are in love with each other. Compounding the problem is the presence of Grace Morland, a neighbour of Pendock who is attracted towards him and is thus envious of his (increasingly) obvious attraction towards Francesca.

 The tension among the group erupts on an ill-fated evening and by the the morning a murder has been committed. Grace Morland is found dead, her head brutally hacked away from her body. There follows the entrance of Pippi Le May, a cousin of Grace and a stage-actress. And with her entrance, secrets old and new come tumbling out.

The problem I had with the book was not with the mystery which was pretty lukewarm. It was fairly easy to guess the identity of the murderer with the ending being one of the most trite that I have ever read. It was the class-attitude depicted in the book that really troubled me. Written when England was at war, it was most disconcerting to read about the upper-class - their snobbery and their world-view. Venetia and Francesca are the golden children of England. Beautiful, aristocratic, well-read, well-travelled, they are born (and married) into money and privilege. On the other hand, we have Grace and Pippi, two women who have none of the attraction and sophistication of the twins. Born in strained circumstances they are depicted as vacuous, grasping, and vicious. Sorry, but having read Anthony Gilbert's The Musical Comedy Crime which depicted an actress' struggle for survival, my sympathies were more with those born without the silver-spoon than those who simply had to wave a (well-manicured) hand for people to fall all over themselves to do their bidding.

BTW, the twins have a dog called Aziz whose mother was Emiss Esmoor (Miss Moor). These are two characters from E.M. Forster's Passage to India and somehow this fact is supposed to be extremely hilarious. It did not strike me as funny which in a way is sad because where the book does score is in the depiction of certain comic scenes as in the reflections of the maid Gladys and at the coroner's inquest.

All in all, not a very good introduction to Brand but I still look forward to reading other mysteries of her. In fact, more than the story I liked the history of the book I held in my hands. It was a Services edition and apparently belonged to the RAF.


First Line: GRACE MORLAND was sitting on the terrace outside Stephen Pendock's house, putting the finishing touches to a wishy-washy sketch of the Old Church Tower in the snow.

Title: Heads You Lose

Author: Christianna Brand

Publication Details: London: The British Publishers Guild (Guild Books No. S 143), 1944.

First Published: 1942

Pages: 144

Other Books read of the same author: None


Submitted for various challenges.


Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books. Please head over there for the other entries.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Napoleon's agents in Regency England: Georgette Heyer's The Reluctant Widow

Blame it on Yvette! There I was thinking that I was through with Georgette Heyer and her Regency romances but she wrote one interesting post after another so that finally I caved in, picked up one, and read it at one go (though the review is much delayed) . To my surprise, The Reluctant Widow turned out to be not so much a romance as an espionage mystery set in an England where memories of the French revolution are still fresh and agents of Napoleon Bonaparte are scouting the countryside.

Elinor Rochdale is a young woman forced to find employment after the death of her father. On her way to becoming a governess, she gets into a wrong carriage and finds herself at Highnoons, a decaying country-house. Over there, she meets the suave and sophisticated Edward Carlyon and hears the strangest proposal of her life. Edward wants her to marry his dissolute cousin Eustace Cheviot. His reason is that he doesn't want to inherit Eustace's estate which he'd be compelled if the young man remains unmarried. Totally astounded, Elinor refuses to compile. Enter Nicky, Edward's younger brother who informs them that he got into a duel with Eustace and has fatally injured him. Compelled by circumstances and reasons she is unwilling to admit even to herself, Elinor consents to marry the dying man. In a few hours thus she becomes a wife, then a widow, and the mistress of the crumbling Hihgnoons.

Her first night in her new house is strange and unsettling. Hearing a noise, she gets up to investigate and finds herself face to face with a stranger. The man is dumbfounded when she tells him of the death of Eustace and her marriage to him. Mumbling apologies, he withdraws. Only later does she think about how he had gained entry into the house with all the doors being securely locked. When she narrates the incident to the Carlyon brothers, young Nicky immediately senses an adventure. Meanwhile, another of the Carlyon brothers, John returns home with the news that an important memorandum detailing Wellington's campaign for the spring has gone missing. There are fears that there is a traitor among those at the Horse Guards. When Elinor recalls that the stranger had a french accent, Nicky imagines that the document is somewhere in the house and that man was an agent of Napoleon who would come again to collect it. That night he lays down a trap for the man. Everybody more or less is dismissive of it till an intruder enters, there are shots in the dark and Nicky is injured. Suddenly the notion doesn't seem too fanciful.

Meanwhile things get further complicated with the entry of Lord Bedlington and his son Francis Cheviot, relatives of the dead man. Then a murder occurs and suddenly the stakes become very high. So where exactly is the document, was the intruder of the second night the stranger of the first night, who is the murderer, what agenda do Bedlington and his son have, and what exactly is the game that Edward Carlyon is playing?

Reading a Heyer after a long time, I enjoyed the book. Thank you Yvette.


First Line: It was dusk when the London to Little Hampton stage-coach lurched into the village of Billingshurst, and a cold mist was beginning to creep knee-high over the dimly seen countryside.

Title: The Reluctant Widow

Author: Georgette Heyer

Publication Details: London: Heinemann, 1962

First Published: 1946

Pages: 306

Other books read of the same author: (Among others) The Black Moth.

Trivia: The book was made into a movie in 1950.


Old and new copies of the book are available on the Net. I borrowed the book from the college library. [823.91 H 512 R]


Submitted for various challenges.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: Dreams of the Raven (Star Trek # 34)

What would happen if during one of the most trying times of his professional career, Captain James T. Kirk was left to cope without the counsel and co-operation of his trusted friend, Bones McCoy?

On a trip to Wagner Trading Station, the Enterprise receives a distress call. Apparently a few freighters have been attacked by the Klingons with whom the Federation has but recently signed an uneasy truce. Eager to help the surviving members of the merchant caravan, Kirk and his crew rush headlong into a trap. The Enterprise is attacked and though the enemy vessel too is destroyed, there is no clue as to who might have attacked them or for what purpose. The dismembered bodies of the enemy reveal a race of being totally alien though their beaks and talons make the crew call them Ravens. Causalities continue to mount and just when Kirk needs the support of all his crew members, Dr. Leonard McCoy suffers an accident.

When he wakes up, he remembers only the fact that he is a resident doctor in Georgia. The intervening years as well as all his medical knowledge is lost. Even as the attacks of the enemy mount, Kirk finds himself handicapped by the absence of his closest friend. The McCoy in front of him is a stranger, respectful and courteous but distant and eager to go back home to earth. Then comes the catastrophe and McCoy's medical expertise is needed more than ever. But will he recover his memories before it is too late?

The novel's premise is interesting, unfortunately however, instead of Kirk spending time with his friend trying to jolt his memory, we have a certain Dr. Dyson hanging out with McCoy, trying to help him cope and recover. This severely limits the interaction b/w the big-three. I wish there had been more confrontations like this:

"Can't?" asked the captain bitterly. "No, I think you won't remember. You're quite happy to forget the last twenty-five years. They frighten you because they weren't tidy and predictable - they were messy and full of nasty surprises. You're still a boy - a boy who wants to go through life without making mistakes, the bad mistakes that can't be set right again. To admit the mistakes means facing your own weaknesses..."

On the whole, an okay read which could have been much better.


First Line: KYRON GENTAI-HANN, nephew by marriage to the Exalted House of Kotzher, and captain of the IKF Falchion, was bored and angry.

Title: Dreams of the Raven (Star Trek # 34)

Author: Carmen Carter

Publication Details: NY: Pocket Books, 1987

First Published: 1987

Pages: 255 + 11

Other books read of the same author: None


The book can be downloaded from Open Library.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Forgotten Book: Death Whispers by J.B. Carr

"And here's a book by J.B. Carr."

"You mean J.D. Carr."

"J.D? No, it's J.B."

"Are you sure?"

"Well, have a look yourself."

"Gosh. it's true. Joseph B. Carr. Now who can this be?"

Indeed, who can this Joseph B. Carr, whose book Death Whispers I picked up from the library, be? More than the story (which is a pretty decent mystery), I was intrigued by the identity of the author. There was no Wiki entry and the only thing that I found on the Net was that he was the author of another book, The Man With Bated Breath; and this interesting discussion at GAD arguing against the notion that this might be J(ohn) D(ickson) Carr assuming another pseudonym.

Now for the story. Nurse Jennifer Crump alights at Salem Rocks eager to reach Lichen Hall where the millionaire Mr. Myncheon lies in coma after having met with an accident. Right from the beginning, her professional visit is a little unsettling. The house is cluttered with artifacts and the occupants too behave in a strange manner. The nurse finds an eccentric aunt who was abducted in her young days by pirates, a butler with an interest in fire-arms and who directs the muzzle of the gun at his unconscious employer; a cook who might have laden the food with sedatives, a daughter who is ready to inject her dying father with a fatal injection; a cousin and business partner who might be embezzling funds; a chauffeur who might have had a hand in the accident, a son-in-law who claims to have slipped in the shower in a hotel room where there is no shower...all in all too many shady people who might want to kill Myncheon.

And then there is the man who bursts upon them all.. His card reads Oceola Archer, Interior Decorator but he claims to be a detective:

.. a huge figure loomed up in the doorway behind him...

"Who the devil," began Cunningham, staring in amazement t the tremendous bulk of the man who had just entered. The newcomer indeed seemed Gargantuan....

Dr. Gideon Fell, anyone?

UPDATE: 22/11/2013: Here's a review of J.B. Carr's other novel: The Man with Bated Breath @ Beneath the Stains of Time.

First Line: SALEM ROCKS is less than three centuries old; but from its rotting timbers and moldering stones it might be more ancient than Rome.

Title: Death Whispers

Author: Joseph B. Carr

Publication Details: London: Cassell and Company, 1933

First Published: 1933

Pages: 293

Other books read of the same author: None


Submitted for various challenges.


Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Between the Ordinary and Whatever isn't: Bhaskar Ghose's The Teller Of Tales

Somehow I find novels narrated in the form of tales very fascinating. Not only the tales but also the facets of the narrator that are revealed through that telling promise an interesting read. Thus when I saw Bhaskar Ghose's The Teller of Tales sitting invitingly on the library shelves, I had to pick it up.

Tapan Biswas is a junior IAS officer stationed in Bengal where he meets another officer Arunava Varman and quickly comes under his spell. Arunava has a treasure-house of stories and often tops Tapan's anecdotes with a tale of his own which is far more dramatic. Tapan suspects half of it is fiction but enjoys Arunava's company and way of recounting so much that he tends to overlook the fact:

But why this obsession with what's actually true, the real, all that? Can't you accept that our lives are always part fiction? 76

The first part of the novel is a page-turner in no small part due to the fact that it is set in decaying circuit houses where the past haunts the present:

'Something about these circuit houses,' he said. "They always seem to suggest the supernatural. Perhaps because they belong to another age and have just been left behind, almost by accident. They suggest hosts of staff, scurrying about, sahibs taking their ease, sola topis hanging from those hatstands over there, whisky and soda, steaming dishes of mutton and chicken on that large table - and look at the place now. Empty, deserted. As I said, left behind.' 63

What happens, Tapan,' Arunava had said, 'doesn't ever go away. Something remains, because it's always part of the whole place, the environment, everything. Memories are not just internal to us.' 81

However, the later part of the book set in Delhi where Tapan becomes involved with theatre to expunge the boredom of the bureaucratic set-up is a let-down. And the romance that begins with these weighty lines:

I had no idea that my world was about to change because of her. Thus it is that major, climactic moments come and pass unobtrusively. 98

is actually rather tepid.

Further the romance (or what passes for it) also makes the unravelling of the mystery that is Arunava Varman a bit of a drag.

So, all in all a book that I couldn't put down initially and one that later I couldn't wait to put down or as Arunava Varman puts it:

I mean, we live on a knife's edge, between the ordinary and whatever isn't - something terrible, something hilarious or very exciting, whatever. The difference is' - he held up a finger - 'just a fraction of a second.' 62

For me it was just a few pages.


It was a truth I had to accept, a truth that underscored that I had aged - one that brought with its attendant images of loneliness and irrelevance. 102

'A poem's what you think it is,' Arunava said and laughed. He held up his empty glass and said, 'Now that is very definitely not a poem, or it's a poem, but one of infinite loss and solitude, of what could have been and is not.'

'In other words, you want a refill,' I said and got him one. 145


First Line: After his second drink Arunava Varman became more expansive and mellow.

Title: The Teller of Tales

Author: Bhaskar Ghose

Publication Details: ND: Penguin, 2012

First Published: 2012

Pages: 264

Other Books read of the same author: None

 Having a publication date of 2012, the book is easily available on the Net and in book shops. I borrowed it from DPL, opposite Old Delhi Railway Station [ N GHO ].


Submitted for various challenges.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Three German Novellas: Lenz, A Runaway Horse, The Sunday I became World Champion

One of the best parts of reading literature of a particular country dealing with a particular moment of its history is that one gets to know about that time not as a dry report but as a vibrant, lived reality. Recently I read three German novellas, two of which dealt with a specific situation in the country.

Peter Schneider's Lenz deals with the aftermath of the German Student movement of 1968. Part of the world-wide unrest movements of the time, the German Student movement had sought an overhauling of their society. The Students felt that they had carried the burden of their parents' Nazi past far too long, they were horrified by what seemed to be a return to power by the Right-wingers, there were also the concern about the growing gap between the rich and the poor as the economy went into recession. Many of the students thus turned towards Marx.

However, Lenz deals with the disillusionment with the movement as it weakened because of internal rivalries and factions. Lenz, the eponymous hero of the novel has turned away Marx's portrait so that it faces the wall:

For some time he had already been unable to endure the sage face of Marx over his bed any longer. He had hung it turned to the wall once already. In order to let the intellect drip off, he explained to a friend. He looked Marx straight in the eye: 'What were your dreams, old know-it-all, at night, I mean? Were you really happy?"

Still unable to recover from a break-up with his girlfriend, Lenz finds that his old certainties are slowly vanishing. He joins a factory to feel one with the labourers only to be assuaged with guilt since he has taken away the job from someone who needed it badly. He joins a demonstration where a young boy tells him excitedly that he felt full of power when he threw a stone. Looking at his shining face, Lenz recalls his own feeling of exhilaration when he had thrown a stone of protest for the first time. At the same time however he feels that such demonstrations have outlived their use and some new form of protest is needed. Attending a meeting of comrades, he finds the same trite sentences of Mao Tse-tung being parroted. Feeling suffocated in Germany, he leaves for Italy where he finds people more attuned to his way of thinking. However, even as he is settling in Italy, he finds himself deported back to Germany. On reaching back home, he realises that running away is not a solution and for better or for worse, Germany is his karambhoomi.

There were certain passages in the book that I really liked.

Lenz noticed a kind of sadness in his face that characterizes people whose wishes have all been fulfilled and who now ask in astonishment what they have to accomplish in this world that has become a post-world to them. [20]

He wondered what had prevented him all this while from being interested in those changes, and whether conversely the societal changes that had been perceived by him and his friends as great and decisive would be looked upon by those observers as unimportant. [27]

Lenz explained that he was in a terrible state, everything was going to slip away from him, he had the feeling of having fallen off the world. [41]

The second novella A Runaway Horse is more of a psychological drama. A school teacher Helmut is holidaying with his wife. Their lives have fallen in a rut. Helmut, especially, doesn't feel at home with other people. The more he is a stranger to them, the more happy he is:

Helmut did not like people around them to have ideas about himself and Sabina that were accurate. Never mind what people thought about them both as long as it was wrong. To succeed in promoting mistaken conclusions always made him feel good. Incognito: that was his dearest image. [83]

Helmut's intentions of partly living are shattered by the entry of Klaus Buch. At first sight, Helmut takes him for one of his students, so young and handsome does Klaus look. It turns out though that Klaus is a classmate of Helmut. With his young wife Hella in tow, Klaus takes control of the lives of Sabina and Helmut. All the while he keeps on going back into the past and telling anecdotes of their younger days. Helmut doesn't partake in his enthusiasm. It slowly transpires that in his young days, Helmut was seen as a brilliant student and people expected great things for him. Klaus was just an average student who followed Helmut's lead. However, in their adult life it seems it is Klaus who has a brilliant career while Helmut hasn't realised his early promise. This gives way to a lot of heart-burn. However, the dazzling Klaus too has his share of problems and on a wet and stormy night, the insecurities of both men come to the fore.

While I liked the novella overall what I found extremely funny was Hella's habit of removing her top suddenly and without warning. Such a scenario in India - a young woman unclothing herself at a social gathering - would surely cause a number of heart-attacks to occur.:)

Two passages, which brilliantly describes unfulfilled aims and ambitions, stood out in the novel:

Helmut saw only fragments, holes, wreckage, destroyed items. For many years he had done little but prepare himself to live with what had been destroyed. Nothing attracted him so much as things that had been destroyed. Someday or other he would do nothing from morning to night but surround himself with what had been destroyed. His aim was to transform his own present into a condition resembling as closely as possible the destroyed nature of the past. That was his objective. Within him, around him, before him, he wanted everything to be as fragmentary in the past. After all, a person is dead far longer than he is alive. it is really grotesque how tiny the present is in relation to the past. Hence this relationship should duly minimize, grind down, distort to insensibility every second of the present. [91-92]

It gets to me. Depression, I mean, the resentful, self-devouring kind. Because now I'm worth no more than something you throw at the wall to smash it so completely that you can't tell from the pieces what it was or what it was meant to be. That's really the most important part, for the destruction to be thorough enough. If they were to only partially smash us all, there would be a wave of sympathy in which we'd all be sure to drown, and that would be the end of the world. But as people who have been smashed to smithereens, we go on living without feeling. [151-152]

But the novella I liked the best - in fact I absolutely fell in love with it - was the third one: The Sunday I Became World Champion. Narrated by a young boy, who remains nameless throughout, it describes the euphoria that swept the nation as Germany lifted the FIFA world cup in 1954.

Son of a pastor and grandson of a U-boat commander turned preacher, the little boy finds the atmosphere of his home suffocating at times. It is not that he doesn't love his strict father or a mother who is always helping others, it is just that he cannot comprehend some of the passages read out by his father in the church. For example, God asking Abraham to sacrifice his first-born. He often wonders whether his father too would one day take the knife and slay him. The terror that Issac must have felt transmutes to the young boy who stutters and finds it difficult to communicate. And then one magical Sunday, Germany reaches the World Cup final. As the commentary is broadcast, the young boy's emotions go up and down. Will Germany be able to defeat the mighty Hungarians or would they always remain losers, never destined to win? What salvation is there when everything is predestined?

I loved the way, the author depicted the psyche of a defeated nation. There is first the absence:

Above them hung plaques commemorating the dead soldiers of 1870-71, They fought for king and country, and next to it the one for 1914-18, Heroes, fallen in the struggle for Germany's honour and existence, Never shall their names be forgotten, holy shall they be to us.

The soldiers of the second world war, in their very absence, become a haunting presence:

From far up on the hill, I listened into the houses, knew what most of them looked like on the inside. I knew that they had eaten, washed up, straightened up, and sat behind their timber-frame walls in the muteness of early afternoon. There in many of the parlours something dark and damp resided that had little to do with the hard life between stalls and field, dung heaps and pigs, hay making and trailer hitch. In the cold, stagnate air of these living rooms suppressed tales lay hidden - there was always a son or a father or brother fallen n the war pictured in uniform that had become embarrassing and in a picture frame, staring at the survivors, staring accusingly at the crumb cake set out for visitors.

Every house, it seemed to me, had a secret, something about which no one spoke, not just opaque animosities concerning field paths or debts, not just rumours about who was a drunk, who had argued with whom, who had rejected a refugee as son-in-law, who was messing with other women. There was a stagnant rage, there were dark stories that did not belong in the world of a child, somewhere there was a chasm out of which terms like Jew were spoken with a contemptuously long EW and words like Fuhrer with a high pitched U, or Nazi with a rebelliously intoned A turned up, then they were sneeringly and hurriedly swallowed, a fairy-tale world of evil terms and figures, a forbidden, dangerous mixture that one should not touch - but every fairy tale ended sometime, and they lived happily ever after.

That was not the way it really was, so many things were not, the dead men on the commode lived on, although they had died. They made accusations, they spoiled appetites. Amputees hobbled around potholes like living accusations against the healthy ones. Refugees lived crowded and gratefully in small houses or in attics; no one asked who had lived there before them. Again and again I heard the reproach of having been driven to injustice. The war had been a defeat and had left a dormant hate behind. The war was to blame for something with which everyone was involved but wanted to ignore, like the highway bridge behind me deep in the forest, across which no one ever had even driven because they had merely cleared away trees and begun setting up the bridge, which now in puddles and mud stood only as a monument to a wasted former future [212-213].

As Germany heads in the winning goal and are declared world champions, the boy too comes of age:

I had never felt so light, and beneath the pulsing emotion of victory was a deep desperate hint of what it would like to be liberated from the curse of a world divided between Good and Evil, liberated from the occupying forces, from an insatiable god, and perhaps also a hint of the of the limited duration of this happiness at being able to say one time an unchecked Yes!


First Line: AT MORNING LENZ WOKE UP out of one of his usual dreams.

Title: Lenz

Original Title: Lenz

Original Language: German

Author: Peter Schneider

Translator: A. Leslie Wilson

First Published: 1973


First Line: SUDDENLY SABINA PUSHED her way out of the tourists surging along the promenade and headed for a little table that was still unoccupied.

Title: A Runaway Horse

Original Title :Ein Fliehendes Pferd

Original Language: German

Author: Martin Walser

Translator: Leila Vennewitz

First Published: 1978


First Line: THE SUNDAY I became world champion began like every Sunday: The bells pounded me awake, chopped my dreamy pictures asunder, beat on both ear drums, hammered through my head, and flailed my body, which turned defenceless toward the wall.

Title: The Sunday I became World Champion

Original Title: Der Sonntag, am dem ich Weltmeister wurde

Author: Friedrich Christian Delius

Translator: Scott Williams

First Published: 1994


Publication Details: NY: Continuum, 2001 (The German Library)

Ed. A. Leslie Wilson

Pages: 236


The book might be available in libraries. I borrowed it from the CPDHE library.


Submitted for various challenges.