It’s been a long year, and there is still a lot of year waiting to deteriorate. I’m trying get back into the habit of not only reading, but of reading and writing about it. So here are the books I’ve read over the summer.
Esther Kinsky – Rombo (Suhrkamp 2022)
“Die Erinnerung ist wie etwas, an dem ständig gewoben wird. Alles, was man also sieht und hört und denkt und riecht, ist wie ein Faden in diesem gewebten Erinnerungstuch.”
Memory is like something that is constantly being woven. So everything you see and hear and think and smell is like a thread in this woven cloth of memory.
I saw Esther Kinsky at a reading in Literaturhaus Freiburg during our spring vacation. Rombo is a novel put together by a combination of descriptive prose, almost oral history, poetry and nonfiction, about a location (Friaul) , its trauma (a series of earthquakes in 1976) and the memory of its people. A fascinating read and a stunning play with language, location and memory. However, there is little plot, and could use a clearer motivation for its end. But maybe that’s part of the point, a novel like a subtle but impactful shift in a mountain.
Hanif Abdurraqib – A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance (Penguin Random House 2021)
“But if Blackness and the varied performance of it are to be embraced, then what also has to beembraced is the flawed fluidity of it. How the performance is sometimes regional, sometimes ancestral, often partially forged out of a need to surveive some place, or some history, or some other people who didn’t wish you or your kinfolk well. And yes, sometim es forged out of an ambition to appeal to the limited imagination of whiteness.”
Hanif Abdurraqib writes about pop culture in a way that is personal and political & makes the personal pop culture & pop culture political. I learned a lot from this terrific book on the history and present moment of Black performance and art in America. It’s the best books on being in America I’ve read in a long time.
Hanif Abdurraqib – A Fortune for Your Disaster: Poems (Tin House 2019)
“NONE OF MY BLACK FRIENDS WANT TO LISTEN TO DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’
but we all know what it is when the street / light comes on
& I don’t mean to romanticize darkness but I do perhaps mean to sayy
I want to dance in the moments before the sunset lets me out
of its clutches & fear carves a crib into the pit
of some mother’s stomach”
What I wrote about A Little Devil in America basically also applies to A Fortune for Your Disaster, Abdurraqib’s second collection of poems. Incredible.
Heinrich Böll & Sharon Dodua Otoo – Gesammeltes Schweigen (Edition Zweifel 2022)
Gesammeltes Schweigen is an experiment in language, storytelling and typography that is incredibly successful. Heinrich Böll’s short story Dr Murkes Gesammeltes Schweigen first published in 1955, is contextualised and responded to by Sharon Dodua Otoo. Beyond this book, both authors are connected by a creative use of language to grapple with the Germany of their time, and both use language in a way that is perhaps best expressed by a May Ayim quote Dodua Otoo uses in Gesammeltes Schweige:
“Alle worte in den mund nehmen / egal wo sie herkommen / und sie überall fallen lassen / ganz gleich wen es triff”
Putting all the words in your mouth / no matter where they come from / and dropping them everywhere / no matter who it hits.
Georg Trakl – Gedichte (Fischer 1961)
“Leise klirrt ein offenes Fenster; zu Tränen
Rührt der Anblick des verfallenen Friedhofs am Hügel,
Erinnerungen an erzählte Legenden; doch manchmal
erhellt sich die Seele,
Wenn sie frohe Menschen denkt, dunkelgoldene
Quietly clinks an open window; stirred
to tears by the sight of the decaying cemetery on the hill,
Memories of legends told; but sometimes
he soul brightens,
When it thinks of joyous people, dark golden
days of spring.
This summer, my family had to say goodbye to the house my grandmother lived in, where I spent some crucial parts of my childhood, and where I really learned to love to read books. I now have a good part of my grandfather’s and grandmother’s collection, and over the next few months (or years) I’ll make my way through it. This collection of poems of the Austrian expressionist poet Georg Trakl set the tone for a scary fall, globally speaking. Some days, when reading through the day’s headlines, I fear that Trakl’s (or Wilfried Owen’s) poetry will become relevant to the current generation like my generation could never have imagined.
Not imagined, only feared.
Fatma Aydemir – Dschinns (Hanser 2022)
“Ist es vielleicht schlicht einfacher, sich um Dschinns zu sorgen als um Nazis? Denn beides sind doch Kreaturen, die unter uns sind und so lange unbemerkt bleiben, bis die Katastrophe passiert und ihre Existenz nicht mehr zu leugnen ist, wie damals, als Sevdas Haus brannte.”
Is it perhaps simply easier to worry about the djinn than Nazis? After all, both are creatures that are among us and go unnoticed until disaster strikes and their existence can no longer be denied, like when Sevda’s house burned.
Fatma Aydemir’s novel Dschinn’s is getting a lot of attention and hype at the moment, including being on the short list for the German Buchpreis, and all the praise is well deserved. A great novel about a Turkish family in Germany in the late 20th century, told through the perspective of each family member. Aydemir is on the border of including too many questions of identity into the book, but her prose and the characters makes it work.
Mieko Kawakami – Breasts and Eggs (Picador 2020, transl. Sam Bett & David Boyd)
“What Aizawa had said was like a dream. Just like a dream, I told myself. Only it made me feel hopelessly depressed. I ran thriugh what he had said a bunch of times and shook my head. It made me even more depressed. What if… what if I’d met him years ago, when I was younger. Why couldn’t we have met back then?”
A terrific novel about women in Japan, narrated through the perspective of a millenial, working-class writer, and her relationship with her sister, niece, colleagues and her own body and future. It develops into a different direction than I expected from the description on the cover. A fascinating read not just for fans of Murakami who wish there were more women in his books.