A Few Reading Tips

An excellent read is this year’s Man Booker Prize Winner Richard Flanagan “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” in which he very convincingly describes the ordeal of Australian prisoners of war in Japanese labor camps in Myanmar, tasked with building the infamous railroad to Rangoon. In very sober, unemotional, but extremely effective words describes Flanagan his protagonist who as a doctor and camp leader attempts to save the lives and the dignity of his destined compatriots who die from hunger, disease, overwork under absolutely inhuman circumstances. Especially impressive is the description of the protagonist’ steep medical and scientific and war hero career after the war, which he accepts stoically, fully aware of his non-heroic attempts to preserve humanity under the most extreme and undignified circumstances.

Much less convincing is Ali Smith, the Book Prize Runner-up “How to be both”. A fascinating idea, to virtually merge the life of a contemporary 14-year old with that of a 15th century Italian fresco painter, is told in a confusing, too complicated and often unclear manner. While both characters, especially the ancient one, are described quite vividly, the way this story is being told does not do justice to this interesting topic. (I realize that I may be quite alone with this opinion, since Smith since then has been nominated and received a number of international acclaims).

Utterly astonishing is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah”, the story of a young middle-class Nigerian woman who obtains a highly desirable fellowship to study in the US, her life in the US for 13 years and her eventual return to Lagos. A straightforward language becomes only (unfortunately) stilted when she quotes her blog entries which become her livelihood, in which she describes black life from a black US and non-US viewpoint. The contrast between her regular language and that in the blogs seems a little bit like the difference between spoken and written language – which in this case is to the detriment of the latter.

Adichie falls deeply in love in Nigeria, but leaves her boyfriend and his university lecturer mother to go to the US (which every university-educated Nigerian seems to want to do), adjusts very difficult to American life, works the most demeaning jobs to earn a little bit of money, breaks off contact with her Nigerian boyfriend, has close relationships with a number of black and white (very rich) Americans – and finally succumbs to her nagging desire to leave all this behind and go back (for good) to Nigeria. Most striking is her observation that only in the US does she become aware of her race, she together with other expats pokes fun at the sloppy way in which Americans (of all races) speak English, how and what they eat. Many of her observations are the same as the ones I have made in my various lives in the US, of course, apart from the race issues. Adichie’s protagonist’s big problem is that she does not seem to be happy and fulfilled in any relationship, that she breaks them off invariably when they are going very well. So, also very consequentially, when she comes back to Lagos and after a while meets again her former lover, who in the meantime has become rich and has a family, she takes up again with him in a way which for the reader of the previous 200 pages casts already the shadow of another broken relationship. Both from the point of view of the language and the content of the book a very good choice.

Und für meine deutschsprachigen Leser eine wirkliche Lesefreude: Roland Butis “Das Flirren am Horizont”, die faszinierende Geschichte des Niedergangs einer welschschweizer Familie im Jahr 1975, das durch eine lang andauernde extreme Hitze- und Dürrewelle, die die Landwirtschaft zum Verdorren brachte, gekennzeichnet war. Auch Butis lapidare Sprache, die Sichtweise eines 13-jährigen Knaben, wie seine Mutter die Beziehung mit dem Vater verläßt, dieser an der Dürre und dem Verlust seiner Frau sowohl emotional als auch materiell scheitert, die Beziehung des Großvaters zum sterbenden Pferd, all das wird in diesem schmalen Buch in herovrragender Übersetzung erzählt, und sollte von möglichst vielen Leuten gelesen werden.


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