Walter Moers Returns to Zamonia

The newest Zamonia novel Das Labyrinth der Träumenden Bücher (The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books) will be released in October in Germany!!!!!!!  It’s the sequel to The City of Dreaming Books!!!! I am very excited!!!!! (Exhibit A: excessive use of the exclamation mark).

Tragically, I do not speak Deutsch.

So, next month at the Brooklyn Book Festival I’m going to be pressing the lovely people at the Overlook Press table for information and, perhaps, the translator’s phone number.  Who knows, he might need a proofreader.

Just for fun, below is the Synopsis, courtesy of Random House Germany and Google Translate.

Hilde favor of myths Metz returns to the “City of Dreaming Books”

About two hundred years ago, has been destroyed since the book Haim, the City of Dreaming Books, by a devastating fire storm. The eyewitness of the disaster, Hilde favor of myths Metz, is now considered the leading writer Zamonien and recovers to the dragon festivals of its monumental success. He delights in daily Belobhudeltwerden when it reaches a disturbing message that its existence is finally made sense.

Lured by a mysterious letter returns favor of myths Hilde Metz to book Haim. The beautifully rebuilt city is again to the pulsating metropolis of literature and the book trade has become the Mecca and is traversed by all kinds of crazy book to the puzzle on the track gets myths Metz, hardly has he entered the city, adventurous in their wake. He met old friends such as the Schreckse Inazea Anazazi, the book Lingen Ojahnn Golgo van Fontheweg, Dölerich Hirnfidler and Gofid Letter guy who Eydeeten Hachmed Ben Kibitzer, but also new residents, phenomena and wonders of the city, like the mysterious Biblionauten, the obscure Puppetisten and Haim’s latest attraction book, the “invisible theater”. It strayed myths Metz deeper “in the” labyrinth of dreaming books, which seems mysterious and invisible to determine the fate of Haim’s book. Until he finally gets an unstoppable whirlwind of events that surpasses all the adventures that he had to endure ever, in every respect.

Ummm…yeah.

Hurry John Brown!  For the love of all that’s good in the world… please hurry!

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The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch, translated by Lee Chadeayne

Looking for a historical thriller?  Some fast-paced beach reading? A page turner that you can’t put down? Oliver Pötzsch’s novel The Hangsman’s Daughter is all of those things.

The year is 1659 A.D.  Children in the Bavarian town of Schongau, specifically the orphans and bastards, are disappearing.  The bodies of those that are found each have a small tattoo on the shoulder – a known witch’s symbol.  That isn’t the only strange thing that’s been happening:  the construction site for the new leper house is being repeatedly vandalized; the Burghers’ warehouse is set on fire; and the devil has been seen on the roads at night.

Of course Schongau’s midwife, Martha, is accused of witchcraft.  The dead and missing children were known to visit her and – let’s face it – in a Medieval town it’s always the midwife who superstitious townspeople point their fingers at first.  Martha is taken prisoner and the hangman is brought in to make her confess.  What follows is a daring sprint against the clock to solve the mystery.  A week in which to find the real killer before more children are harmed, the midwife burned alive and Schongau descended into the madness of witch trials.  Jakob Kuisl (the reluctant hangman), his daughter Magdalena and the son of the town physician attempt to prevent the worst from coming to fruition.

Pötzsch has created a decent puzzle for the reader to solve along with his protagonists.  Nothing is clear-cut.  Red herrings abound.  The solution is far from obvious, but does not strain incredulity.  Jakob and the physician’s son Simon (who plays the role of Watson to Jakob’s Holmes) are appealing characters.  As is Magdalena, though I wish she’d had a larger role.  She spends more time along the fringes of her father’s and Simon’s investigation than the title suggests.  But she’s brash and earthy and one of the highlights of the novel.  The other being, of course, the hangman.

Jakob Kuisl is a kinder, gentler hangman.  He studies herbs and healing.  He keeps a library of books on those subjects which must have cost a small fortune in the 17th century. He philosophically sees his occupation – to torture and kill – as necessary to the public peace.  Despite that, he get’s drunk before being called upon by the Burghers to perform his duties…as did his father before him.  Kuisl comes from a long-line, a dynasty, of Bavarian hangmen.  Of whom the novel’s author Oliver Pötzsch is descended.  Johann Jakob Kuisl was a real life Medieval hangman. In fact the entire Kuisl family – wife, daughter and twins – actually existed.  The story may be fiction, but one of the most interesting things about The Hangman’s Daughter is that there is a tangible element of truth to it.  Genealogy.

As for the writing, it seems that lately every book out there is described as being “cinematic”.  But Oliver Pötzsch is a screenwriter for Bavarian television.  It’s not surprising that The Hangman’s Daughter reads like a script.  Which is what makes it perfect Summer reading.  This isn’t a deep, psychological glimpse into the heart of darkness.  It’s not Pillars of the Earth.  If anything, the story reminds me most of Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death.  It’s slick and clean and modern – filled with period details without becoming bogged down in them.  The company of these characters is highly addictive.  So much so that I wasn’t surprised to learn that there are two other books in the series so far.  Unfortunately, they’ve yet to be translated into English.

Publisher:  Mariner Books, New York (2011).
ISBN:  978 0 547745 01 5

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Funeral For A Dog by Thomas Pletzinger (translated from German by Ross Benjamin)

From page one it is evident that Funeral for a Dog is not your average summer read.  Thomas Pletzinger has constructed a novel where the plot is a moving target.  The characters jump from New York to Brazil, Germany to France.  Events are recounted out-of-order, perceptions are presented as truths, the end of the book shows up at its beginning.  Readers may initially find Funeral for a Dog difficult to understand.  The opening 75 pages are a slog, filled with disorganized facts and data you’re not yet able to process.  Keep going!  As you continue to read the story coalesces and, suddenly, unexpectedly, Thomas Pletzinger has  you.  Putting this book down and walking away is no longer an option.

Daniel Mandelkern, referred to simply as Mandelkern by almost everyone in the book, is a man in the midst of an identity crisis.  An ethnologist turned journalist, he has been assigned a 3000 word article on the reclusive author of a popular children’s book.  His boss is also his wife, and they are in the midst of an argument the day he leaves.  She desperately wants them to have a child.  He, too, is feeling desperate – for entirely different reasons.

Mandelkern is the protagonist of Funeral for a Dog – but the story revolves around the author Dirk Svensson.  From a folder of information compiled by an assistant we learn that Svensson lives with his three-legged dog, Lua, in a crumbling ruin of a house on a lake in Italy.  He’s written a wildly popular children’s book dealing with death.  It soon becomes apparent, to the reader and eventually to Mandelkern, that the research is incomplete.  Mandelkern arrives for his interview accompanied by a woman and her young son. Svensson has been expecting all three.

What follows is a puzzle.  There is the mystery of Dirk Svensson and Lua.  What is their relationship to the woman and her son? Who is Felix Blaumeiser – a man whose name keeps coming up but who no one wants to discuss?  And how much of the manuscript of Svensson’s unpublished novel Astroland, which Mandelkern finds locked in a suitcase,  is actually true?

As Daniel Mandelkern digs deeper into the lives and losses of his host and fellow house guests, he also begins to examine his own. Loss is a major theme in Pletzinger’s novel, as are second chances.  Despite what initially appears as depressing subject matter, the text of Funeral for a Dog is imbued with hope. The answers, when they are finally given, satisfy.

So does the writing.  Satisfy, I mean.  Pletzinger’s style is stream of conscious for the segments inside Mandelkern’s head.  It switches to something reminiscent of Jack Kerouac in the Astroland sections.  The book even incorporates photographs of ephemera among the last few chapters (unnecessary, in my opinion, but inoffensive).  Deductions are drawn, then refuted, then corrected.  Somehow the story comes together – following its own strange logic . The fact that the narrator is an ethnologist is not a coincidence.  Reading Funeral for a Dog is like discovering an file box filled with scraps of paper, old photographs, random junk…  and then attempting to organize it into something usable/recognizable.  The last page will leave you with a feeling of accomplishment – a sense of personal discovery.  

Funeral for a Dog is not an easy book.  It warrants a second, careful reading; possibly even a third.  But the extra effort pays out.  Thomas Pletzinger has written a novel to be dissected, discussed and enjoyed.

Publisher:  W.W. Norton & Company, New  York (2011)
ISBN:  978 0 393 33725 9

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Poems from the Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke

Put out my eyes, and I can see you still;
slam my ears to, and I can hear you yet;
and without any feet can go to you;
and tongueless, I can conjure you at will.
Break off my arms, I shall take hold of you
and grasp you with my heart as with a hand;
arrest my heart, my brain will beat as true;
and if you set this brain of mine afire,
upon my blood I then will carry you.

Explanations and apologies first.  It has been a bit hectic around here.  What with a trip to France, a new puppy and working on an adoption application, BookSexy has suffered from neglect.  Fortunately, things are now settling down, so I’m pleased to say that there will be no more interruptions.

Seeing Paris was a lifelong dream.  Visiting Shakespeare & Co. was a pilgrimage.  And Rainer Maria Rilke’s Poems from the Book of Hours, published by New Directions, made it a triple play. The cover is soft green textured paper with french flaps and gold embossing.  The book opens with a preface by Ursula K. Le Guin followed by an introduction by the translator Babette Deutsch.  The poems are printed with the original German on the left page followed by the English translation on the right.  I love this book.  The presentation is as beautiful and thoughtful as the words within.

I discovered Rilke, like many people, when I was young (Le Guin tells a funny story about her own first encounter  with the poet’s works and subsequent enthusiasm).  Rilke is one of those authors who, if you connect to his writing, the connection stays with you for life.  I was originally drawn to his prose: The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and Letters to a Young Poet.  I re-read these two books every few years.  The poetry came to me late and my response to it has always been lukewarm.  The truth is that I bought Poems from the Book of Hours as much for its cover as I did because of name recognition.

The Book of Hours, which I believe was a larger work from which the poems in the New Directions edition were selected, was Rilke’s first published book of poetry.  It was completed  in parts during the years of 1899, 1901 & 1903. The poems were written as meditations, conversations between the poet &  God (the original edition bore the subtitle: Love Poems to God). It is religious, but in a way that very much reminded me of Emily Dickinson’s poetry.  Like Dickinson addressing her anonymous “Master”, the subject matter of Rilke’s poems frequently appears secular in nature.   Lines like: “No, my life is not this precipitous hour through which you see me passing at a run” do not scream God!  Instead, the poems focus on their author’s preoccupations.   Rilke writes about youth and mortality, human isolation, spirituality; not about organized religion.  In fact, I wouldn’t have made the connection to God at all if the preface & introduction hadn’t both pointed me in that direction.

There are basically two kinds of poetry.  The first freezes a moment in time and then explores it from every angle.  The other, the type of poem Rilke writes, takes an abstract concept or emotion and solidifies it into something tangible.  The result can be a poem like the one I opened the post with.  The last line of which, “upon my blood I then will carry you” demonstrates the value in subtlety.  The choice of the word “upon”, rather than “in” is significant.  Its use highlights the isolation between the the poet and who he addresses his poem to.  For Rilke individual consciousness is a bridge which cannot be crossed.  It is an idea that he struggles with and returns to again and again.  Always with a quiet thoughtfulness, which the translator manages to convey while still retaining the directness of  the original German language.  (Excellent work Babette Deutsch).

If I have one criticism of Poems from the Book of Hours it is that the cover flap, the preface and the intro all stress that the poems the book contains are only examples of his early, immature work.  That these poems are not Rilke’s best and were written before he’d fully developed as a poet.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine.  Please don’t tell me that what I’m about to read is mediocre.  I believe that all criticisms should be put at the end of a book.  Allow me, the reader,to form my own opinions without anonymous influence.  Because if you delve into Poems from the Book of Hours  without preconceptions,  to my mind it holds its own against Rilke’s other works.

***A quick note on New Directions Publishing Co.  I was familiar with the name, but hadn’t realized what beautiful editions they put out until after I’d googled the company.  They also have an impressive catalog of authors.  If you haven’t already familiarized yourself with their offerings, it’s definitely worth checking out their website.


Publisher:  New York, New Directions Books (2009).
ISBN:  978 0 8112 1853 5

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