Category Archives: book review

A pond full of melancholy

Jump right in, it’s warm

Do you remember the summer of your youth? That one summer that lasted for years? When a single day felt like an entire lifetime? The endless blue sky? The sweet scent of the wild flowers along the way? The earth underneath you, while staring at the impeccable blue above? Your trusted friends next to you? Silent and in awe of the grandness of the world? That one moment, when you knew with absolute certainty, that you were a part of it all, of its grandness, of its splendor, of its eternal beauty? That one summer of your youth when you felt you were at one with yourself and with the world. And in the evening, staring into the flickering light of a fire, you knew just as certainly, that it all would have to end. And like innocence once lost, it would never come back.

But.

We got lucky.

We have books.

Books that can bring us back to that sweet moment when that endless summer was still grand and full of wonder.

Elizabeth von Arnim’s Enchanted April can do that wonderfully. But that is a story for another day.

Castle Gripsholm can do it too. Kurt Tucholsky takes us back to a summer of splendor and sated laziness in Sweden.

 

Hop on the train

Princess and Peter leave Berlin for a five-week holiday in Sweden. We all know what it feels like to get away from it all, the pointless routines, the busy cities, the noise. So does Princess. Her real name is actually Lydia, but Peter calls her Princess, because that’s what she is to him. Which is fair enough because his name is actually Kurt, not Peter, and Princess tends to call him Fritzchen, for reasons unbeknownst to us. Never mind.

The year is 1929 (when the real journey took place, or 1931 when the novella was published) and we, as well as our loving couple, are very much aware that this will be the last summer. And when it is over, there will be nothing left but fond memories of a moment in time, when the world moved on a hinge. Peter is aware of it. He knows perfectly well who is fighting in the streets of Berlin. This is more than just a summer vacation. This is the last chance to take a deep breath before everything falls apart.

 

The castle by the lake

The scenery couldn’t be more idyllic. A lake, a castle from the 16th century, no other tourists. Princess and Peter enjoy the silence and each other, they take long walks, they lie in the grass, they chat with the local folk. Every single moment feels feather-light in a strangely laconic way.

Friends come to visit, first Karlchen, then Billie. Their appearance on the scene does not spoil the lazy days, but it certainly adds a little spice to their evenings and nights.

A ménage à trois unfolds, tentatively, almost shy. And beautifully written.

 

The child

Not everything is bright and beautiful in the village of Mariefred. A child catches their eye, a girl, terrified and abused. It needs to be rescued from a brutal headmistress of a children’s home. But do they care?

They do. It takes some effort, it spoils their lazy days, but they know they have to do it, because no one else will.

Beside this being a wonderfully romantic and humorous feast of summer, it is also a story of not turning your back. Not looking the other way.

 

Lost innocence

It ends. Of course it does. It has to. Has the world ever been innocent? Probably not. Have we? It certainly feels like it. Thinking back to that one summer of our youth, we feel the loss most dearly. Princess and Peter know what they return to. Kurt Tucholsky knew that he could not return to it.

He was a publicist, a journalist, an essayist, a novelist, and a keen observer of the political development in Germany at the time. His experience as a soldier in WW 1 made him become a passionate pacifist. He used his sharp wit, his satiric sense of humor and his precise observations to expose abuse of political power wherever he found it. And there was lots to be found in the Weimar Republic.

In 1929, he moved to Sweden permanently, fully aware that independent journalism was no longer possible in Berlin.

His health suffered, he stopped publishing. On the 10th of May 1933 his books were among those that the Nazis threw into the fire. Behind the scenes he tried to support his friend Carl von Ossietzky, with whom he had published the magazine Die Weltbühne and who had been imprisoned in a KZ.

Kurt Tucholsky died on December 21, 1935, most likely of an unintentional overdose of pain medication. His ashes were buried in Mariefred, near Castle Gripsholm.

 

The memories

When I learned that Castle Gripsholm was to be published in English¹, I was worried. Worried that the local dialects, the satirical puns, the word-play would be impossible to translate adequately. For sheer sentimentality I immediately read it again, as if that would at least preserve its utter beauty before it was exposed to the transformation into another language. Stupid me.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter.

First of all, I needn’t have worried at all, because Michael Hofmann is a wonderful translator. He managed to do Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz justice, so English readers are in very capable hands.

Furthermore, Castle Gripsholm is not about puns or dialects, it is about us, our youth, the inevitable loss of innocence.

With this short novella you can go back. Capture once more that splendor of a boisterously grand moment when everything seemed to be right in the world. The perfect state of being. Just being.

Now you do it.

Go back. And bask in that fleeting memory of that one perfect summer. At least for an hour or two. The colours may be a bit faded but I promise, you will smell the wild flowers along the way.

And while you’re there, save a child. It might be you.

¹CASTLE GRIPSHOLM, by Kurt Tucholsky, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann, NYRB Classics, ISBN: 9781681373348, Pages: 144, Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Victorian Orc

Greetings!

My human made me read another book. I admit, this might be related to the fact that I demolished her kitchen (again) because I somehow misinterpreted the whole idea of a barbecue. Took me a while to catch the furry creatures hiding behind the furniture. And then I wasn’t even allowed to roast them. (sigh). Humans. I will never understand them.

However, we agreed (she made me, by pointing directly to the door) that for reasons of redemption I am going to read another book or listen to one being narrated to me by a tin machine. Sadly, there is no orc liberation front anywhere near me to help me out of it.

Thrakbog listening to an audiobook
Me on the tin machine.

So, my human said, that she is not going to be an ogre (no shit, human!) and will allow me to listen rather than read. I think, I have mentioned it elsewhere that – what with being an orc an all that – the only reason I am capable of reading at all, is by mere caprice of a wisecracker of a deity, which is unknown to me by name or creed. Bugger.

She also babbled something about this being the month of #victober (I think she’s making up the calendar just as she goes, which is rather orcish of her and I like it), so I am supposed to deal with victorious literature. Now, that came a bit as a relief to me, because victorious I am usually, being an orc.

Okay, okay. Shut up!

You knew it already, didn’t you? Ghastly humans. Yeah, no victorious victory anywhere in sight. But let me tell you, this tiny Victoria wouldn’t have made much of an impression in an orcish society. But there you go.

The books I am forced volunteering to deal with are:

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, published by Penguin Popular Classics

 

 

 

Victorian London: The Life of a City, 1840-1870 Audible Audiobook – Abridged
Anton Lesser (Narrator), Liza Picard (Author), Orion Publishing Group Limited (Publisher)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are my very personal (and somewhat orcish) views on both:

 

North and South
Now, this is a proper title. Clear directions is all it takes. Well done, Lizzy Gaskell. (I am beginning to have a little weakness for humans by the name of Elizabeth) Upon my word, there is more introspection in this book than you’d find in our whole tribe over several generations. It is so unorcish to question inner ongoings. Most of the time there aren’t any, that’s why. So, yeah.
Here’s Maggie Hale. Very self-opiniotated. Good. That is what intimidates your enemies just as much as any axe in your hand does. Which she doesn’t have. So she must do it all by words. She’s really good at it. Well done, Maggie.
Enter Mr. Thornton.
He is a bit of a mystery to me. I think he might be of dwarven origin, with all his industrious organizing stuff, regulated busy working hours and means of production.
His mother on the other hand is utterly adorable.
When I was forced to read Pride & Prejudice (that was before I ate the book) I admitted to liking Mrs. Bennet the most. As a father of numerous orclings I can totally relate to all the shit they have to put up with in order to get their young orclings properly settled elsewhere. Preferably in a tent at the other end of the camp.
So, yes, I kinda liked this one. It was much too long but I learned my lesson: Never eat a book with so many pages. It gives you constipation.

Victorian London
This was quite interesting (and delightfully short). I have lived in London for a short while (I was crawling out of the Thames after the above mentioned deity had shoved me through a portal into this world, needless to say, against my wishes).
But the London that I explored wasn’t as nearly as delightfully grim, gritty and gruesome (Ha! See what I did there? Oh, the way I have with words. I am quite versed in the use of illiter…, allur…, you know what I mean). Apparently I came at the wrong time.
All those details about the great stink very much reminded me of home and made me quite sentimental. The lawless backstreets, the ruthless greed, lovely. Definitely the best book for an orcish reading pleasure I was forced to deal with so far.

My human mentioned, that this Dickens guy she constantly talks about, wrote lots of very short novels that are situated in that shady world and time. Bring it on, babe. (Should it make me suspicious that she is grinning from ear to ear?)

Thrakbog vs. literature

Thrakbog: What do you mean, there is no magic in it? It is called “The Magic Mountain”!

She-human: It is indeed. But no magic, sorry.

Thrakbog: That’s cheating. Why? WHY?

She-human: That is actually a question a lot of people would like to ask the author.

Thrakbog: And?

She-human: He’s dead.

Thrakbog: So what? Get a necromancer and resurrect him.

She-human: Good god, no!

Thrakbog: I want to know why he called it The Magic Mountain when there is no bloody bit of magic in it! Not even a miserable wizard? An old hag? Any supernatural stuff would fucking do.

She-human: Language, Thrakbog, Language!

Thrakbog: Oh, piss off.

She-human: Would you like to sleep on the balcony for the next couple of weeks? It looks a lot like rain, I must say. But then again, orcs like to live rough, don’t they?

Thrakbog: Um, well …, alright, just tell me about that fu… pseudo-magic mountain-guy.

She-human: Well, the main character has some weird dreams.

Thrakbog: Oh, good. Juicy? Wild?

She-human: Strange would describe them more accurately.

Thrakbog: But strange is good, right? It could mean orcish in some way.

She-human: Um, no. I rather doubt that.

Thrakbog: Is there at least an old wizard’s tower on that mountain? Maybe he just deserted it and on his return the magic will be back too.

She-human: Your optimism does you credit but that is not going to happen. Actually there is a sanatorium on that mountain where people stay if they can’t breathe properly.

Thrakbog: You must be kidding.

She-human: I’m afraid not.

Thrakbog: So it’s shit! And no, I don’t mind my language at all!

She-human: You might have a point there. But it is a highly acclaimed novel.

Thrakbog: You mean like the teacup-fighting-soldiers-novel about Prick Darcy and dear Lizzy?

She-human: That had a lasting impression on you, hm?

Thrakbog: I’m still suffering from constipation after having swallowed it.

She-human: You really shouldn’t have done that. Books are for reading, not eating.

Thrakbog: Well, I’m definitely not reading or eating that fake magic thingy.

She-human: What would you like to read then?

Thrakbog: Must I really? I am an orc. It is so unnatural.

She-human: It was part of our agreement.

Thrakbog: Sticking to an agreement is rather unorcish as well.

She-human: Boo hoo.

Thrakbog: Alright, alright. So give me something gritty and grim.

She-human: So, Dickens it is.

Thrakbog: What the …?

She-human: Dickens. Exactly.

Thrakbog: Well, I hope it is at least short.

She-human:

___________________________

Of course we were discussing this famous drivel:

The_Magic_Mountain_(novel)_coverart

read-along part 8

I’m on fire! I went through 7 chapters in the last couple of days. It is also a bit worrying as I normally have an incredibly short attention span but I seem to have found something to enjoy as I get older. The fact that I can get older as an orc is something of a miracle in itself. Under normal circumstances (living amongst my fellow orcs), I would be smacked on the head with a morningstar in the near future. An orc over the age of thirty is a rare sight to be seen. Perhaps living apart from my tribe is not the worst that ever happened to me. Well, I know for certain that worse things already happened and I might feel inclined to tell you about some of that in the days or weeks to come. But for now let’s see what Ms. Austen had in store for us.

Chapter 22
Holy shit, Charlotte!

Is it clever? Is it incredibly stupid? Let’s see: she is far more clever than Mr. Collins, so she will probably be able to manipulate him to do whatever she wants. Good choise then. On the other hand he is dull and tiresome. Won’t she hate him for it soon enough? Perhaps she has already a solution in mind. A fake accident or monster attack. Who’d care if in a couple of weeks there were a note of his demise? On second thoughts I wonder if any of my wives had similar ideas when I took them home. Perhaps I should watch my back if I ever go home…

Chapter 23
I don’t think that Mrs. Bennet and Lizzy will ever get on with each other. From a mother’s point of view I can perfectly understand…, hang on, I mean… Not that I ever… Let’s say, from a parent’s point of view I can understand her anger. There she was, totally convinced that she would get rid of at least one of her daughters and then what?
Nothing.
Again.
I wonder how they feed all the girls. It’s never mentioned that they go hunting, looting or pillaging.

Chapter 24
I’m beginning to question Lizzy’s power of judgement. She certainly was blinded by that Wickham guy and now she blames Caroline for keeping Bingley away from Jane. It is pretty obvious that it is all Prick Darcy’s doing as he wants to keep his friend for himself. But of course it is a heavy blow to Mrs. Bennet’s efforts to be rid of her.

Chapter 25
I’m getting a bit tired of all the discussions about the girls not marrying. Would be nice for a change to get some action. So Jane is taken away to a big city. That sounds promising. As far as I know that means danger. Nice 🙂
Big city means thieves guilds, monsters in the sewer system, intrigues, wizards. Looking forward to that.

Chapter 26
Hm, Jane’s first report from the big city says nothing about monsters. Not even a single thief. Perhaps it was raining most of the time so she couldn’t leave the house. Silly human rule.

Chapter 27
Now Lizzy goes on a journey as well. Travelling by coach. If I know anything for sure that must mean only one thing: an ambush. (I’ve been there many times, always a joy). Come on, Ms. Austen! A simple ambush, you can do it! I mean, if I can do it so can anyone else. Just throw some tree trunks in the way, eat the horses, steal the girls, there you go.

Chapter 28
What is wrong with you, Austen? Not even an accident?
And to top it all, Mr. Collins pops up again.

read-along part 7

Chapter 18
Another ball. Soldiers dancing in fancy dress. Guys, you’re very lucky that there are apparently no orcs anywhere nearby. Wouldn’t survive one little skirmish.
And Wickham turns out to be not only a sissy but also a coward. No surprise there. You can say about Prick Darcy whatever you like but he certainly does not shy away from a confrontation. And he’s obviously a masochist, asking Lizzy to dance with him. I cannot shake off the impression that there was a lot more going on while they danced beside what they actually talked about. My human nods vehemently and praises my empathy. Whatever that is. Someone on twitter has accused me of it as well. Is it frightening people? I hope so. But I somehow doubt that it is something praise-worthy among orc warriors. Oh, that’s what their dance reminded me of: a duel. Could almost (amost!) imagine them both wielding a morningstar or a battleaxe. Actually I think Lizzy might be an excellent fighter. She certainly has the fierceness. And although she talks a great deal, that never keeps her from taking action whenever neccessary.

Chapter 19
I dread to think what’s going to happen next. No, no, no! Don’t do it, Lizzy! Really, Mrs. Bennet, I can understand your motivation but surely you must see that Lizzy could do much better than marry this clergyman!
Well, you have to admire Lizzy’s politeness and patience with that stupid man. I would have prefered her to wield the morningstar right there. I could never have remained silent had I been in her …, hang on, don’t go there. Stop it! Nope. I refuse to envision myself in a dress with lace all over it, sitting in a drawing room and awaiting the proposal of whomever. Damn. Too late.

Chapter 20
Cheers, Mr. Bennet. Well done. But don’t you forget that this has been all your fault in the first place. Had you shown more effort to marry off the girls, Mrs. Bennet needn’t have been so desperate right now. And sensible Charlotte saving the day. I like her.

Chapter 21
Hang on, what’s going on now? Bingley leaving without taking Jane with him? Did I miss something? (Don’t answer, that is a rectal.., a rascal, a retro…, well it is a question that need not be answered) Maybe Bingley was taken prisoner by Prick Darcy in order to secure him for himself.
So, a third into the book, still none of the girls gotten rid of.