Categories
German

Zwischen Zwei Sprachen Leben

Lebe ich eine Sprache? Oder bewohne ich sie? Gilt das für eine gelernte Sprache auch? 

Der Begriff ‘Muttersprache’ ist veraltet, das wissen wir schon. Ich bin aber mit einer Sprache aufgewachsen, bis ich meine zweite Sprache gewählt habe. Kann ich sogar meine zweite Sprache beleben, oder eher bewohnen?

Als ich das schrieb, war es mir peinlich bewusst, wie schwierig das Übersetzen davon wird, unübersetzbar sogar. Damit habe ich mich, sozusagen, selbst in den Fuß geschossen. Ich bin Übersetzerin, Lehrerin, von Wörtern besessen. Wie Sprachen einander überschneiden, einander widerspiegeln, aber nie genau einander abgleichen. Weil das nie klappt. Weil das immer eine Fantasie ist. Übersetzung ist das endlose Lernen von allen Möglichkeiten, wie man in zwei oder mehrere Sprachen ähnliche Gedanken erklärt. Ähnlich aber nie gleich. Eine Übersetzung ist immer nur eine Echo, eine subjektive Wiederschreibung.

Wieviel Platz können zwei Sprachen aufnehmen? Ist es endlos, könnten noch weitere Sprachen dazukommen, wie zum endlosen Horizont, offen weit und breit? Oder ist es irgendwie begrenzt? Rutscht was eventuell aus der anderen Seite, wenn was neues rein muss?

Meine zweite Sprache ist gelernt. Mein gespaltenes Dasein, die andere Hälfte von mir ist gelernt. Ich werde oft gefragt, warum ich mich dafür entschieden habe. Warum ausgerechnet Deutsch? Deutschen können doch alle schon Englisch, oder? (nein). Hast du deutsche Verwandte? Bist du von deutscher Abstammung? (nein). Es war eine einfache Wahl in der Schule, sage ich. Aber ich weiß, dass das vielleicht nicht die ganze Wahrheit ist. Die Wahrheit ist immer viel komplizierte, als man denkt. Ich bin mir nicht genau sicher, was meine Wahrheit ist. Ja, warum Deutsch? 

Wir gehören aber zur gleichen Familie. Je weiter man in die Vergangenheit zurückgreift, desto ähnlicher werden die zwei Sprachen, Deutsch und Englisch, Englisch und Deutsch. Die gleiche Abstammung, die gleiche Wurzeln. Sieht man aber nur heutzutage nicht am Ampel, wo die Engländer ungestört zwei Meter vor einem beschleunigenden Taxi bei rot überlaufen. 

Vielleicht war es für mich eher eine Übung der Eitelkeit, weil ich nicht wie ‘alle’ andere Engländer sein wollte. Ich wollte nicht nur eine Sprache zur Verfügung haben, das schien mir zu engstirnig. Die Welt ist voller endlosen Möglichkeiten, sich selbst zum Ausdruck zu bringen. Hätte ich das nur auf eine Sprache gekonnt, hätte ich mir immer gewundert, was hätte anders sein können. Aber bilingual zu sein ist auch weit entfernt von den geschicktesten Linguisten der Welt.

Deutsch fällt mir immer noch nicht so einfach wie Englisch. Ich rede und schreibe wie kein/e Deutsche/r. Manche würden das als Unzulänglichkeit bezeichnen, als Scheitern, als Unvollkommenheit, meine nicht-ganz-Beherrschung. Aber ich behalte gerne meine Makel. Gibt es nicht die Möglichkeit für eine endlose Mehrzahl an Arten von Deutsch in der Welt, genauso wie es ein endloses Vielfalt Englisch gibts? Die Engländer haben es auf Sklaven- und Pilgerschiffe mitgebracht, und dachten, sie könnten die Welt beherrschen wie man eine Sprache ‘beherrscht’. Aber jetzt gehört Englisch jedem, der mit Englisch aufwächst oder Englisch lernt. Es gehört nicht mehr den Engländern. Als ich heute anfing zu schreiben, hatte ich es vor, es meinem deutschen Freund zu schicken, um für Makel und Fehler zu überprüfen. Aber ich habe mich anders entschlossen. Die Makel bleiben. Sie sind Kennzeichen eines langen Weges hinter mir, Brotkrümel der Jahren des Gedulds und der Frustration, wie die Ringe in einem Baumschnitt, Schichten über Schichten aufgebaut. Mein Deutsch war wurzellos, aber jetzt habe sie Wurzeln geschlagen. 

Es ist komisch, daran zu denken, wie diese kantige, eckige, stachelige Sprache mich gerade ablehnt. Nach Brexit, während Corona noch weitermarschiert, im neuen, dystopischen Zeitalter, darf ich nicht hin. Absolutes Reiseverbot zur Eindämmung der Delta-Variante. Im letzten sechs Monaten, gab es ein Fenster von 6 Tagen, indem ich legal nach Deutschland reisen konnte. Natürlich habe ich das Fenster verpasst. 

Ich hatte die naive, kindliche Hoffnung, dass alles wieder fortschreitend besser wird, dass ich diesen Sommer meinen Partner wiedersehen könnte. Aber meine deutsche Hälfte schlummert noch ihren ausgezogenen Winterschlaf. Flüge verschieben, noch einmal, nur noch einmal. Noch einen Monat schaffen mir, dann nur noch einen Monat. Den odenwäldischen Dialekt kann ich nicht mehr hören, melodisch, halb-geschluckt, hoch- und runter in meinen Ohren, die Wörter einander überfallend, während ich mich anstrenge, seinen Opa mitzubekommen. Er versteht mich auch nicht, obwohl ich versuche, mein Deutsch so deutsch wie möglich auszusprechen.

Ich muss immer wieder fragen, wie ein Tannenzapfen auf Odenwäldisch heißt. Oder vielleicht heißt es nur so im Dorf meines Freundes, dass vergesse ich auch. ________. Ich finde es jedesmal lustig, vergesse es aber auch immer wieder. Wieso lustig? Vielleicht weil es so anders ist. Vielleicht weil es so spezifisch ist, ein ganz anderes Wort für etwas, was so oft so unbemerkt auf dem Waldboden liegt, getrampelt, oder von eifrigen Dorfkindern aufgerissen, um an die süßbitter Kernchen zu gelangen. Ich habe auch fast den Geruch von Moos unter Tannen vergessen, wie die Farne über die Sommermonaten sich langsam entfalten, und wie man den Blick für Pilzen entwickelt, wenn man lang genug hinsieht.

Die Trennung ist ein endloses Hinauszögern, verzögern, die Seite neu laden, buchen dann umbuchen und stornieren, Bedingungen lesen, Quarantänepflicht oder nicht? Impfbescheinigung, Testnachweis, Grüne-Gelbte-Rote Liste. Ich verbringe meine Tage am Schreibtisch und übersetzte aus Deutsch, aber ich bin seit Jahren nie weiter weg von Deutsch gewesen.

Categories
Book Reviews Historical Fiction

Book Review: Ljuba Arnautović’s “Junischnee” (June Snow)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A charming and somewhat saddening family history which promised more than it gave.

Junischnee: Roman by Ljuba Arnautovic

Arnautovic tells the story of her own family in this brand new ‘novel’, a documentary tale which details a war-scattered family spread across several countries, from Vienna to Kursk and Moscow to Manchester.

Synopsis

Ljuba’s father, Viktor/Karli (he has an Austrian and, later, a Russian name), is transported to Moscow along with his brother as a child. Why? Their parents are socialist revolutionaries, supporters of the ‘Red Vienna’, a failed socialist project for the city which ended in a short yet bloody civil war in the 1930s. In 1934, Karli and Slavko are sent to Russia to grow up under the Bolshevist state. At first, things are great. They live amongst fellow socialists and other Austrian children in a state-of-the-art children’s home and remain shielded from the worst of the Great Purges.

But the peace doesn’t last. After the invasion of Russia by Nazi forces in the summer of 1941, the children’s home is disbanded and the children are treated with immediate suspicion. They are German-speaking. Hitler has broken the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. They could be moles or spies for the enemy. They could be sabotaging the Soviet regime from within. Karli is separated from his brother, and, after fleeing from several horrific ‘vocational schools’, he is sentenced to ten years in a Siberian gulag. Karli survives, but he will never see his brother again. He eventually returns to Kursk and marries a woman he met in the gulag called Nina. They have two daughters together, one of whom is Ljuba Arnautovic.

Karli/Viktor eventually manages to get back in touch with his mother after twenty years. She lives in Vienna. After years of wrangling with Russian and Austrian bureaucracy, Karli and his family eventually get the necessary documentation to move to Vienna in the 1950s, just as the Cold War is hotting up. Karli loves his new/old life in Vienna, and finds it easy to re-learn his German, but Nina feels trapped and isolated. Eva, Karli’s mother, is less than understanding, despite them all having to live under one roof. Unsurprisingly the marriage breaks down.

Karli turns out to be the villain of the story, as he has an affair (he will go on to marry three more times), yet somehow manages to win sole custody of their children. But he has no intention of being a single dad, and parcels them off intermittently to children’s homes when his current wife or put-upon mother is unable to care for them. Nina is now homeless in Vienna after being pushed out of the family home following their divorce, and has no choice but to become a quasi-housekeeper-cum-domestic slave to a local violent, illiterate Ukranian widower. My heart bled for Nina for the entire second half of the book.

Highlights

The story is told in short chapters (yay) with impressive flashes of quiet lyricism. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Arnautovic’s prose. The story itself is one I have never heard of- I had no idea there was a civil war in Vienna in the 1930s, and I had no idea that there were so many young Austrian children sent to Russia to escape rising fascism in Germany.

Then there’s the maternal side of the story: Anastasia, Nina’s mother and Ljuba’s maternal grandmother, is a very interesting character indeed. In fact, I would have very much liked to hear more of her and less of Karli. She’s the first-born daughter of a first-born daughter’s daughter, and is the local wise woman. The people of her neighbourhood in the southern outskirts of Kursk think she is blessed with the second sight, and simultaneously revere and fear her. Towards the end, I was fed up with Karli’s selfish exploits and really wanted to hear more about Ljuba’s maternal line. This would definitely have improved the book.

Lowlights

I had a few problems with this book, and really couldn’t understand why it got such glowing reviews (4.4 stars on Amazon).

Firstly, the term ‘novel’ is misleading. It should be called ‘a family biography’ or something along those lines. I was expecting a historical novel and didn’t get one in the slightest. It’s not very literary, as dialogue is sparse and Ljuba’s storytelling is rather swallowed up by the documentary material included in this short volume. There are a lot of translated official documents included in italics, which are written in an incredibly bureaucratic German I found difficult to digest. There are interviews included, which I really feel that Arnautovic could have turned into convincing dialogue surrounded by prose. I felt this book could have been longer, as there was so much to tell. I also really felt that Arnautovic could definitely have been more imaginative and creative in filling in the gaps between the evidence. It could have been a well-researched historical novel, but it felt like a fragmentary anthology of documentary evidence.

I also had a problem with the sheer volume of letters included in the book. We hear from Karli, but replies from Eva, Nina or Erika (his second wife) aren’t included. Maybe they had been lost, but we’re only getting half of the story regardless. This made it frustrating for me, as the long-suffering women in his life became silent. Also, Karli is fairly uneducated and clearly not a born letter-writer. His writing was awkward and incredibly cringey in places. Arnautovic could have put these letters to good use, but they don’t quite work in their raw form.

Categories
Book Reviews

Book Review: David Schalko’s ‘Bad Regina’

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

All I can think of is ‘you wrote a Bad Roman’ to the Lady Gaga tune.

What’s this Bad Roman?

What’s this Bad Roman?

Bad Regina: Roman (German Edition) eBook: Schalko, David: Amazon.co.uk:  Kindle Store

I don’t usually give up on a book I spent €15 on. But I had to give this one up. I had to. I got to page 123 and thought, Jesus Christ on a silver pushbike, I can’t do this anymore.

Which is strange, because everything looked great. The review on New Books in German looked great, the premise looked great, the cover looked great. I do usually enjoy satire – I devoured both the German and English version of Timur Verme’s Hitler-noveau Er Ist Wieder Da (Look Who’s Back).

I’m not going to include a highlights section, because there weren’t any. But I will give a brief synopsis.

Synopsis

A small town in the Bavarian Alps is slowly being bought out by a Chinese billionaire called Chen. The main character, Othmar, is a slovenly alcoholic who lives off the small payments he receives as the carer of a black Mancunian DJ who had an unfortunate drunk skiing accident twenty years before. The novel meanders along depicting the eccentric characters – exactly 46 -remaining in this slowly dying town.

Lowlights

This is satire trying to be clever. Sometimes it is clever, sometimes it is funny, but it’s mostly just boring. Othmar is completely uncompelling, and so are the other characters in the village. They’re mostly racist or rudderless, or a combination of both. There’s no real intrigue developing over the first few chapters, and its attempt at Thoman Mann Magic Mountain-style surrealism falls flat because I remained completely uninvested by the 30% mark. There is a huge amount of references to Austrian things which I didn’t really get (which I’m not blaming the author for, it was just another reason I struggled), and a lot of nostalgia for a kind of amorphous 80s/90s punk rock/DJ-culture I’m too young to relate to.

The satire was largely blunt and underwhelming. Poking fun at provincial racists is fun, but it can’t sustain a book. This could have been a brilliant book, a comment on the gradual decay of the EU, with especially dire warnings for the post-Covid age. But it didn’t manage it. It just didn’t. The characters feel flat, 2D. The story is going nowhere. The story starts when most of the town and its residents are already gone. I didn’t really understand why Schalko did this. The idea of slow decline could have been imaginatively developed. Chen is a mysterious, amorphous character. Nobody seems to have seen him, just his white Toyota rolling by. I understand that this is a conscious device by the author to comment on the ‘threat’ to the West posed by the Eastern economies in the 21st century. Keeping Chen anonymous means he can represent almost anyone, anything. But this is set twenty years after he first started buying the place. And nobody knows what he’s planning, nobody has even seen him? It’s just unbelievable.

I had almost no idea of place of setting, even a third of the way in. The Alps are a beautiful landscape. Beautiful and isolated for the people still living in the mountains, largely untouched by the 21st century. Believe me, I’ve lived in a similar place in Germany. Why did Schalko pay almost no attention to setting when setting is almost the most important facet of this novel? Many rural places are currently suffering with population decline as young professionals seek their fortune in the cities. But I had no idea of the place. The mountains, the lakes, the resort-ness of the place goes unmentioned. They could have been anywhere.

It could have worked as a short story, maybe. I was looking forward to an Austrian adventure, wittily written, a social commentary on the global shift to the right. But don’t get this book. You will be disappointed. It spreads itself too thin, it tries to develop too many characters simultaneously, meaning that nothing is compelling. Nobody is developed well.

Categories
Book Reviews

Book Review: Anne B. Ragde’s ‘Das Lügenhaus’

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Creepy character development paints a convincing vignette of an estranged family with plenty of skeletons in the closet.

Das Lügenhaus: Roman (Die Lügenhaus-Serie 1) (German Edition) - Kindle  edition by Ragde, Anne B., Haefs, Gabriele. Literature & Fiction Kindle  eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Translated from the Norwegian to the German by Gabriele Haefs.

I’m getting to the point now where I assume that anything I pick up originally written in a Scandinavian language is going to be an absolute cracker. Scandi Noir has really taken off in the last few years, and maybe there’s something about the long, cold winters and tendency to ennui that makes for such compelling writers.

I obtained this book from a friend having a clear out. Most of the time, the things you pick up in this way won’t really be to your taste. But then you find a gem that makes it all worthwhile. So much is translated for the German market these days (oh, to be a native German and be able to make a living out of literary translation), that almost anything you come across in Germany these days has an almost 50/50 chance of not having been originally written in German.

Synopsis + Highlights

This is a thriller of the slow-burn type, which works hard to build up a believable picture of a strange, divided family made up of clashing personalities. To say they clash would actually be putting it lightly. An eighty-year-old woman- Anna- having a stroke in a remote Norwegian village sets off a chain of events when her three sons reunite for the first time in years, along with a granddaughter she never even met.

Of the three sons, there’s a solemn undertaker who’s a stickler for the rules, a flamboyant gay window dresser who fled to Copenhagen to avoid the homophobia and closed-mindedness of his isolated hometown, and a lonely pig farmer who stinks like a… well, pig. Her only granddaughter, a dog trainer, also shows up to pay her respects once it’s clear her grandmother is never going to recover- despite the fact that they have never met. Anna’s husband is a strange, mute man who slopes around their dilapidated farmhouse like a ghost and also doesn’t know how to wash himself or the dishes.

The chain of events mentioned at the start of this section may feel a little tame, particularly for an American audience or those who prefer their thrillers full of bodies and explosions. Nobody dies (except the grandmother peacefully in her sleep), nobody goes mad, and there’s not even any incest (well, not really). Torunn, the granddaughter, strikes up a charming (and rather predictable) relationship with the flamboyant Erlend, and they make a concerted effort to support the struggling Tor, the pig farmer with the ghost-for-a-father and no personal hygiene. This is a family drama- suspense and the will to turn each page comes from their chalk-and-cheese combinations and world-building of the rotten farmhouse at the edge of the world.

Anna is a mysterious character. We never really ‘meet’ her, as she is in a coma for the whole novel. We only really get to know her through what others say about her, and there’s a lot of mixed messages and conflicting narratives involved. Tor, the oldest son, is the only one who had any contact with her. In fact, he was still living with his parents when she had a stroke. There are definite creepy oedipal undertones here. There’s an especially memorable part of the book where Tor is reminiscing about his childhood- having a thermometer stuck into a particularly unnecessary part of the body. Yikes.

But, in comparison to other books I’ve attempted to push my way through this week, this was a page turner. I loved the mismatched family vignette. I loved how awkward they all were. The reader sympathises with Torunn as she tries to make sense of the messed-up family she barely even knew existed.

Lowlights

The only disappointments were that I could have done with a tiny bit more happening, and the twist was a bit tame/tired. It turns out that their father is not their father at all, but their half-brother. This was really difficult to get my mathematically and logically-challenged brain around. So Anna is destined to marry the son of a man (I forgot the fake-father’s name, he’s pretty much just referred to as ‘Father’ in the novel). She marries him for appearances. Instead, she is in love with his father, her father-in-law. Her three sons are actually her father-in-law’s, making the fake-father their half-brother. Get it? It took me a few minutes. So no actual incest involved, and I was glad about that. SO MANY books have incest as the twist. I’m past caring. It’s not a twist anymore. Give it up. Find a new twist. This novel basically used the same twist with legal rather than biological incest though, so I was a tad let down about that, especially since I was so impressed with it up until that point.