Monday, 31 August 2015

Sascha Reh: Gegen die Zeit

Part of my work is translating samples from German novels, which are sent out by the publishers to other publishers around the world in the hope that the other publishers will buy the translation rights. Occasionally the books I get advanced access to by this route aren't to my taste but usually they're exciting, because German publishers only have a limited budget for these translations – so they choose their most promising titles.

Sascha Reh's latest novel Gegen die Zeit falls into the Very Exciting Indeed category. Unfortunately, it's been months and months since I read it. But to ease back out of my summer r e l a x a t i o n mode and into some kind of regular term-time blogging routine, I shall now attempt to tell you more about it anyway.

The book is set in Santiago in the early 1970s. Ears pricking up yet? Yes, it's about Allende and Pinochet, but the story is built around a German narrator. Hans Everding, disenchanted by the German left and its eternal discussion circles, has gone to Chile and starts work as an industrial designer for a government cybernetics programme. Ears pricking up more now? And the action kicks in on 11 September, the day of the putsch, with Everdings and a colleague attempting to save vital data from Pinochet's clutches and also not get killed.

It seems that Reh came across a real-life revolutionary cybernetics project in 1970s Santiago and built a novel around it; a literary novel with thriller-like aspects, let's say. The material is literary gold, I have to say: computer technology put to use for the sake of the national economy, attempting to steer production in real time with no commercial interests. A third way between the Soviet planned economy and Ikea (but smaller and more impromptu than both). The author has an article about Project Cybersyn in Der Spiegel, which you should read right now if you're interested in these things. If you don't read German, go there anyway and click through the photos, which are a fabulous treat for design lovers. Orange upholstery! Moulded plastic chairs with built-in ashtrays! Because why coordinate production without a cigar?

OK, so now imagine there's a novel closely based on the events of the time, bit of a love story, bit of adventure, bit of idealism, lots of tension building up, all written in the slightly stiff voice of a German engineer with an outsider's eye who gradually softens up and begins to identify with the project and the people behind it, eventually forced to ask himself where his loyalties lie. You'd want to read that, wouldn't you? Right now you have two options: learn German and buy the book, or read my sample translation via the top link, set up a publishing house and get the whole book translated. Or you're lucky enough to read German already, in which case the path to enlightenment is considerably shorter. I recommend taking it.


nikki @bookpunks said...

Well my interest is piqued.

Dan O'H said...

The synopsis reminds me strongly of Francis Spufford's book Red Plenty, which tackles Soviet planners under Krushchev, trying to implement a Five Year Plan by computer. I hope you manage to get your sample in front of some of the many people raving about Red Plenty

kjd said...

Thanks for the tip!