Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Julia Franck, Anthea Bell and the Silly Season

The school holidays have started in Berlin, officially ringing in the silly season - or the "summer hole" as German-spakers call it. I rather like the idea of us all falling into some gaping chasm entirely free from news and culture as the summer unfolds. In fact, a lot of the papers in Germany (and the UK) are recommending light summer reading, but the Tagesspiegel has gone against the grain with its seasonal lit-supplement Alpha. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be available online.

But never mind. Along with a profile of Cees Noteboom and six beautifully illustrated pages of international crime writing tips, they've run a piece by last year's German Book Prize winner Julia Franck. Entitled My Life as a Nomad, the essay basically lists all the different places in Berlin where Franck has lived since she was born and explains how she came to be there and what they were like. She certainly has moved around a lot. What struck me was how open and apparently honest and revealing she is.

Particularly at the beginning, a picture shines through between the lines of a busy mother who had little time for her children - yet Franck never accuses her mother of treating her and her sisters badly. These were different times, after all - Franck is originally from East Germany, where working mothers were the norm and children's homes flourished. And it would be all too easy to join the chorus of "bad mother" cries that some Germans like to launch into at every opportunity - perhaps a legacy from the days of the Mother's Cross and certainly the bane of many working mothers' lives here. In Franck's writing, mothers don't tend to come off too well - particularly in Die Mittagsfrau, where there are two mothers who don't fit into the roles society allots them. The novel looks for explanations, although not exonerations, for these womens' behaviour, and is a fascinating read. The Alpha piece should be available online in a longer version (plus audio) at Literaturport from 24 July.

By the way, a couple of regional papers have also reported on a fasinating seminar that's just taken place at the EUK in Straelen (watch out for the crude national stereotyping in that linked article though - "schmachtet der Bulgare" - good God). Franck met up with eighteen translators working on the book. One of whom, of course, is my idol Anthea Bell. It looks like the English title will be The Blind Side of the Heart, rather than the carefully researched Lady Midday (sigh). I can't help thinking it sounds slightly Barbara Cartland-ish, but at least people will understand what it means. Apparently even German readers have trouble with the title, which refers to a mythical Sorbian lady in white. And at least they rejected The Lunch Lady.

Unfortunately, none of the articles go into great detail, presumably because the journalists didn't spend three days following the conversation. So I'm feeling all hard done-by and miserable now. I'd love to hear from anyone who attended the reading at the local high school though...

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