Tag-Archive for ◊ Germany ◊

Author:
• Sunday, March 29th, 2015

Peter Bieri, better known by his pseudonym, Pascal Mercier, was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1944. He studied philosophy, English studies and Indian studies in both London and Heidelberg, where he obtained a doctoral degree in 1971 from Dieter Henrich and Ernst Tugendhart for his work on the philosophy of time and in 1981 became an assistant scientist at the philosophical seminar at the University of Heidelberg.

At the German Research Foundation he studied: philosophy of mind, epistemology and ethics. From 1990 to 1993 he worked as a professor of history of philosophy at the University of Marburg in Germany and in 1993 he taught philosophy at the Free University in Berlin.

In the late eighties Bieri started his literary career. He wrote a few books but the breakthrough came with his third book: Night Train To Lisbon, published in German in 2004 and in English in 2007. The novel was translated into many languages, sold millions of copies and was made into a film in 2013.

The main character in Night Train To Lisbon is the learned professor, Raimund Gregorius. He is an only child born to a humble family. His father was a museum guard and his mother a charwoman. Gregorius, who is called Mundus or Papyrus by his students and colleagues, is now in his late fifties, living on his own after his divorce from Florence, a former student, nineteen years earlier. He is a philologist, teaching Latin, Greek and Hebrew with high competence at a Swiss high school in his native city, Bern, where he was himself once a student.

Gregorius is devoted to his work. He leads a dull, solitary life ruled by an immovable self-gratifying routine, until one day on his way to school he rescues an enigmatic Portuguese woman standing on a bridge. From now on nothing will be the same again for Gregorius. He finds himself going to the Spanish bookshop in Hirschengraben where he used to buy books for his former wife for her dissertation on San Juan de la Cruz, in the hope of seeing the Portuguese woman there again. By chance he discovers a Portuguese book with an appealing title: “A Goldsmith Of Words” written by Amadeu de Prado which appeared as a private publication under the name “Cedros Vermelhos” in 1975, two years after the author’s death.

Intrigued by this book, Gregorius asks the bookshop keeper to read and translate some passages from Prado’s notes which he thought, upon hearing them, were personally addressed to him alone on this very peculiar day. He is awestruck by what he hears. He is fascinated by the author. He feels a whole new horizon opening for him. He now abandons his students, leaving behind on the classroom desk even his briefcase with his textbooks that had accompanied him all his life, and walks away.

Once in his apartment, Gregorius looks at Prado’s photo and translates a couple of texts from his book from Portuguese to his own language with the help of his new dictionary and grammar book. Gregorius ponders a while before making his mind up to take a train to Lisbon.

The story is set in motion and Gregorius’ whole life is now put into question. He feels the need to know everything about Prado’s life, about his book, which he will diligently continue to translate. He wants to learn the Portuguese language in order to immerse himself into this bewildering adventure he is about to embark on. Gregorius is not aware that he is undertaking a long quest for self discovery while trying to discover who is the mysterious aristocrat, Amadeu de Prado.

He feels the liberating satisfaction of knowing that for the first time he is about to take his life into his own hands. He realises all of a sudden that at the age of fifty-seven there isn’t much time left to live and he therefore strongly senses the need to change his existence to something different.

Once in Lisbon, Gregorius is determined to start his researches without delay. He meets some people who help him find acquaintances, family and friends close to Prado. One thing leading to another, he breaks his spectacles, goes to the ophthalmologist, Mariana Eça, who introduces him to her uncle Joao Eça who was a resistance fighter with Prado.

He visits Prado’s sister, Adriana, five-years-younger than himself and his sixteen-year-younger sister, Rita, nick-named Mélodie. He also meets Prado’s only two school friends, Jorge O ‘ Kelly, the Irish pharmacist and Maria Joao Avila, Prado’s highly esteemed friend. He goes to see Prado’s former school teacher, father Bartolomeu, and discovers how father Bartolomeu had a great admiration for his astute student, Prado.

Under the spell, Gregorius continues his lengthy search and visits the places and spots where Prado used to go. He even travels to Spain to meet Estefânia Espinhosa, the former resistance fighter, who has now become a teacher. He listens intently to her story like he listened to all the others telling their stories about Prado. And when O’ Kelly asks Gregorius why is he so interested in Amadeu de Prado, Gregorius answers: “I’d like to know what it was like to be him”.

Gregorius has endeavored to know all about this extraordinary person who wrote in his notes about God, about the meaning of life and death, the strict rules of friendship love and loyalty and many other self-reflective philosophical thoughts written in his Goldsmith Of Words. Now for the first time, Gregorius asks himself what would have happened to his life had he chosen to travel to Isfahan and learn Persian instead of choosing classical languages and the safety of home?

After all his assiduous investigations, Gregorious discovers that Amadeu de Prado died a sudden death from aneurysm thirty one years earlier in 1973 and that he was a poet, a goldsmith of words, a would-be priest, a philosopher, a successful physician and a member of the resistance movement fighting the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar who ruled Portugal for decades. All the pieces of the puzzle now fit together and the picture becomes clear.

Night Train To Lisbon is an accomplished, competently written and well-structured novel with richly depicted characters. Pascal Mercier, who is a professor of philosophy, has mirrored himself in his two characters, Gregorius and Amadeu de Prado, whose notes and letters are interspersed amid the story and in parallel with the events. Pascal Mercier takes the reader into the labyrinth of metaphysics, thought-provoking and soul searching subjects, beyond courage, friendship, love and death.

 


Author:
• Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Herta Müller was born in 1953 of farmer parents from the German speaking minority enclave village of Nitzkydorf (Nitchidorf) in the Banat in Romania. The majority of the German speaking peoples of this part of Romania originally came from Swabia (Schwaben) in Germany.

From 1973 to 1976, Müller left her village to study German and Romanian literature at the university of Timisoara. She then worked as a translator but was dismissed in 1979 because of her unwillingness to cooperate with Ceaucescu’s secret police. She became a kindergarten teacher while giving German language lessons in private. The success of Müller’s first novel, Nadirs, published in 1982, encouraged her to become a novelist, a poet and an essayist.

Müller has received various prestigious awards: in 1984 she received the Aspekte Literaturpreise for Niederungen (Nadirs), the Marie Luise Fleisser Prize, the Ricarda Huch Prize in 1989, the Kleist Prize in 1994 and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary award in 1998. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009.

After a first emigration refusal by the authorities in 1985, she finally obtained permission to emigrate to West Germany in 1987 with her husband, the Romanian German novelist, Richard Wagner. She currently lives in Hamburg.

Müller was well known for her writing about the bleak, oppressive conditions that Romanian people had to endure under Ceausescu’s despotic, communist regime and consequently her books were censored. She was a member of Aktionsgruppe Banat, a group of German speaking writers who, frustrated by all the censorship, were calling for freedom of speech.

Herta Müller has been labelled one of the most talented and prolific German writers of the last twenty years. All her novels are set in Romania, but unfortunately not all her work has been translated from German.

Nadirs, originally written in German and published in Romania in 1982, then in Germany in 1984, was published in English in 1999. It’s Herta Müller’s first book, a semi-autobiographical novel with no traditional plot, in a form of a diary of fifteen short stories of various length. The narrator is a little girl who writes about her thoughts, her deeds, her fate and the destiny of the people surrounding her. It is also about how she perceives the bleak, repressive existence in the lowlands where she lives with her family, under the grim, authoritarian and corrupt communist regime of the unnamed Ceausescu.

The novel conveys the little girl’s unadorned, honest, acute description of everyday life, sketched in unrelated segments which have in common the importance that the girl bestows on them. She is often mixing reality with dreams which then become overwhelming fantasies that lead to delusions.

Herta Müller has an uncommon style of writing, disjointed and bare, misleadingly simple but deeply effective. Her usage of allegories, imageries, symbolism, contrasts and succinct language make this thin novel brim over with poignantly powerful, vivid pictures of rural life in the lowlands, presumably, in Nitchidorf in the Banat, Müller’s native region.

The author uses all these illustrations to disclose the little girl’s rough and innermost afflicted childhood and establish her psychologically disturbed character. She seems to be surviving rather than living the care free life of a child of her age.

The author’s choice of words and the somberly intense, devastating social atmosphere of destitution, sexual looseness, alcoholism, injustice, suffering and confinement, is almost Kafkaesque, without a glimpse of hope and is too dark and morose and nightmare-like.

For all these multiple reasons and hidden complexities, Nadirs is a novel that has to be read in little portions at a time with a fair amount of assiduity. “When laughter becomes guffawing, when they bend with laughter, is there any hope? And yet we are so young”. “Your eyes are empty. Your feeling is empty and stale. It’s a pity about you, girl, it’s a pity”. Black Park.