Das Ereignis, von Annie Ernaux
Book Review / November 17, 2021

Das Ereignis by Annie Ernaux My rating: 5 of 5 stars »(Vielleicht wirkt diese Beschreibung irritierend oder abstoßend, oder sie mag als geschmacklos empfunden werden. Etwas erlebt zu haben, egal, was es ist, verleiht einem das unveräußerliche Recht, darüber zu schreiben. Es gibt keine minderwertige Wahrheit. Wenn ich diese Erfahrung nicht im Detail erzähle, trage ich dazu bei, die Lebenswirklichkeit von Frauen zu verschleiern, und mache mich zur Komplizin der männlichen Herrschaft über die Welt.)« Annie Ernaux, seinerzeit 23-jährige Studentin, wurde 1963 im damals erzkonservativen, katholischen Frankreich ungewollt schwanger und vom Vater des ungeborenen Kindes de facto im Stich gelassen. Keiner der Ärzte, die sie aufsuchte, half ihr in nennenswerter Weise und so bleibt ihr nichts übrig, als sich in die Hände einer sogenannten “Engelmacherin” zu begeben. »Beim Schreiben muss ich manchmal dem Drang widerstehen, in einen wütenden oder schmerzerfüllen Lyrismus zu verfallen. Ich will in diesem Text nicht tun, was ich im echten Leben nicht getan habe oder nur ganz selten, schreien und weinen.« Das gelingt Ernaux mit Bravour: Sachlich und nüchtern, ohne zu dramatisieren, zu beschönigen oder mit etwas “hinter dem Berg zu halten”, erzählt sie von dem fürchterlichen Spießrutenlauf, den sie hinter sich bringen mußte, um einen…

The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #17), by Louise Penny
Book Review / November 11, 2021

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny My rating: 5 of 5 stars I’ve long been a fan of Louise Penny’s series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Satisfyingly, Penny is more than capable of writing thrilling mysteries but additionally she has never been shy to address the major topics of our time (this book being no exception…). Then there is the almost mystical village of Three Pines in which most of the novels play out and which features some rather unique characters – from the gifted but struggling painter to the grumpy crazy poet, the “Asshole Saint” and everything in between. These factors still make me look forward to each new novel. Even after 16 prior books! »“And for your information,” she told Gabri when he’d shown up with gardening gloves and a trowel, “I like weed.” “Weeds, you mean,” he said. “Maybe,” said the old poet.« In this seventeenth instalment Gamache investigates the attempted murder of professor Abigail Robinson and the murder of Robinson’s assistant, Debbie, on New Year’s Eve. In this book’s setting, the COVID-19 pandemic is, of course, mentioned (and actually features in a few details) but, thankfully, over. (And lest anyone worries: None of our friends…

Love is Make-Believe, by Riham Adly
Advance Review Copy (ARC) , Book Review / November 7, 2021

Love is Make-Believe by Riham Adly My rating: 3 of 5 stars I was approached directly by the author, Riham Adly, who told me about her collection of “Flash fiction” – something I hadn’t heard about before. In Riham’s own words: “Flash is so flexible, it sometimes reads like a traditional short and sometimes like a poem with a narrative arc and sometimes it’s very experimental; it lends structure from other forms like menus, lists. It’s a new experience.” My interest immediately rose. A new form, a new voice! From Egypt! How could I resist that? So, first of all, Riham, thank you for the chance to read your collection! I really appreciate it. Riham quickly convinced me that she is in full command of her chosen language. Sadly, I couldn’t warm up to the Flash fiction form she chose and (some of) the content. Many of the short stories presented in this collections were confusing to me and, oftentimes, felt rather heavy-handed: »I beat in the flour. Too much force −like when a man beats inside a woman against her will− is no good.« We’re in agreement that any form of (sexualised) violence is completely unacceptable; I just believe…

Blaue Frau, von Antje Rávik Strubel
Book Review / November 1, 2021

Blaue Frau by Antje Rávik Strubel My rating: 5 of 5 stars Aufwühlend, bewegend, anstrengend, schwer „verdaulich“, unbedingt lesenswert und wichtig! »Es braucht klare Ansagen, wenn die, die ihre jahrhundertealte Meinungshoheit verlieren, diesen Verlust zum Ende der Meinungsfreiheit erklären.« Ursprünglich aufmerksam auf “Blaue Frau” wurde ich durch die Vorstellung des Buches und dem Interview Denis Schecks mit Antje Rávik Strubel in dessen Sendung “Druckfrisch”. Erst jedoch als ich Strubels in mehrerlei Hinsicht emotionale Dankesrede zum gewonnenen Deutschen Buchpreis sah, rückte dieses Buch sofort an die Spitze meines Stapels ungelesener Bücher. Antje Rávik Strubel erzählt in “Blaue Frau” die Geschichte Adinas, einer jungen Tschechin, die während eines Praktikums in Deutschland sexualisierte Gewalt erlebt. Dabei arbeitet sich die Erzählerin durch Zeit und Raum und die verschiedenen Ebenen und Perspektiven ihrer Figuren. Gerade im ersten Teil empfand ich dies teilweise als anstrengend und verwirrend – manchmal wurde mir erst im zweiten oder dritten Satz klar, wo und wann wir uns befinden. Die Autorin nötigte mir äußerste Aufmerksamkeit ab, legte dafür aber vorsichtig und behutsam nicht nur ihre Geschichte, sondern auch ihre Figuren schichtweise frei, ohne letztere dabei jemals bloßzustellen. Was Adina er- und widerfährt, erzählt Antje Rávik Strubel überaus berührend, aber nie sentimental….

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Out of the Hitler Time #1), by Judith Kerr
Book Review / October 24, 2021

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr My rating: 5 of 5 stars This is the second time I’m reading “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit”. The first time was when it was compulsory reading at school more than 30 years ago. I don’t remember much of my reading experience back then but that I felt with Anna, the protagonist and narrator, who had to leave Pink Rabbit back in Germany when her family emigrated to escape the rising Nazism… Now, at 45, I’m impressed for different reasons: First moving from Berlin, Germany, to Zurich, Switzerland, then Paris, France and, finally, London, United Kingdom, both Anna and her brother Max are relatively quick to adapt to their new surroundings.While it’s rarely easy for either of them, their resilience in the face of difficult circumstances and optimism is deeply inspiring. Nazism always looms in the background; be it through German tourists who prohibit their children to play with Anna and Max for the sole reason of them being Jewish or the Paris concierge.Both children picture Hitler as personally enjoying the toys they had to leave behind – the eponymous Pink Rabbit and a games compendium – and, thus, make the darkest…

A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables #1), by Alix E. Harrow
Book Review / October 18, 2021

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow My rating: 4 of 5 stars In this modern spin of “Sleeping Beauty” we meet Zinnia “Zin” Gray who is suffering from a rare condition which usually leads to death before the 22nd birthday – and Zin has just turned 21… Since Zin is obsessed with the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty” her best friend, Charm, throws her a themed birthday party during which Zin pricks herself with a spindle. As this is a modern spin, she doesn’t quite fall asleep but rather through the “multiverse” and in a trance-like state meets lots of other “Sleeping Beauties” until she steps out into one world in which she goes on an adventure with the resident “Beauty”, Princess Primrose, to, ideally, lift both their “curses”. Fortunately, this was a quick, short and amusing read because there’s simply not enough substance to either the story told here or the characters to sustain a longer novel. The one-hundred pages of this novella pretty much flew past and I was willing to overlook some questionable explanations about Zin’s condition, the mystery of full cell phone coverage in “Princess Primrose of Perceforest”’s fairy tale land and quite few other (minor)…

What Abigail Did That Summer (Rivers of London #5.3), by Ben Aaronovitch
Book Review / October 16, 2021

What Abigail Did That Summer by Ben Aaronovitch My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is one for the fans of Ben Aaronovitch’s “Rivers of London”. This novella firmly establishes Abigail as an important character in that reading universe. Abigail investigates the (temporary) disappearance of teenagers (including a friend of hers!) and in the course of said investigation finds a mysterious house in which something has been left over… Sadly, the entire House thing is just ok’ish: It made some sense but I didn’t really like this part of the mystery. Amusingly, though, as central this detail should be, the “remainder” of the novella, is much more important to me and by far outweighs the mediocre House part. Abigail’s friendship with Simon feels right and made her very likeable. Her interactions with the foxes (especially, of course, Indigo!) made me both grin and admire Abigail in equal parts for their cleverness, the mutual respect and general enjoyment. »‘Real talk, Abi,’ says Sugar Niner. ‘The air went greasy and the Nightingale blew a hole in the pavement. I was bare prang and no mistake.’ ‘Believe it, fam,’ says Indigo.« Also, the resolution of it all was really truly satisfying and, thus,…

Der Vorleser, von Bernhard Schlink
Book Review / October 9, 2021

Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink My rating: 5 of 5 stars Vor vielleicht einem Jahr kam meine Tochter auf mich zu und fragte, ob wir eine Ausgabe von Schlinks “Der Vorleser” besäßen. Sie brauche es für den Deutsch-Leistungskurs in der Schule. Ein Vierteljahrhundert vorher war Schlinks Roman gerade erschienen und machte Furore. Meine damalige Freundin schenkte es mir 1995 zum 20. Geburtstag und ich habe es verschlungen und geliebt. Mir war ein wenig bange, als ich das Buch zurückerhielt und durchaus nicht zu Unrecht, denn für meine Tochter überwog die Kritik. (Und außerdem: Ein Buch, das heute in den Lehrplänen steht? Das ich als junger Mann geliebt hatte? Konnte das heute noch etwas sein?)Ich hingegen hatte einen großartigen Roman über Schuld, Pflicht und Verbundenheit im Hinterkopf. So pirschte ich mich kürzlich mit etwas flauem Gefühl in der Magengegend an eines meiner Lieblingsbücher nach so langer Zeit erneut heran. In Wahrheit allerdings hat die Geschichte mir aufgelauert, mich harmlos-scheinend geködert und dann wie einst überfallen, mitgerissen und völlig eingenommen… Michael Berg, beim ersten Zusammentreffen gerade einmal 15, begegnet zufällig Hanna Schmitz und wird fortan nie mehr wirklich frei von ihr sein.Schnell entwickelt sich zwischen beiden eine eigenartige Routine: Vor allem anderen…

The Push, by Ashley Audrain
Book Review / October 6, 2021

The Push by Ashley Audrain My rating: 5 of 5 stars Blythe, mother to Violet and Sam, comes from two generations of dysfunctional families: Blythe’s mother, Cecilia left her husband and her child when Blythe was eleven. Blythe only ever saw her mother twice later on and never in a positive way. Cecilia’s mother Etta (»born on the very same day World War II began«) – Blythe’s grandmother – suffered from a severe psychological disorder (possibly depression) that rendered her completely unable to care for herself and her family. In 1972, in her early thirties (roughly around the time Blythe must have been born), Etta took her own life. When Fox Connor met Blythe during their late teens he’s immediately “smitten” and doesn’t hide it. From the very beginning Fox knows he wants to start a family with Blythe because he »love[s] what a good mother [she]’ll be one day« whereas Blythe is sceptical about motherhood from the start. »She tried very hard to be the woman she was expected to be.A good wife. A good mother.Everything seemed like it would be just fine.«(About Etta, right after we get to know about Blythe’s feelings…) Nevertheless, Blythe and Fox marry each…

Tales from the Folly: A Rivers of London Short Story Collection, by by Ben Aaronovitch
Book Review / October 3, 2021

Tales from the Folly: A Rivers of London Short Story Collection by Ben Aaronovitch My rating: 5 of 5 stars I was actually wary of reading this – I don’t generally enjoy short stories and, even worse, the latest instalment in this series, False Value, was a severe disappointment. Thus, I was happy to find out that these short stories feature the same dry humour and sarcasm that made especially the first books such a joy to read. »I’ve actually done controlled laboratory experiments that indicate that he can detect magical activity up to ten metres away, although false positives can be generated by cats, other dogs and the remote possibility of a sausage.«(About Toby, the supernatural police Wonder Dog) The writing is Aaronovitch at his best; in my favourite story “A Dedicated Follower of Fashion” his fantasy literally overflows, blooms and flowers and simply explodes in the best of ways: »I, on the other hand, found myself increasingly drawn to the cellar door. Especially when it started to flower. It started with a spray of cotton around the door frame, overlapping triangular leaves of white and navy-blue cotton that stuck to the bricks of the wall as if they’d…