Waiting: Wismar, 1984
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This summer the Buckie and Cullen library reading groups in Aberdeenshire have been sampling short stories by Jenny Erpenbeck, the award-winning East Berlin-born writer whose novel Visitation was tried and tested by Scottish book groups earlier this year. Translated by Susan Bernofsky, The Old Child and Other Stories is the darkly enigmatic collection which first introduced English-speaking readers to one of Germany’s most original and brilliant young authors. Continue reading
The Fall of the Berlin Wall – November 1989
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This summer the Shore book group from Dunoon have spent the holiday season on an intercultural journey, but without leaving the comfort of their armchairs. With no need of airplane tickets, passports or hotels, the group have nonetheless explored new territory through their choice of two contemporary German books: the award-winning novel The Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck, and Jana Hensel’s poignant memoir After the Wall: confessions from an East German childhood and the life that came next. Continue reading
Pichincha volcano, Ecuador
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Giants of science
At first it might seem an odd premise for a novel – at the end of the 18th century two brilliant German scientists attempt, each in their own discipline, to measure the world. Both are leading lights of the Enlightenment: Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) was born into a Prussian aristocratic family and became the world’s foremost naturalist and geographer. Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777 – 1855), went from humbler origins to become the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day, and made major contributions to number theory, differential geometry and magnetism (The Guardian). The two men, now old, famous and decidedly eccentric, meet in Berlin in 1828, itself a time of great upheaval in after the fall of Napoleon. Continue reading
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From Scotland to Berlin – via Moskow
Last month the readers of the ‘Shore Connection’ in Macduff, Aberdeenshire, read Wladimir Kaminer’s Russian Disco, a collection of weird and wonderful vignettes based on the Russian émigré’s life in Berlin. Currently one of Germany’s most popular writers and a celebrity in his own right, Kaminer’s first book turned the author into an overnight sensation in his chosen home country. But would his laconic tales of émigré life in the German capital manage to capture the imaginations of its Scottish readers?
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An unusual ‘Scandinavian’ thriller
This month, Slockavullin Book Group in Argyll have been reading Silence, the prize-winning second novel by German crime writer Jan Costin Wagner. Silence is set in Finland (where the author and his wife, a native Finn, live for part of the year) and breaks the mould of the traditional crime novel by revealing the murderer’s identity at the very outset. What did the readers from Slockavullin, Argyll, make of this unusual psychological thriller? Continue reading
Old house in Brandenburg
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History reflected in a landscape
Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation is an ‘ambitious attempt to compress 20th-century trauma into a single address’ (The Guardian). A haunting novel with the quality of a prose poem, Visitation is innovative in having a place as its central character – a grand house and its grounds, by a lake in Brandenburg. Continue reading
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Following in the footsteps of Burton
In February the ‘Round the World’ book group from Edinburgh has followed in the footsteps of the renowned Victorian explorer Richard Francis Burton, the protagonist of Ilija Trojanow’s prize-winning novel ‘Collector of Worlds’. Continue reading
Lighthouse in Finnmark
Photo by Torbein Rønning. Some rights reserved.
Journey into the light
This month, two book groups from Cupar and Falkland in Fife read Unformed Landscape, the third work of acclaimed Swiss author Peter Stamm. The novel begins in a small village on a fjord in the Finnmark, on the northeastern coast of Norway, where the borders between Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia lie covered in snow and darkness.
A crime novel with a difference
Through the ‘Scotland reads Germany’ project Tarbert Book Club have sampled two books which, although very different in genre and style, are united by their strong evocation of place. Continue reading