The mystery of the ‘Old Child’: Aberdeenshire reads Erpenbeck

A girl waits. Wismar, GDR, 1984

Waiting: Wismar, 1984

Photo by ulrichkarljoho. Some rights reserved.

Enigmatic stories

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

Life on the other side: a view from the Shore book group

Berliners climb over the Berlin Wall from East Berlin into the West

The Fall of the Berlin Wall – November 1989

Photo by gavinandrewstewart. Some rights reserved.

Crossing borders

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

‘Measuring the World’: West Lothian reads Kehlmann

The peak of Pichincha volcano in Ecuador

Pichincha volcano, Ecuador

Photo by amvurdilla. Some rights reserved.

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

A ‘Russian Disco’ in Aberdeenshire: Macduff reads Kaminer

Wall art in Berlin-Marzahn

Marzahn silhouette

Photo by Heinrich Gruen. Some rights reserved.

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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On ‘Silence’: the view from Slockavullin

An abandoned bicycle lies against a log in the depths of the forest

Photo by Matvey Andreyev. Some rights reserved.

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

Haunted by history: from Brandenburg to the Isle of Skye

An old, overgrown but picturesque house in Brandenburg with creepers on the walls

Old house in Brandenburg

Photo by flaneurin. Some rights reserved.

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

From the Arctic Circle to Fife: Auchtermuchty reads Peter Stamm

Lighthouse in Finnmark

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.

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