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Guilt About the Past
Guilt About the Past
von Bernhard Schlink
  Taschenbuch

5.0 von 5 Sternen "For my generation the past is still very present... ", 27. Mai 2010
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Guilt About the Past (Taschenbuch)
... states Bernhard Schlink, internationally known primarily for his novel Der Vorleser (Diogenes Taschenbuch, 22953)in the second of his six thought-provoking essays on "Guilt about the past". A highly respected jurist and law professor (emeritus) in Germany, he presents a number of philosophical arguments intended to advance the important debate on guilt about the past and its profound influence on all who follow, whether individuals, institutions or states and, whether directly associated with the perpetrators or the victims. Conscious of the criticism he received for his novel, his last essay, "Stories about the Past", touches on literature and other media. In the broader context he acknowledges that "his fiction and much of German literature has guilt about the past as a strong leitmotiv."

Throughout his essays, Schlink introduces a number of fundamental concepts that have characterized the debate about past guilt, especially since the end of the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Central for the first post-war generation and those since, are the concepts of 'collective guilt', 'mastering the past' (which is the author's translation for the German term "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" that has no equivalent term or phrase in English or in French), and 'reconciliation'. He explains these concepts in their context, aiming at a broad-based understanding of their application. For understandable reasons, his illustrations are taken from his own personal experience and professional background.

Starting out by setting the historical and legal frameworks, Schlink, in concise and accessible language, goes back to ancient Germanic law as well as other tribal legal systems. Then, the commonly applied understanding of "collective guilt" incorporated the two clans to which the individual perpetrator and the victim(s) belonged. The penalty or revenge for any injustice committed applied to the whole clan. It was the victim's clan that made the claim for atonement money. "This collective responsibility, liability, and atonement operated through all levels of society and affected adults as well as children". Children could be drowned with their guilty parents.

Over time, the concept of collective guilt and responsibility has faded and, by the time of the Enlightenment, had been replaced by the understanding of "subjective and individual guilt". Despite the individualization of crime and punishment Schlink posits that family or community remain closely associated with the perpetrator(s), unless they disassociate themselves from them and repudiate the criminal action. The author expands on the meaning of "solidarity of belonging" that affects the behaviour of the children and even the people in the same country of those guilty of the crimes. The concept of collective guilt is defined within this context and Germany after the Third Reich stands as a clear example for it. This analysis, he admits, has not necessarily been accepted readily by Germans of his generation. Nonetheless, especially Germans living outside their home country have been confronted with the notion of Germans' collective guilt for Nazi atrocities that their parents or grandparents may, or may not, have committed during that time. His arguments on the varied ways by which Germans have been implicated over several generations in the crimes of their parents are profound and convincing. They do not allow to take the easy route that many had preferred and embarked on following the collapse of the regime in 1945. We are, as Schlink contends "the generation [for whom] the past is still very present..."

Especially of importance to me, as a close contemporary of the author, is Schlink's analysis of the notion underlying the term "mastering the past" (Vergangenheitsbewältigung). Having grown up with this concept hanging over all of us, the more positive connotation of the English phrase was new and highly relevant to me. His contention implies an active process that has to be worked through, yet that, with effort, will end in a satisfactory conclusion, where the past has in fact been "mastered". Such a process will "bring the past into such a state of order that its remembrance no longer BURDENS [my emphasis] the present." While we as the descendants of the perpetrators have to come to terms with their guilt and our relationships to them, the descendants of the victims will have to go through a different, yet comparable, generational process. In this context, Schlink very persuasively argues the difference between remembering as opposed to forgetting or repressing. While he, understandably, relates his arguments to the Holocaust and the Third Reich, his positions are far reaching and much more widely applicable.

His central essay, "Forgiveness and Reconciliation", is for me the most critical as it addresses the future relationships between descendants of perpetrators and those of victims over the next generation(s). It deserves to be read and absorbed slowly and deeply. He discusses such issues as the transference of guilt to another generation, the "political ritual" that often accompanies forgiveness of actions in the past, committed by a previous generation, the need and potential for reconciliation, whether in the private or public spheres. "The perpetrator's children cannot ask for forgiveness [...] neither can the victim's children grant it. They are not each other's victim or perpetrators." However, he contends, they can reconcile. "Reconciliation means that further attempts to coexist should no longer fail on account of guilt and recrimination."

Based on a lecture series held at Oxford University in 2008, Schlink's six essays provide insights and arguments for an deeper assessment of own positions and behaviours when we ask ourselves how we and societies as a whole can learn from the events and mistakes of the past not to repeat them. He provides challenging ideas on how the past can be reflected in our thinking for better coexistence between individuals, communities and nations and, last not least, how this thinking can influence our literature and other fictional media. [Friederike Knabe]
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Every Lost Country
Every Lost Country
von Steven Heighton
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 16,99

5.0 von 5 Sternen Border Crossings, 27. Mai 2010
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Every Lost Country (Gebundene Ausgabe)
The 2006 Nangpa La shooting incident in one of the most spectacular mountain regions of the world - the High Himalayas between Nepal and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China - was the impetus for Steven Heighton's richly imagined multifaceted novel about personal dreams and failures, courage, endurance and love. Starting out from the factual episode in which a summit climbing team at the Nepali border observed and filmed a group of Tibetan pilgrims attempting to reach the nearest mountain pass into Nepal, pursued and shot at by Chinese soldiers, the author constructs an action-packed narrative, that is embedded in his first-hand knowledge of the region and the Tibetan culture, and enriched by his philosophical viewpoints.

Canadian author Steven Heighton, known for his much praised earlier novel Letzte Welten (rororo), is also an accomplished poet. His beautifully crafted evocative depiction of the regions landscapes, with its stark changes in climate and vistas during day and night time hours, and otherworldly sensations experienced by high altitude mountaineers, provide a strong integrating theme for the novel. The narrator, addressing at the beginning one of the protagonists, a first time climber, tries to find words that rise beyond description: " Air this thin turns anyone into a mystic. Dulling the mind, it dulls distinctions, slurs the border between abstractions - right or wrong - or apparent opposites - dead or alive, past or present [...] this mental twilight is a surprise as rewarding as the scenery."

Several parallel narrative streams, starting out as one, and continuing in two and three alternating strands, and seen from different protagonists' perspectives, eventually overlap and come together again in deeply moving ways. The climb of one of the unconquered Himalayan summits, named Kyatruk in the novel, inspires and challenges the team and, intimately, its leader Wade Lawson. He could not have assembled a more diverse, complex and strong set of individuals for his team, each with distinctive goals for their participation. The reader is completely transposed into the middle of the action. An essential member is Dr. Lewis Book, an experienced "humanitarian doctor". With many years living in and out of crisis zones, he is totally committed to always help the victims in complete disregard for his own safety. Completely in character, he rushes across the border into Tibet to assist those wounded by the shooting and is caught by the Chinese soldiers and marched off together with the captured Tibetan pilgrims and Amaris McRae, the team's Chinese-Canadian photographer who has filmed the attack.

Entirely believable and thoughtfully presented, the author delves into the hard realities of the Tibetan conflict between those who strive to maintain their traditional life and those who see progress in cooperating with the Chinese. Heighton effectively brings out the inner struggles that Lewis and Amaris experience when reassessing their personal convictions. Lewis, especially, is forced by circumstances to question his motives as a doctor and his moral integrity as a human being. Among the Tibetans caught up in the dramatic events of arrest, incarceration and flight, Buddhist nun Choden Lhamu stands out for her serene and wise guidance and counsel. Yet, even she is challenged and shaken in her deeply held beliefs.

"Air this thin turns anyone into a mystic" is taken up later again, only to lead into another major theme in the novel: "It looks, even now, like a sanctuary above all borders and distinctions... " Heighton reinforces his vision of a space beyond borders; it complements his sense of country, a place that is not restrictively delineated as a geographical place. Each protagonist has her or his own understanding, from the small or fractured family to the vastness of a region, from the nostalgia for a past of love to the urge to care for others in crises zones... Lewis, more than the others, ponders his need for home, torn as he is between his vocation as a "crisis doctor" and those he keeps leaving behind: " A family is its own small country and culture and he has been displaced from his [...] But each posting marked him until a part of him was indelibly soiled, a ghost that leaves bloody shoeprints everywhere he goes. Meanwhile his own world felt less and less like a refuge: an alien culture of complacency, ingratitude, the petulant expectation of ever-increasing comfort and plenty. [...] Now, it's only here among the doctorless that he still feels he matters, belongs." Lewis is further being challenged by his troubled daughter Sophana, who is accompanying this expedition. Her emotional growth during this journey's many ordeals is one of the many heartwarming aspects of the novel.

EVERY LOST COUNTRY can be read on different levels, each fascinating in itself, yet each is enriched by the other levels. It is as much a dramatic adventure story, and at times a page-turner, as it is a deeply reflective and lyrical exploration of human nature, our drive to reach our goals, whether they are fame and fortune, or moral integrity, altruism, or serenity and love for others. [Friederike Knabe]


Onitsha (KiWi)
Onitsha (KiWi)
von J. M. G. Le Clézio
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 8,95

4 von 4 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen "Now he knew that he was in the very heart of his dream... ",, 12. Januar 2009
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Onitsha (KiWi) (Taschenbuch)
Memoirs or fictional accounts of childhood experiences in Africa have become popular in recent years, in particular by Africans having escaped the horrors of war. They express a need to reconnect with their roots and their lasting influence on their lives. JMG Le Clézio's fictional treatment of his own formative time in Nigeria as a child has resulted in this powerful and alluring novel. Written in 1991 with the hindsight of historical events, most of the narrative is set against the harsh realities of colonial Nigeria in 1948/49 when revolts against the British had been increasing and, at least for one protagonist, the "end of the empire" was already in the cards. The story concludes twenty years later at the time of the brutal Biafra war, fought by the then independent Nigeria. In a lucid, yet often poetic language Le Clézio effortlessly blends an intimate portrait of his young hero, Fintan, his family and the personal challenges they confront with a sweeping impressionistic depiction of a real, yet also mystical place in its cultural and historical context.

During the month-long sea voyage from France to the remote Nigerian town of Onitsha, the twelve-year old Fintan experiences a rainbow of emotions: joyous anticipation as well as anxiety about their new home, homesickness and, above all, a sense of dread of the father he never knew. The intimate relationship to his mother, Maou, short for Marie-Luisa, may be under threat in the new circumstances. Maou, Italian-born and desperate to leave her difficult life of prejudice behind, dreams of an Africa that is wild, idyllic and beautiful. It will also finally reunite her with her beloved husband. The romantic Geoffroy, whose fascination with Africa goes way back, had been caught up in Africa during all of WWII, and had finally, in 1948, asked his family to join him.

Reality is usually very different from dreams and all three main characters have to go through crises, substantial change and learning before they can find themselves and, hopefully, each other. The author lets the reader follow the path that each takes in their unique ways. Fintan, an uncomplicated and receptive youth, has the easiest time in absorbing the new surroundings, literally throwing off his black shoes and wollen socks to follow his new friend Bony running barefoot through the long grass of the Savannah. The boy, son of a local fisherman, increasingly takes the role of Fintan's guide into the mysteries of the local culture and religion. For example, when Fintan, unthinkingly destroys termite mounds, Bony chides his friend for having attacked the gods of nature. There is playfulness in the way they explore hidden paths to the river and its islands. Mystery abounds not least in the persons of Sabine Rodes, the eccentric loner who seems to live in a different universe from the British community, his "adopted son" Okawho and, above all Oya. Young Oya, whose name means "river goddess" in the local language, appears from nowhere and seems to live outside real time or space. Not only Fintan is completely mesmerized by her eerie beauty and behaviour...

Events also force Maou to adjust her dreams to the realities she encounters. Onitsha is a busy, British-run, urban trading centre, disconnected from the traditional way of life of the ancient cultures and religions and the natural idyll she was seeking. Her open-mindedness and sense of fairness towards the African population quickly brings her into conflict with the colonial establishment. Through her, Le Clézio expresses his strongest critique of colonialism while at the same time imparting her increasing sense of comfort and appreciation of her African surroundings and newly won friends. Whereas Geoffroy has become a middling bureaucrat in a trading company, his obsession with Africa has not diminished. He is unfeeling and overly strict towards his son and apparently uncaring towards his wife. While he becomes increasingly remote from daily life, he is absorbed in his search for clues as to the locality along the Niger river of a lost Meroë empire, refuge for the descendants of the last empress after they had to abandon the ancient city of Meroë in Upper Egypt. Geoffroy's sections in the novel are set apart from the rest of the flow of the story. They combine his personal quest with glimpses into this history-rich and culturally diverse region marked by the mighty Niger, a trading route for thousands of years. Le Clézio's concluding chapter - reflecting on the twenty years since the journey started - is deeply moving and satisfying.

The author's own experience percolates through his narrative and imagery. His detailed descriptions, evoking the beauty of landscape and the creatures inhabiting it, demonstrate an intimate knowledge of these surroundings: the magnetism of the powerful and mystical river on the peoples who live along its banks; the impact of the change of seasons and the play of colours and sounds from the early mornings to the setting sun in the mist after the heavy rains. The intimate connectedness between daily life and the spiritual realm is particularly well and sensitively conveyed. [Friederike Knabe]


Der Tod in Rom. Roman.
Der Tod in Rom. Roman.
von Wolfgang Koeppen
  Broschiert
Preis: EUR 9,00

7 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A macabre dance, 20. Oktober 2008
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Der Tod in Rom. Roman. (Broschiert)
Death in Rome is a profound and thought-provoking novel written in the mid-fifties. While set against the backdrop of Rome, the main theme is a portrayal of the early after-war German society. It is a remarkable book for several reasons. When first published, it was either criticized or, more commonly, ignored only to be praised a few years later by some of Germany's great authors such as Grass and Boll. Death in Rome was the third book of a trilogy, written by Koeppen in quick succession at the time - all addressing aspects of the "new" Germany. It was followed by 40 years of literary silence, except for travel writings and a short autobiography of his youth. Nevertheless, he is now regarded as one of the best German literary authors and his work has experienced a revival since his death in 1996.

The members of one family meet, more or less by chance, in Rome. The protagonists each personify one aspect of German society: the military, the bureaucracy, religion and art. Koeppen weaves the complex story around an unrepentant former SS man, a then and now middle-level bureaucrat, a young priest and a young composer. The latter two being the sons of the older generation. Symbolism and mythology meet the reader everywhere. The links between Germany and Rome are multifaceted, reaching well back in time. The main characters' names were selected for their meanings: Judejahn for the SS man and Adolf for his priestly son. Siegfried, his young, gay composer cousin, explores experimental music that was forbidden during the Nazi period. He also befriends a conductor and his Jewish wife who had escaped the camps.

There are different levels of connections between the different characters as they move in and out of focus of the story line. One is reminded of a ballet or a complicated but well-structured dance where each participant performs his or her part without seeing the overall picture that unfolds for the reader. Rome in its decaying beauty is treated almost like one of the characters in this composition. Koeppen underlines the intricate choreography by leading from one element in the story to another, often interrupting in the middle of a sentence only to complete it in a different scenario. The language also moves from factual detailed descriptions of events to intimate reflections and analysis of characters. For example, Judejahn is not all that he appears and his contradictions are explored through flash-backs to his youth. His wife Eva would rather see him as a dead hero of the past than as a survivor who is at odds with the present. In many ways, Siegfried represents the centre of the narrative and his voice alternates with that of the author. Still, he is not without his own demons. Both he and Adolf attempt to distance themselves, physically and mentally, from their parents and what they represent. However, given their upbringing, can they really escape?

Death in Rome must have been an uncomfortable book for Koeppen's contemporaries who felt it easier to put the book aside than to confront the issues it exposed. Reading the novel today with the advantage of historical perspective, it has to be seen as one of the first successful efforts to critique German society as it emerged from the Nazi period. This novel is an engaging, if disturbing, read. I regret that I didn't know about this and the other books in the trilogy in my younger years. Still, Death in Rome is as powerful a book now as it was when it was first published and should be recommended to readers of all ages interested in recent European history. [Friederike Knabe]


Turkish Gambit (Erast Fandorin 3)
Turkish Gambit (Erast Fandorin 3)
von Boris Akunin
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 10,80

4.0 von 5 Sternen Who is tricking whom?,, 6. Juni 2008
"Gambit", literally "tricking somebody" is usually applied to military operations or chess strategies. In order to achieve the ultimate win some losses have to be accepted along the way. Both contexts fit here beautifully. Boris Akunin, Russian pen name of Georgian writer Grigory Chkhartisvili, has taken an actual episode from the 1877-78 war between the Russian and Ottoman empires to spin yet another successful yarn around young Erast Fandorin, secret agent in the Tsar's Special Division. The author fills a niche market in Russia, as he himself sees it, between the serious literature of the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and the usual light detective stories of today. For the international reader this new genre of Russian "espionage mystery" - the subtitle of the original - in a specific historical context is a fun read that at the same time provides some insights into the society of the day.

At the end of the previous, first novel in the series, Winter Queen, Erast Fandorin's world was shattered; the repercussions of the drama seem to have resulted in a change of character. Now, he tends to stutter and is introvert and reserved. Has he lost his detective's touch as well? En route to the Russian military command headquarters outside Plevna, in Bulgaria, where a secret mission has sent him, he literally stumbles across Varvara Andreevna Suvorova. A vivacious and "modern" young woman, she is intent on following her fiancé, a volunteer soldier and cryptographer stationed at the same camp. Varvara, Varya for short, takes over as the primary protagonist of the narrative and Akunin exquisitely develops her character and describes her increasingly important position among the expanding entourage of admiring men. One of these is Sobolev, the White General, for the Russian reader easily recognized as General Skobelev, the real-life hero of the battle for Plevna. For the Turkish side, Akunin also bases some of his characters on actual personalities in the conflict. Furthermore, he introduces an illustrious retinue of international journalists, who mingle with the senior military and are "embedded" at the front lines. Akunin's subtle sarcasm at their doings and mishaps shows through and gives the story a certain actuality to current issues surrounding media observing military conflicts. The drama builds when it becomes evident that a saboteur must be at work: Russian attack positions are pre-empted by Turkish troops. Can the culprit or culprits be apprehended before more lives are lost? Like at a treasure hunt, Akunin leads the protagonists and the reader on a few wild good chases. Will Erast Fandorin's ingenuity and sharp deductive talent, help or hinder the investigation?

Erast Fandorin has become a household name in Russia where millions of copies of each Akunin book are sold. The English speaking world is slowly catching on with now eight novels available in translation. This highly entertaining, this fast moving, action-packed and character-rich story, the second in the series, will delight any reader, beyond the already established Akunin fans. The author brings the intricate Russian historical events of the late 19th century to life with wit and a great sense of irony and humour. [Friederike Knabe]


Chess Story (New York Review Books Classics)
Chess Story (New York Review Books Classics)
von Stefan Zweig
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 9,75

1 von 1 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Salvation and Curse, 16. März 2008
"Chess Story" (Original "Schachnovelle", previously published in English as "The Royal Game"), was Stefan Zweig's final work prior to his tragic death. It is a poignant, finely tuned psychological drama that will long linger in the reader's mind.

Chess Story centres around two extraordinary chess players. One is the world champion, Mirko Czentovic, who travels across the world for tournaments. The other is the enigmatic Dr. B., who claims not to have seen a chessboard in more than twenty years. The two are opposites in terms of personality, background and in their paths bringing them to a chance meeting on an ocean liner en route from New York to Buenos Aires. The narrator, who exhibits traits of an aspiring psychologist "passionately interested in monomaniacs", finds his first subject in the twenty-one year old chess prodigy, who otherwise exhibits poor education, intellect, and crude social behaviour. To satisfy his curiosity he instigates a game of chess between Czentovic and a group of "amateur chess lovers". Dr. B. watching the game in passing, is suddenly drawn into it, advising the hapless amateurs so that they reach a draw. His manifest expertise at the game as well as his strange conduct intrigues the narrator as much as the reader.

Using language that is sparse yet precise in detail, the first-person observer, although commenting on the game, is more fascinated by his subjects' personality and psyche. The narrator's inquisitiveness, heightened by Dr. B.'s unusual behaviour, leads him to follow his subject as he hurriedly flees the game room. Out on deck, Dr. B. eventually shares his personal story and recounts the recent harrowing events that forced him abruptly into exile from his native Austria. The narrator becomes at the same time listener and astute analyst. Dr. B.'s account reveals why chess for him has been both a salvation and a danger to his survival: his "involvement" with chess had gone beyond what a person can endure without dangerous consequences for the rest of his life.

Zweig's ability to build emotional tension and drama while keeping his choice of words neutral and objective is superb. The fluidity of language is maintained in the English translation. The story's impact is deepened by Zweig giving the narrator the dual role of audience and commentator. The intensity of the author's fascination with diametrically opposed characters and the clash of cultures they represent is evident throughout the novel. Certain parallels between Dr. B. and Zweig himself come easily to mind. Chess Story conveys a premonition of events occurring in the author's own life. Zweig, a well known and widely read Austrian author of biographies, essays and fiction in the first half of the twentieth century, left behind a remarkable opus of work. He fled Austria in 1935 anticipating the political upheaval in his country resulting from the rise of Nazism in Germany. Shortly after completing the novella in 1942, written during the previous three years, the author and his wife committed suicide while in exile in Brazil. Even after more than sixty years Chess Story remains pertinent today, both in its historical context and its primary subject matter. Peter Gay's informative introduction adds to the understanding of the story's context. [Friederike Knabe]


Homecoming: A novel
Homecoming: A novel
von Bernhard Schlink
  Gebundene Ausgabe

5.0 von 5 Sternen "... because I wanted a new life . . ., 16. März 2008
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Homecoming: A novel (Gebundene Ausgabe)
but did not know what it should be like."

Most children growing up knowing little about an absent father will at some stage seek clues from the past in order to comprehend their own persona. The quest to fill gaps and to identify with their own behaviour may reveal unpleasant surprises. These can be especially disturbing for those growing up after a war during which their fathers may have condoned or even committed atrocities. In "Homecoming", Bernhard Schlink translates this complex theme into an engaging, multilayered tale, focusing on another sensitive topic of recent German history.

After "The Reader's"[1995] worldwide success, expectations for this follow-up novel have been predictably high. In the earlier book, the protagonist was presented as an accidental spectator and partaker in an older woman's exposure as a concentration camp guard. Here, Schlink couches the uncovering of an older generation's deceitful behaviour within a first-person's account of an active, at times obsessive, pursuit of a fictional character, its author, and indirectly of the protagonist's father. The author creates in Peter Debauer a modern-day Odysseus, who roams from place to place, unable to accept his life and "come home". Will he, eventually, find out what he was searching for - about the unknown figures and, especially, about himself?

Peter recalls his childhood memories fluctuating between those of his reserved and strict mother and of idyllic vacations at his grandparents' place in Switzerland. The mother avoided her son's questions about his father beyond the bare minimum: he had died during the war. His father's parents were not much better, and while sharing stories from their son's childhood, they omitted any reference to him beyond his student years. The lack of information had disturbed the boy, yet he had felt incapable of asking for more. On the other hand, he enjoyed his grandfather's tales of military campaigns and soldiers' homecoming stories. Schlink uses the grandfather's authority to raise contentious issues like honour and valour explained to the boy in the context of recent history. Accounts of German soldiers' tortuous travels in reaching home after escaping Russian POW camps were popular at the time and featured in the pulp fiction series that the grandparents published.

Despite prohibiting instructions, Peter secretly read parts of one such story on the galleys his grandparents had given him as scrap paper. Unfortunately, several chapters and the ending were missing. What had happened after the hero, Karl, reached home only to find his wife with young children and another man? Was it fiction or the author's personal experience? Coming across the fragment as an adult during a discontented period in his life, Peter's curiosity is reawakened to find the rest of the story and to trace its author. Coincidences facilitated his task as he put his mind to compiling the diverse pieces of evidence. Some clues challenged his up till then laissez-faire attitude to his emotional life, while others tested his political frame of reference. The more he found, the more he sensed some familiarity with the place to which Karl returned. Peter's new romantic interest, while adding new pieces to the puzzle, nonetheless also interfered with his pursuing the mystery.

In addition to applying Ulysses' Odyssey as a metaphor for Peter's quest, Schlink applies its structure to different levels of the narrative. As Peter's own life emulates the fictitious Odysseus, Peter's personal character adapts and changes as the situation or his obsession appear to require. Not surprisingly, given Schlink's own dedication to the profession and the specific topic he discusses, his protagonist joins the league of legal researchers. Schlink places Peter into historical contexts such as the fall of the Berlin Wall. In its aftermath archives were opened that brought much disturbing evidence to light. Mirroring the author's own experience, Berlin has a profound impact on Peter. It reveals another facet of his personality. Continuing his search there, he becomes aware of correlations between the composition of the fiction fragment and some academic legal texts, justifying fascistic ideology. This in turn leads him to new clues as to the author's identity. Drawing on several known contemporary cases of successful ideological turncoats, Schlink develops one such character into the primary counterpart to Peter. While he feels more repulsed by than attracted to this potential opponent, Peter devises a scheme to unmask him that takes him eventually to New York.

The author doesn't shy away from touching on some weighty topics that have been close to his jurist's heart for many years. He draws attention to some dubious legalistic philosophy and practice prevalent during the Third Reich and still persisting in some quarters, which, for example, argue for shifting guilt from the perpetrator to the victim, or from actor to commentator.

"Homecoming" is a complex and profound book and despite its fluid conversational style, should be read carefully with attention to the clues that, while appearing haphazard and scattered at first, combine into a meaningful whole. Peter Gebauer may not come across as a strong or likeable character, yet Schlink has succeeded in creating in him an excellent example of the type of person confronted with the challenges of his time. The topical political and philosophical controversies that are brought to light are well integrated into the narrative. They encourage pause for reflection without losing or sidelining the pre-eminent theme of the story. [Friederike Knabe]


Swarm: A Novel of the Deep
Swarm: A Novel of the Deep
von Frank Schtzing
  Taschenbuch

3 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Not for thrill alone, 26. Februar 2008
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Swarm: A Novel of the Deep (Taschenbuch)
It started when the whales, tourist attraction along the Canadian Pacific Coast, went missing. Leon Anawak, a scientist specializing in whale behaviour, is worried, and not only for the whale watchers on Vancouver Island. When the whales eventually arrive, their behaviour is nothing like the ordinary: they assault boats and people with inexplicable viciousness. More oceanic disasters come to light in countries across the globe: fishermen and boats disappear in Peru; masses of toxic jellyfish frighten people off Pacific beaches; lobsters explode, releasing an unknown substance that eventually seeps into a city's water supply. Off the Norwegian coast, ice worms eat into gas hydrates with such ferocity that dangerous methane levels are released into the atmosphere, destabilizing the coastal shelf.

These and other events, while seemingly unrelated, have scientists, industry and politicians increasingly worried. Their anxiety compounds when their deep-sea monitors show large areas of bioluminescent slime materializing suddenly from the deep, like blue clouds, flashing lights and changing shapes. Divers compare them to huge translucent jellyfish, then to shoals of microbes, attaching themselves to ships, fish and crustaceans, attacking everything in their path. Oceanographers and other experts from the affected coastlines, seeking their colleagues' advice, focus on analysing causes and connections... Are these shoals connected to the disasters? How can it be that usually harmless ocean inhabitants turn dangerous and violent? Frightening scenarios emerge that indicate major ecosystem shifts, with tsunamis occurring in the Atlantic and the Gulf stream slowing down dramatically. Norwegian marine biologist, Sigur Johanson, has a theory about an unknown intelligence deep in the ocean that might coordinate the attacks. When and how can he and his colleagues stop the threat to human life, if at all?

For most of us understanding of the oceans is superficial. Our knowledge of what lies below the scuba-diving depth is usually sketchy. The Swarm will change that for the interested reader. Many of the phenomena described in the book are realistic and the resulting fictional speculations based on extrapolation of solid science. For example, the ice worms are real, and while they do munch away at methane hydrates, they are harmless and only known in the Gulf of Mexico. The "ocean conveyer belt" ensuring the exchange of cold and warm water across the oceans is well discussed in today's media. The danger signs of it collapsing are recognized by marine and climate scientists alike. Our knowledge of microbes and bacteria and their ability to change animal behaviour is growing and their conduct a subject of much serious investigation, whether on land or in the ocean's depths.

The majority of the dozen or so protagonists are realistically developed as concerned and hard working scientists. The author regularly takes time out from the action, providing the reader with detailed portrayals of their life and work. Some chapters provide substantial research background. Readers looking for a constant thrill may find that the author at times goes too far into peripheral issues. For this reader, particularly moving has been Leon's story and his rediscovering of the wild Canadian North and its traditions. Several real-life scientists appear by their own name as characters, adding to the authenticity of the research introduced. Still, Schatzing's stereotyping in the portrayal of, in particular, US representatives of the political, military and intelligence community is a bit overdrawn. Their attempt to lead the international task force leads to some discomfort in the scientists and the reader. Good and evil forces are playing against each other whether human or not. The ending is somewhat of a disappointment, rushed and not convincingly developed in this reviewer's opinion.

Recognizing the influence of authors such as Michael Crichton and films like Contact and The Day After Tomorrow, Schatzing has taken the disaster thriller deep under water. However, with close to 900 pages The Swarm is a hefty book in more than physical weight. In a blend of detailed and often fast paced action in diverse locales, in-depth scientific exploration of realistic ocean-based environmental dangers and philosophical debates about human ethics and alien intelligence and consciousness, Schatzing has created an expansive story with a strong message: the oceans and its creatures are reacting to long-term human abuse and exploitation and are fighting back! Read the book for the issues as well as for the thrill. It is worth it. (4.5 stars) [Friederike Knabe]


Half of a Yellow Sun
Half of a Yellow Sun
von Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 9,99

8 von 8 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen History IS people, 25. Februar 2008
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Half of a Yellow Sun (Taschenbuch)
Most of us will have little knowledge of the Biafra war, except, possibly, for the media's haunting images of starving children. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brings her people's world to us in this beautifully crafted, deeply moving, novel. Set in Nigeria during the 1960s, the narrative alternates between the optimistic early years of the decade and the civil war period at the end of it. With her extraordinary storytelling skill, Adichie draws the reader into an absorbing account of fictionalized realities that is impossible to put down - or to forget after the last page is read. With this, her second novel, she confirms her international reputation, established first with Purple Hibiscus, as one of the leading new voices of African literature.

While the war for Biafra's independence, born out of highly complex Nigerian and international political circumstances, provides the essential context for the novel, Adichie's focus is on the personal and private, the struggle of the civilian Igbo population. Her depiction of the horrors of war, the starvation and destruction is realistic. Yet she does not allow these scenes to take over and succeeds in not overwhelming the reader with them. By concentrating on one family and its close circle of friends and neighbours, Adichie creates an intimate portrait of these people's lives during both these critical periods. She paints her characters and their ongoing interactions against the panoramic view of events and environments that influence their lives and challenges their peace and even their existence.

Central to her story are the twin sisters, Olanna and Kainene, from a wealthy middleclass Igbo family. The beautiful Olanna leaves Lagos for a university environment to be with her political firebrand lover, the math professor Odenigbo. Kainene, on the other hand, having inherited their father's talents, shines as a confident business woman. English researcher and writer, Richard, friend of Odenigbo, falls under her spell. Adichie explores the interactions sisterly intimacy and love as well as its serious tests with sensitivity and empathy for both. Through them and their surroundings she also touches on the social, political and religious tensions of the time.

The list of main characters wouldn't be complete without Ugwu. Brought into the Odenigbo household as a house boy, he matures from the naive village boy to become a well educated, articulate and caring member of the extended family. In fact, Ugwu acts as a sort of understudy to the narrator, adding a very distinctly personal flair to the description of events and bridging the reality of his own family's rural environment with that of the intellectually stimulating social gatherings at the professor's house.

During the war years, intimacies, friendships and loyalties are put to the test. Will they survive the dramatically changed circumstances that the group finds itself in? Some are evicted from their homes and have to join the endless stream of refugees to find shelter and food for survival. Others move into remote rural areas to escape the fighting. Olanna's efforts to maintain her dignity and to protect her small family come alive on the page. So does Kainene's work with her confidence that she can beat adversity and barriers in her efforts to maintain the supplies for a refugee camp. They don't lose hope or humanity. Odenigbo and Richard have their own demons to tackle. And Ugwu juggles his various roles while attempting to maintain something of a private life for himself.

Half of a Yellow Sun, also the symbol of the short-lived Biafran state, represents some of the best that storytelling has to offer. With strong imagery and beautiful language Adichie has created a masterwork. [Friederike Knabe]


Captivity
Captivity
von Debbie Lee Wesselmann
  Gebundene Ausgabe
Preis: EUR 22,19

2 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen "Only if we understand can we care..., 4. Februar 2008
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Captivity (Gebundene Ausgabe)
… Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved." (Jane Goodall)

Dana and Annie were childhood buddies. They shared their daily lives playing, teasing, learning to communicate and, for a while, growing up together. Zack, Dana's younger brother often participated in the games and, in some way, competed with Dana for Annie's attention. The development of the youngsters was part of a research project, studied and captured on film. One day, however, this playful life ended and Annie was taken away after seriously biting Dana's hand. The hand never fully recovered, nor did Dana or Zack - from the loss of Annie. Annie was a chimpanzee. From a brief note on an actual case, Debbie Lee Wessselmann has imagined the captivating and touching story of Dana Armstrong, a primatologist who maintained since childhood days her dedication, love actually, for chimpanzees.

Dana is the director of a sanctuary for chimps, rescued over the years from various science laboratories, and resettled here after the inhumane treatment of primates was abandoned following increasing public condemnation. In the protective reserve in South Carolina Armstrong, assisted by her number two - Mary - and students and interns, has created an environment for the animals that aims to be as close to their natural habitat as possible. They live in groups, each led by an alpha male, in large enclosures, where they can roam and interact as they would in Africa. New arrivals, often physically and psychologically scarred, are first kept apart and slowly familiarized with life among other chimps. Wesselmann skilfully depicts the important trust-building interaction between humans and animals. Dana's experience with and fond memories of Annie have influenced her scientific approach, emphasizing discrete observation with minimal human interference as soon as the chimps can fend for themselves. Yet, on an emotional level, this approach brings challenges for Dana. While using her unique familiarity and communication skills with the animals, she needs to encourage their independence from human "handlers". For these and other reasons, the sanctuary and Dana have enemies: animal rights activists, colleagues with competing approaches in the University to which the sanctuary is attached, and local people who have little knowledge of what is going on behind the high fences. One morning Dana finds the doors of the holding cages and the fences open, papers and files in her office in disarray and chimpanzees roaming in the woods and areas nearby... Capturing all the animals is only the first challenge. Finding the culprit, attempting to reassure her superiors, funders, activists, and to educate the general public is quite another. In the midst of this crisis, her brother reappears in her life and demands attention. The crises multiply ... requiring cool heads. Is Dana too emotionally involved to take the tough decisions that are expected from her?

Wesselmann's ability to create realistic and lively characters, demonstrated already in her earlier novel "Trutor & the Balloonist", gives this story depth and complexity. Numerous twists and turns keep the reader intrigued as the critical events unfold. The human interest story is enriched by the perceptive portrayal of the chimps, each memorable in his or her individuality. The team's and, in particular, Dana's non-verbal communication with them, is beautifully captured, illustrating the author's in-depth research into primate behaviour and human-animal interaction. Through the author's sensitive narrative, the reader is closely following the heroine's emotional turmoil as well as her efforts to maintain the calm needed as she interact with animals, colleagues, competitor's and a curious journalist. It is one of those books one doesn't want to end when it does. This reader, for one, hopes that the protagonist, and the author, have their wish fulfilled and visit chimpanzees in their natural African habitat. [Friederike Knabe]


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