Books

Bookthoughts: Die Entdeckung der Currywurst – Uwe Timm

Okay, it’s been A WHILE, and I’ve read SEVERAL BOOKS, but now it’s time to try to catch up. I was focused on writing at the end of last year, and this year I’ve been trying to submit things because I’m a glutton for rejection and disappointment, and that’s all been compounded by a rough January.

And now I come back to find that WordPress is totally different.

Whatever. On to the book. This is the first book I finished in 2019 – I’m going to catch up here and then go back to 2018, I think. It was given to us when we came to Germany, and until now has been a reminder of my less-than-great German. But I’ve been working on my German, and I finally decided it was time.

Warning, this won’t be a particularly long or insightful post, because the book is short and not in my native language, but let’s get stuck in.

The title of the novella translates to “The Discovery of Currywurst”, referring to the popular German street food of sausage in spicy ketchup-based sauce. There are tons of apocryphal origin stories for currywurst, and this one is decidedly fictional. The narrator is visiting the elderly Lena Brücker, self-styled creator of currywurst, in her nursing home to find out the story. She says quite early on that it was an accident, and if you’re wondering if one day curry powder accidentally falls into ketchup in a happy disaster, then, you know, congratulations, but that’s also not really the story.

Die Entdeckung der Currywurst spends a lot of time flashing back to the last days of World War 2, when the rusted out flasks and old bullet casings the narrator went hunting for as a child were still shiny and in use. During an air raid, young (or not that young) Lena meets a soldier briefly stationed in Hamburg, they end up at her flat, and she inadvertently finds herself hiding him as he inadvertently deserts.

It’s not a story filled with drama and action. It’s quiet and tense, evoking a small community under the immense pressure of a losing war, the shortages from that war, and the psychological control of the Nazis policing everyone’s behaviour so well that people police themselves effectively instead. It drifts from past to present, narration to dialogue with little fanfare. It’s slow and strangely immersive, all these mundane daily details beautifully invoked – and of course living in a world where you have to make coffee from acorns and trade potatoes off the back of a wagon for a flask of petrol isn’t mundane to me.

The love story at its heart is doomed, we know that. But for a while it’s in perfect balance. Right up until the war ends, and Lena doesn’t tell Bremer. Right up until Lena asks if Bremer’s married, and he says he isn’t. But for that short time…

My German is still not perfect – I had to look up a lot of the military words during the war – but even I could appreciate the way Lena’s voice was written, the way it shone through the text. It slowed my reading into her rhythms and made it feel like I was really being told a story. And not just a story about the creation of currywurst, but about luck and connection and what people need, about finding the means of survival and realising that they were inside you all along.

Thoughts: Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, by Shiri Eisner

This was recommended to me by a friend, possibly on CSD (though I could easily be remembering wrong). I was a little bit intimidated and a little bit excited, as I hadn’t given myself over to reading much LGBT theory for a long time, since I slunk out of the Shakesville blog, with the exception of some of Julia Serano‘s excellent work. And besides  these great blog posts, I’d never read anything really exploring bisexuality. (It turns out that Serano’s post links a post by Shiri Eisner, actually, which is an excerpt from the book I’m talking about here.) If you too haven’t read much dedicated to bisexuality, then this is a pretty good place to start.

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Thoughts: Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

At first I was putting this off because I wanted to let the story sit for a while, and then I found myself putting it off because I didn’t want it to be over. How can it be over?! I know that Cixin Liu has given me more than I deserved. He gave me a whole extra book after the perfect ending of The Dark Forest! He took me to a time before The Three-Body Problem and then all the way to the end of the universe! He even gave me a sort of wink at the end to reassure me that my secret opinions about the choices of the characters were all correct.

Spoilers everywhere, as this is the last book in a trilogy!

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Thoughts: East Lynne, by Mrs Henry (Ellen) Wood

So a few years ago I read Lady Florence Bell’s At The Works, a study on Middlesbrough life in the 1800s, because it’s local to me and no one ever talks about places local to me unless they’re blaming us for Brexit (which, by the way, is very misleading and pack that in, please). One question on the surveys of the Boro steelworking families was about their reading material, and a large proportion of them were enjoying Mrs Henry Wood*’s East Lynne, so out of a weird desire for connection with the past, I stuck it on the list.

And what a roller coaster it has been.

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Thoughts: La Nuit, by Elie Wiesel, translated by Marion Wiesel

(It was really difficult to find Marion Wiesel’s name as the translator of this edition – Elie Wiesel mentions in his note on the text that his wife translated it but her name seems to be nowhere in the Kindle edition. Publishers: name translators.)

Holocaust memoirs are a genre of writing that I never thought I’d ever be familiar with, so this is a very strange place for me to be in. I say familiar, but it never really becomes familiar in some ways. There’s always something new, everyone’s lives are different. Everyone’s lives were different, whether they got to share their stories or not. I read this one in French because I need to keep my hand in, and because the French version was published before the English, which was a good enough arbitrary reason for me to read it instead (the original was in Hebrew).

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Thoughts: The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma

From dense and serious to pure indulgence. Nova Ren Suma is quickly becoming one of my favourite weird authors. Her Imaginary Girls was unlike any YA spec fic I’d ever read, so everything else she’d ever written went on my list as soon as I was done (unfortunately, not enough to satisfy my endless appetite for weird. Why are the best ones never prolific? Kit Whitfield, another writer of totally off-the-wall premises, is the same). I had a lot of difficulty finding Imaginary Girls and was pleased to find that The Walls Around Us is just on Kindle. Hint hint. Nova Ren Suma is ridiculously underrated.

Spoilers ahoy.

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Thoughts: Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

This is another book recommended by a friend, and I admit I was a bit wary about it at first, mostly because I read Freakonomics in the recent past and something about its overly friendly hip nerdness had… not exactly rubbed me up the wrong way, but made me suspicious, perhaps? I have of course read other non-fiction books on brains and intelligence of a different kind (notably The Mismeasure of Man and Intelligence: All That Matters) but for some reason I got a Freakonomics type vibe from Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Which is all moot because I was totally on the wrong track.

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Thoughts: The Dark Forest, by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen

This is the second book in Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. I enjoyed The Three-Body Problem, that weird grim sci fi tangled up with China’s Cultural Revolution, but I loved The Dark Forest.

More spoilers! Be warned!

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Thoughts: The Inheritors, by William Golding

I feel like I should have a lot to say about this one, but I don’t think I do, and I’m disappointed with myself. I should have clever things to say – it was a clever book, but what can I say more than I enjoyed it?

When you hear the name of William Golding, you think of savage schoolboys, but he had a few other tricks up his sleeve, apparently. The Inheritors is about the end of the neanderthals* and the beginning of the age of humanity. Basically, the ultimate historical fiction.

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Thoughts: Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer

I go through phases of being a Goodreads stalker, seeing what my friends are reading, what their new friends are reading even, seeing what they thought of the books they’ve read (I don’t give my own ratings but naturally am perfectly happy to peruse other people’s) and how many books we have in common in our reading pasts and futures. So I’d seen Annihilation around before it was suggested for Casual Brunching Book Club (name not final) and I was glad to have an excuse to read it. It was generally well received and though I’d read the blurb I didn’t really have any idea what would happen, which is as it should be for a book like this. Which is also my way of saying this review will be full of spoilers so look away now.

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