All my Antics, Mostly Reviews

Tag: Germany

Who Let the Dogs out!

A Review of Wolfgang Schorlau & Claudio Caiolo’s Der Freie Hund

Again, this is a German book. And I don’t really know why I’m still doing these reviews of new German books in English, but apparently, this is what I’m doing now. As with my last review, I got this book as an advanced reader copy through vorablesen.de where you can find a short review of this book (German). This is a crime story coming out later this spring. Its authors are the quite prolific writer of political crime thrillers Wolfgang Schorlau and the relatively unknown Claudio Caiolo who seems to be an Italian actor, I’ve never heard about before. That, however, isn’t surprising because I’m not really knowledgeable in the world of the famous.

Now with the last book, there was in my opinion pretty solid hints that an English translation could at some point be available. For this book, however, I don’t think that is at all likely to happen. The primary author doesn’t even have a stump of a Wikipedia page in English, and as far as I can tell none of his books is available in English. So why am I writing this review in English? Well because I want to!

The Physical Book

This book as the last one was published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch as a paperback. This one a bit more sturdy, with thicker paper, and thicker cover, even with flaps folding out from the inside of the cover. God knows, what they are called. Maybe, one of you will enlighten me.

The cover is I think a pretty classic one for a crime story, a photo of Venice with a cruise ship beneath the dark looming clouds of a storm. Not un-striking, but also not particularly interesting in my opinion.

The Setting

Venice is a beautiful city. Perhaps, it is too beautiful for its own good. Considering the torrential outpours of tourists it receives every day. Capturing a city so fundamentally torn apart in a crime novel is definitely an interesting idea, even though a famous one. After all, that’s what Donna Leon has been doing in by now almost 30 instalments of her Guido Brunetti series, that has found a wide TV audience in Germany by way of our public broadcasting’s thirst for crime shows.

As a setting now for Schorlau and Caiolo’s novel, Venice takes an interesting role. Especially the tourism and the political, environmental and structural problems it poses are integral to the setup of the quite political plot. That aside, however, Venice also lacks descriptive depth for me. At no point did I really feel at home, felt included within the city of the novel. We did get a tour through the city by the way of a somewhat shoe-horned in love affair of our protagonist, being an architectural student. Even the auditory experiences our protagonist experiences on a short trip to Cefalù on Sicily, let me feel more at home there than in Venice. And while that discrepancy actually fits in quite well with the emotional connections the protagonist is experiencing, it left me a bit too distant from the main location this book takes place in.

The Plot

The plot of this book is relatively straightforward with a few twists that genuinely took me by surprise strewn in. At times, it gets quite violent, and the authors don’t shy away from describing splattering blood, death and crime scenes.

At the very least this plot manages to navigate within a very interesting field of topics between politics, corruption, and the Italian mafia. Repeatedly there are hints to past tragedy and a long history of the protagonist with the mafia, that work as an interesting subplot to the story of a murder. Little time is spent on forensics, more so on personal relations and a somewhat uncanny ability of our protagonist to unveil the lies of others.

The plot however definitely does take a while to pick up and really only captured me in the second third of this book. Especially the romantic encounters the protagonist Antonio Morello experiences took me out of it too much from time to time.

The Characters

As with the plot, there’s not really much I have to say about the characters. Our protagonist Antonio Morello is reasonably well fleshed out, some minor characters lack a bit of depth and motivation beyond that what would generally be expected in a whodunit.

Morello is an interesting character, between his relationship with the mafia in Sicily and his transfer to Venice, we learn a great deal about his history and the reason why he seems incredibly adept at picking up sensory clues beyond the visual. And while the trope of disability coming with extraordinary savant-style advantages is definitely tired, I don’t think this leans too heavily on the experience of Morello’s blindness in childhood.

As for representation, this book definitely venters around heterosexual men. There’s a gay character, but his homosexuality is framed more like an extension of his role as a villain than as something that adds anything to the plot. It’s not queer coding per se, just a weird addendum in an otherwise presumed to be a straight world of characters.

Especially in the way the authors describe women that only show up once or twice within the book, there’s an excellent example of what one could call the straight male gaze. Appearances are described with the underlying intent of explaining which woman seems worthy of sexual attraction. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not male and still attracted to women, but there’s a degree of objectification in describing the stockings of a maid, even if it furthers the characterisation of one of the police officers as a sexist, that gets resolved later.

The Writing

And this sexism is not at all a problem of plot and characters alone, it manifests within the writing or at least diminished my enjoyment of it. I just don’t really want to read objectifying descriptions of women. What I found interesting, however, was unique stress on experiences outside the visual. Descriptions of auditory and olfactory sensation were incredibly immersive to me and went beyond what the average crime novel offers in my experience.

Other than that the writing seemed acceptable to me even if I especially at the start before I got used to it, sometimes the abrupt switches between scenes and characters made me think I had jumped a page accidentally.

Summary

I don’t think I would really recommend this book. It was an okay read, thoroughly captivating at points, but also somewhat flawed in its writing and treatment of women and LGBTQ characters. It brings an interesting mix of ideas to the table, but that didn’t suffice to convince me to want more of this book or more of this as a series.

If you’re really into political thrillers and crime stories involving the political this book may be worth picking up, but I wouldn’t be too disappointed if this book never gets a release in English. I’m not sure if I’m interested in picking up more books from the same writer, but I also wouldn’t frown at getting one for my birthday.

My last book review was about Qube by Tom Hillenbrand. And my next book review is about the very short collection of Essays Gratitude by Oliver Sacks.
If you like to, I would really appreciate your support on ko-fi. A few bucks help a long way and if you want to you can find some of my art even some of the works I created for this book review on redbubble for sale as stickers and posters.

Flag of Germany

Speaking like a German Melancholist

Today we’re again diving deep into an entry to the 1956 Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne. Last time we talked about Fud Leclerc and his drowned men, today we’re talking about Walter Andreas Schwarz. This is the first German entry on our journey and I’m sure I’m biased in its favour just because I’m German too. Who even chose this title image? Blergh… I feel way too patriotic.

Before we talk about the song though, let’s first talk about the musician behind it: Walter Andreas Schwarz. Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück was Schwarz’s only big musical success, and even if it was good enough for participation in the final, it wasn’t enough for commercial success. His main line of work throughout his life remained voice acting. His passion definitely shows in his work as a singer and songwriter. His entry for the competition is mostly spoken and only interspersed with intermittent attempts at melodious singing. Schwarz died in 1992, and his sparse musical work remained deeply rooted in a tradition of straightforward storytelling, that to my ears is concurrent or even precedent to the tradition of German Liedermacher like Reinhard Mey et Altera.

Surprisingly, this song is rumoured to have been ranked second in the 1956 contest. Why I find that surprising? Because at least to my ears it doesn’t fit into the classic Chanson that is so defining for all other entries we’ve listened to so far. This is also a point where we could get into the controversies around the voting procedures in 1956, but I think, as it doesn’t actually matter to this song, I’m keeping that for a discussion of the actual winner, so stay tuned! Let’s better move on and discuss the song.

The song itself is around 4 minutes long and starts with flutes that would be worthy of any German feel-good television show intro from the 1960s and 70s, but the flutes get interrupted by a way less cheery accordion only seconds into the song, and with that, we’re into the lyrics.

The song title, that roughly translates to In the Waiting Room to Good Fortune, gives away the main point and image the song conveys. Everyone seems to be waiting and dreaming of their happiness, but in a way, this strikes the author as a Waiting for Godot. As Godot, luck will never appear (on its own). Positing that only those who seize the day will capture their luck while those, who wait for their dreams to happen, remain waiting forever, the writer strikes a chord of thinking that has been present in our cultural consciousness at least since Horace‘s famous aphorism carpe diem. Schwarz, however, moves further along this line of thinking, and his dreamers don’t even notice the luck they could attain. After all, they are waiting for their own special luck.

Und man baute am Kai der Vergangenheit
Einen Saal mit Blick auf das Meer
Und mit Wänden aus Träumen gegen die Wirklichkeit
Denn die liebte man nicht sehr
Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück
Da warten viele, viele Leute
Die warten seit gestern auf das Glück von morgen
Und leben mit Wünschen von übermorgen
Und vergessen, es ist ja noch heute
Ach, die armen, armen Leute

Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück, Walter Andreas Schwarz

And they built at the quay of the past / a hall with a view of the sea / and with walls made from dreams against reality / because they didn’t love [reality] much. / In the waiting room to good fortune / there were many, many people waiting / They waited for the good luck of tomorrow / and lived with the wishes of the day after tomorrow / and forget it is still today / Oh, the poor, poor people.

This song has gained a special place in my heart, not because its instrumentation would be amazing or the metaphor would be groundbreaking, but because its mood translates so well for me. I can feel the weird melancholy. I can feel myself live within my own dreams. I can feel both the pain of never seeing my dreams fulfilled, but I can also see the despair of me not moving forward through time and life, as if I had a third-person view of myself. I don’t agree with the song, that there is any magically glowing freight, that could bring light into my life. I don’t believe that there’s someone who could make my sunrise right now, but still, it feels weirdly descriptive of my life right now. And who knows? Maybe I can take this melancholic look into the world and make it my own, move on and take a step out of the waiting room.

But is it truly that easy? I might be getting too caught up in this fantasy … Where’s my cynicism? This song isn’t a straight forward carpe diem. There’s a problem. Sure you can say it’s just a beautiful image, but apparently, in the song’s world there’s an infinite amount of good to distribute, and people are at fault for not finding it when all they would have to do is to step out of their dreams, when in fact stepping out of your dreams can take some serious effort. Not everyone is in a place where they can afford to work for their own happiness, not everyone is in the right mental place to even step out and find their luck. I don’t feel ready to capture my luck. I know I should, but my brain is great at telling me what I should do and then being too fearful to do it. Reality can be scary. Dreams are an escape for those who fall out of our systems. And maybe there’s still a way to live your dream and not follow the idea of what a German voice actor would deem lucky or successful.

Well, we should probably not be too harsh on this song. After all, Germany after the war, was very much yearning for easy entertainment, light comedy and simple solutions. There had been enough pain and misery in the recent past, that at least some writers and many producers for television, radio and cinema, didn’t feel comfortable about hitting people over their head with deep and thoughtful works or about showing people the bleak reality. They felt people wanted to dream of a humble but gleeful future or past. And maybe, just maybe, this song is a subtle protest against this overly produced and glossy dream-scape.

I’m not as subtle. I’m, without a doubt, hitting you over the head with the weirdness that is early-day Eurovision. To make it easier for you to keep track of all the songs, I made a Spotify playlist of all the songs, we’ve talked about so far. Sometimes, there might be a sneak preview in there, but probably not regularly.

If you want to read the first entry, it’s about De Vogels Van Holland or if you want to get a full picture, feel free to check out the whole 1956 category. Or if you have enough of weird old songs, make sure to check out my latest fiction piece: On the Importance of Touching a Tree.

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