"The Rhine" by Hans Jürgen Balmes
"Anyone interested in exploring the great rivers of this earth would do well to climb aboard Balmes’ Rhine ferry, stand by the railing and watch the drama of the rushing waters unfold – from prehistoric banks buried under fossilized wilderness to the parasol-flecked promenades of our day. Any questions? Ferryman Balmes knows the answer to almost any query his passengers may have."
"Revisiting a Tragedy" by Gert Loschütz
Two days before Christmas Eve, minus twelve, 00:53. The town and the villages deep asleep. No moon, no stars, overcast sky, a dusting of snow.
Then the harsh, metallic impact of iron on iron, the screech of carriages ploughing into one another, the crunch of concertinaing sheet metal, a cracking and smashing of splintering wood. All at once, with such violence that it can be heard ten kilometres away, in the town, in the surrounding villages, outlying estates and farms. Sleeping people start from sleep. Then silence once more. Even deeper silence.
The 21st of December 1939 is a Thursday. From the early hours the Postdamer Bahnhof in Berlin is filled with a crush of people and remains so long after dark. German troops invaded Poland on 1 September, the country is at war, which means that any trains not needed to keep the system running have been requisitioned by the military. Wheels must roll for victory, and now there aren’t enough of them. The special trains that used to be pressed into service in the weeks around Christmas are no longer available, and yet there are more people on the move now than in peacetime. And so it is no wonder that there are regular delays, especially as the timetables have been slashed.
Late that evening, two trains leave the station – the D10 express to Cologne and the D180 express to Neunkirchen – and they do so half an hour apart. The D10 departs on time at 23:15, and the D180 also leaves on time at 23:45. But neither will ever reach its destination, because sixty-eight minutes later, in the first hour of the morning of 22 December 1939 – at exactly 0:53 – 90 kilometres further west, at Genthin station, the worst disaster ever to hit the German railways occurs and yet, at least for a while, it was practically expunged from the collective memory.
The D180 crashes into the D10 at full speed. One hundred and ninety-six people die at the scene or in the days that follow, and hundreds are injured.
"Two Tracks" by Iliya Troyanov
A whistleblower named Iliya Troyanov receives two sets of leaked documents in quick succession: one from the FBI, the other from the Russian intelligence services.
How is he to know if they're genuine or if he's being led up the garden path?
He and the colleague he calls Boris set out in the greatest secrecy to collate the trail of clues linking the U.S. president "Leaning Tower" and Russian president "Michael Ivanovich" in a tangled web of business interests, fake loans, mafia interests and murders.
"The Palace of the Wretched" by Abbas Khider
This is the story of a boy from the slums of Baghdad – up to the moment when his life falls apart forever. A personal, vivid novel filled with unforgettable characters. Both existential and immediate, as only Abbas Khider is able to spin a yarn.
Shams Hussein is an ordinary boy with ordinary dreams. Hoping for a more peaceful life, his parents move with him and his sister from the south of the country to Baghdad. Soon they are living in the “Tin Quarter” next to a huge garbage mountain. These are the years of the economic embargo against the country under Saddam Hussein. The quest for a better future quickly turns into a life of existential struggle. Shams has no time to grow up: he works as a plastic-bag seller at the bazaar, as a bus driver’s assistant, as a carrier. And he loves books. But at a time when one wrong word can mean death, he enters a world whose dangers he does not see coming.
"Advanced Studies in Animals" by Eva Menasse
A sample I did a while ago of a wonderful book, winner of the 2017 Austrian Book Prize, which I'll be translating for Seagull in 2022...
"A Precocious Love of Animals" by Katja Lange-Müller
Katja Lange-Müller, born in East Berlin in 1951, has won many prizes for her novels and short story collections. As one of the most idiosyncratic authors currently writing in German, it is relatively difficult to classify her books, although her choice of subjects and characters can often be traced back to autobiographical elements such as growing up in East Germany as the daughter of a leading SED politician and working as a typesetter and a psychiatric nurse.
"Verfrühte Tierliebe" ("A Precocious Love of Animals") is Katja Lange-Müller’s third book – and it’s a very strange beast indeed, brilliant and captivating from the outset. For proof, read these first pages about a ‘guide rat’, the moment I fell in love with her writing.
The book is divided into two sections, the first entitled ‘Beetles’, the second ‘Servus’. Both are written in the first person, but whereas the first talks of rebellion by a schoolgirl obsessed with insects who is disciplined for challenging the strictures of the East German education system (Lange-Müller was herself expelled from school for ‘antisocial behaviour’ at the age of sixteen), the second is a tale of submission, of violence feared but ultimately withheld.
Seagull will be publishing my translations of Lange-Müller's books over the coming years, starting with "Drehtür" ("Revolving Door"), which was longlisted for the 2016 German Book Prize.
"Summer by Night" by Jan Costin Wagner
Galiani Berlin 2020
"Fräulein Stark" by Thomas Hürlimann
S. Fischer Verlag Frankfurt