Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I've Finally Started To Read Sigried Lenz' Deutschstunde --

-- and it's a tremendous disappointment. I'm not at all sure I'll finish it. As I mentioned in my previous post, I've had this copy of Deutschstunde for 20 or 25 years and never read past the the first page and the description inside the front cover. Well, a couple of days ago I finally got past the first page, I'm 16 pages in (pages 7-22 in the 1973 dtv edition), and Joswig the guard is insulted by the boys' bad behavior, and Dr Korbjuhn is hundreds of years old, and Siggi's father, who is about to deliver the official notice to the painter Nansen that he is forbidden to paint, is obsessed with duty, and the reform school is always swarming with psychologists pathologically interested in boys who are difficult to educate, and the entire region, in the delta of the Elbe River flowing into the North Sea near Hamburg, is very windy, and did that take me 16 friggin pages? No. And although Lenz, if he were here, might think I've left out some significant details, I disagree.

And I'm only disappointed because I finally read the entire first page. That was what first raised some hope that I might enjoy this book. But, in my opinion, if you've read the first page, you've already read the first 16. Which sort of makes me think that, in a way, if you've read the description inside the front cover, about a half of a page, you've read, in a way, the entire book. Some descriptions of the plot of the entire book here and there on the Internet make me think I'm pretty much right. It's disappointing, because I always want to discover that writers are wonderful and not pedestrian and overrated.

The discussion of Celestino Piatti and dtv which led to my previous post led not only to my finding my copy of Deutschstunde, but also to looking at the covers of some of my copies of books by Heinrich Boell. Maybe I'll re-read Boell's Ende einer Dienstfahrt and some other of his books, see whether I like them better than when I read them for a class in grad school in 1991. I've always wondered whether I would have liked them better if I had read them slower. These days I don't know what to make of Boell. I went through a phase of being a Boell fan back when my German was still so undeveloped that my opinion of German prose didn't mean much yet. Then after a few years of that, and reading Doeblin, Goethe and Doeblin, Boell was sort of embarrassing. I read a description of Boell once by Marcel Reich-Ranicki, who said he was sometimes brilliant and sometimes embarrassingly bad. you never knew from one page to the next.

Which is a lot like Norman Mailer. But I should say: that's a lot like my opinion of Norman Mailer. And the thing is, with my German reading skills somewhat more developed these days -- more developed than during my Boell phase, and also more developed than when I became embarrassed by him, a few years after I was done with grad school -- I'm curious about what my opinion of Boell would be now. I don't just want to rely on Marcel's opinion, which, frankly, as my German has gotten better, has itself become somewhat embarrassing. (Anybody understand why he turned on Grass like that?) Speaking of people's opinions of authors: Boell did, after all, win the Nobel Prize. They rarely get it wrong when they award the Literature Prize to a non-Scandanavian.

I see the new dtv edition of Ende einer Dienstfahrt, as I suspected, no longer has Celestino Piatti's striking cover:


Which is a shame. But my copy does.

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