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Graham Swift: Ein Festtag

Jane Fairchild ist Waise und kam mit 14 Jahren als Dienstmädchen in ihren ersten Haushalt. 1917 wechselten sie zu dem Ehepaar Niven, die  im Ersten Weltkrieg zwei Söhne verloren haben. Zwar wollten sie ein junges Dienstmädchen, weil sie sich in den schwierigen Jahren nur eine billige Kraft leisten konnten, als sie aber entdecken, dass Jane besser lesen und schreiben kann als die meisten ihres Standes, nehmen sie sich ihrer Bediensteten mehr an als üblich. Gerührt von der Wissbegierde des Dienstmädchens erlaubt ihr Mr Niven, sich Bücher aus der Bibliothek auszuleihen. Und er wundert sich, dass Jane an manchen Tagen einfach verschwunden ist oder sie länger als gedacht braucht, um Besorgungen zu machen. Denn Jane hat ein Verhältnis mit Paul Sheringham. Dass seine standesgemäße Heirat stattfinden wird, steht für Jane nie in Frage. Und so genießt sie das Privileg, sich an diesem „Festtag“, dem Muttertag (der dem Buch im Original seinen Namen gibt) nackt durch das große Haus zu gehen. Dass sich ihr Leben verändern wird, weiß Jane, aber nicht auf welche Weise.

Untergegangene Welt

Graham Swift entführt den Leser in eine Welt, die mit dem Ende des Ersten Weltkriegs unterging. Die Welt einer Gesellschaftsordnung, in der jeder wusste, welchen Platz er innerhalb seines Standes innehatte, eine Welt, die in dieser Geschichte mindestens genauso  britisch ist wie die Fernsehserie „Downtown Abbey“ des Senders ITV. Ein Vergleich, der sich mir auch deshalb aufgedrängt hat, als ich die ersten Seiten gelesen habe, weil die Figuren so lebendig und perfekt in ihre detailreich geschilderte Umgebung passen, dass man sich fühlt, als komme man als Leser gerade dazu. Wie schon der Band  „England und andere Stories“ , der in gleicher hochwertiger Ausstattung und sorgfältiger Übersetzung vorliegt hat auch „Ein Festtag“ nur den Makel, den nämlich, dass die Geschichte viel zu kurz ist.

Foto: Petra Breunig

Foto: Petra Breunig

Graham Swift: Ein Festtag, dtv, 18 Euro.
Das Buch wurde mir freundlicherweise vom dtv zur Verfügung gestellt

David Lagercrantz: Fall of Man in Wilmslow 

It is a novel. A fiction, not a documentary about the life of Alan Turing. This is important because people tend to take every word for granted, weighing it carefully, comparing it to proved facts about the man who helped to break Nazi Germany’s Enigma code.

David Lagercrantz takes those facts and some more (Alan’s homosexuality, his somehow awkward behaviour, his genius) and unfolds his story from the very last day of Alan’s life and the moment his corpse is discovered by a local policeman. This man, Detective Constable Leonard Corell, takes a very special interest in this case that seems to be nothing more than suicide. Step by step he dives deeper into the life and thinking of Alan Turing – a journey which doesn’t leave his own life untouched.

„(I)f indeed anyone was an unbreakable code then it was Alan himself.“

„The Fall of the Man in Wilmslow“ is a thrilling story that hooks you from the very first page. If (and this is an if I only can claim for myself) you already know something about Alan Turing’s life and impact. Then you find hints you have read elsewhere, imagine pictures, films or documentaries you have seen or listen to and you will be able to find your pace between fact and fiction this novel is constantly mixing up. If you haven’t stumbled upon Alan Turing at all, you probably will be lost in between the complexity of the story that hops from the past to the present and back again, changes perspectives and comes  up with names and places you might find confusing because you have never heard of them. If you still want to find out more about Alan Turing, start with a biography (or click on the link given below).

FallOfMan

David Lagercrantz: Fall of the Man in Wilmslow. The death and life of Alan Turing. A Novel, MacLehose Press, about 9£.

You find more about Alan Turing here on my blog.

JG Ballard: High-Rise

It took me a while to figure out what other book JG Ballard’s „High-Rise“ reminds me of. In my defence I have to write that it has been ages since I’ve read „Lord of the Flies“ by  William Golding, another novel about how people react under special circumstances. Whereas Golding sets his figures on an uninhabited island, Ballard unfolds his story in a huge skyscraper, the High-Rise, a building that offers literally everything the inhabitants need from a supermarket and a school to restaurant and swimming-pools. No wonder the flat owners – as the story unfolds – are gradually losing interest in the surrounding world and stick inside the building.

„With its forty floors and thousand apartments, its supermarket and swimming-pools, bank and junior school (…) the high-rise offered more than enough opportunities for violence and confrontation.“

All the way back to the primitive ways of existence

Robert Laing, a doctor and medical school teacher who moved into his flat on the 25th floor after his divorce, soon finds himself too lazy to go to work and spends his nights protecting himself and some neighbours from other inhabitants. Gradually living in an exclusive flat means getting back to the most primitive ways of existence: staying alive, getting something to eat, having a safe place to sleep.

„The building was a monument to good taste.“

The intensity in JG Ballard’s „High-Rise“ comes from a language that is almost neutral and a complete contrast to the story itself, that is told like a non-fictional topic with a storyteller who seems only to describe what he sees or what he has been told. That’s why this novel is so brilliant and thrilling at the same time.

 

JG Ballard: High-Rise, Fourth Estate, about 7 £

In the movie adaption of  „High-Rise“ Tom Hiddleston takes the role of Robert Laing.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Ian McEwan: The Child in Time

Time. You will need time. Because when you start Ian McEwan’s „The Child in Time“ it will hook you from the very beginning and will only release you to your real life after you have read the very last word.  At least that happened to me – and to be honest it always happens when I start a work of Ian McEwan I happily discover book by book both in English and in German (thanks to Diogenes who offers both brilliant translations and wonderful made copies).

In „The Child in Time“ Ian McEwan tells the story of Stephen, author of children’s book,  member of a committee dealing with children’s education, happily married to Julie and father of three-year-old Kate. The perfect life is turned upside down when Kate vanishes in a supermarket literally in bright daylight and under the caring eyes of her father. Realising that the worst nightmare of parents has come true, Stephen’s existence is lost somewhere in between memories of his parents and childhood, his every day life duties and the desperate search for his daughter. It is only after a while and the separation from his wife, he learns that he has to struggle with time itself.

„It’s got something to do with time obviously, with seeing something out of time.“

Hopping between different plots and different  flashbacks could be confusing and boring for the reader who could be in danger to lose the plot if the author is unable to control all the lines. But it could be thrilling and exciting when it is done by a brilliant author that is Ian McEwan. He, being an amazing story teller, describes every single detail to create a world that seems both very familiar and very strange as things are unfolding for the thrilled and hooked reader. The only problem is that even brilliant books have an ending.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Ian McEwan: The Child in Time, Vintage Books, £8,99.

You can find my latest blog entry on IanMcEwan here.

James Rhodes „Der Klang der Wut“ – A story like a fairy tale

The truth one might think is something you can’t suppress. But it looked highly unlikely that the book „Instrumental“ („The sound of rage“ is it in German – my note) would never make it onto the shelves of the book stores. Not until the British Supreme Court allowed the publication of the book saying that the author is allowed to tell his story. The judges rejected Rhodes‘ ex-wife try to prevent not only the publication of the book . She tried to prevent Rhodes from talking about his past publicly.

A different kind of pianist

The author is James Rhodes, a pianist who is exactly the opposite you expect a concert pianist to be. He appears on stage in Jeans, tee and trainers, seems to be hyperactive and calm, witty and serious and has no problem at all to get rid of his black, long sleeve tee with „Bach“ written in capital letters on the front (“Sorry, I’m warm, have to get out of that shirt. Be envious, I was at the fitness centre.”). And creating worlds out of music on a very impressive huge and polished Steinway piano, fascinating his audience in London’s Barbican centre last autumn. And then this small, fragile 40 year old British guy who takes off his nerdy glasses when playing thousands of notes out of memory, seems like he has been happily playing this wonderful music, just himself and his piano, for all his life.

But what he is writing in his book – that is now available in German – hasn’t anything to do with classical music, at least not for a start. Without whitewashing anything, Rhodes writes how he was abused by his boxing teacher over the range of five years. Yes, he doesn’t describe all the most devastating details but even without them, the book is shocking, stirring, disturbing and moving. That is because Rhodes writes the same way he communicates on Twitter with his followers or describes his audience why he is playing the piece of music he is playing, what it means to him – and he tells something about the life of the composer.

 „I started writing at 3.47 am. Something is wrong with me.“
(My translation)

Of course „Instrumental“ is about classical music, pieces of great composers, even outsiders know their names, even if that sort of music isn’t their cup of tea. This music is more than just a way to earn money. It has saved his life because, Rhodes writes, music comforts him „when there is desperation, music gives pure energy in a very high doses when one feels empty, broken and exhausted.“ (My translation). Music that a friend smuggled inside his mental hospital on an iPod where Rhodes tried to commit suicide several times after his marriage broke up and he stopped working in the City.
The fact that he now is married happily to his second wife, writes for British papers, had a show about music on British telly and has his own label – thanks to his manager he met in a café – reads like a fairy tale. Of course the book „Instrumental“ isn’t a fairy tale at all even if the story could have come out of the mind of a screenwriter. But he would lack that direct, puzzling tone which comes with the swearing of the original in the German version where the reader is addressed as „Sie“ (the polite way to talk to strangers – my note) – and which sounds a bit rough from time to time. The joy of reading is completed by a Spotify playlist of all of the pieces introducing every chapter.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Book & music
James Rhodes: Der Klang der Wut, Nagel & Klimche, 22,90 Euro.  [You can find my review of „Instrumental“ here]
James Rhodes offers some of his pieces for free on https://sound-
cloud.com/jrhodespianist
His latest album is „Inside Tracks”.

[The German version of this article was first published in Fränkischer Tag, 10th February 2016 and online  (paid).  This blog entry is my translation and has a few notes to explain specific German expressions]

Shakespeare in the World

William Shakespeare is one of the best known author of plays. And even if one hasn’t read or seen any of them at all, some sentences seem to be familiar, written forever in the memory of mankind. But little is known about the man who was born in Stratford, went to London to write and perform his genius plays, retired to Stratford where he died. We can only imagine that he hat books important for his work, that he had friends to chat with and that he had some belongings dear to his heart. What remained of his life are property transactions, a marriage license bond or christening records.

Stephen Greenblatt gets behind these documents and brings the human being behind the genius  that was William Shakespeare to life. Though Shakespeare imagined worlds while creating his plays, he always was very aware of the real world: „Shakespeare understood his world in the way that we understand our world – his experiences, like ours, were mediated by whatever stories and images were available to him“, Greenblatt writes. Stories he may have read or heard while sitting in a pub, listening and watching the people around him, stories he needed for his plays, hints that are visible in his work as Greenblatt explains his reader.

„How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
seem to me all the uses of the world!“ Hamlet, I,2.

But, according to Greenblatt, we find more of Shakespeare’s own feelings and his grief about the death of his boy, the 11 year old Hamnet. Although  it took him a few years (maybe he had to recover from the loss of his boy), Shakespeare managed to „respond with the deepest expression of his being“ and gifted the world with „Hamlet“ – playing the ghost himself.

„Will in the World“ is an entertaining read filled with countless references to Shakespeare’s work but without any educative tone. Those who want to read more get pages of bibliographical notes for further studies.

 

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Stephen Greenblatt: Will in the World, Norton, 14£/12€

Bücher meines Jahres

Zum dritten Mal ziehe ich Buch-Bilanz (zum ersten Mal auf meiner eigenen Url) und wie auch schon in den Jahren 2013 und 2014 ist das Ganze wieder zutiefst subjektiv und bar jeglichen feuilletonistischen Anspruchs.

Im Vergleich zum vergangenen Jahr habe ich heuer vier Bücher weniger gelesen, was vielleicht daran liegt, dass ich William Shakespeare’s Hamlet mindestens zweimal ganz und ein paar Stellen mehrfach nachgelesen habe – auf Deutsch und auf Englisch – als Vorbereitung auf den Besuch des Stücks im Londoner Barbican mit Benedict Cumberbatch in der Titelrolle.

Meine Bilanz sieht demnach so aus:

Gesamt: 34
Deutsch: 17
Englisch: 17
Kindle/Tablet: 3. (Mit Tablet meine ich, dass ich die Bücher bei Google gekauft und in der App auf meinem N7 gelesen habe – einfach deshalb, weil eines der Bücher dort früher erhältlich war und weil ich die App sehr schön gemacht finde. Mein Kindle ist ein mittlerweile vier Jahre alter Kindle Keyboard.)

Von den gelesenen empfehle ich diese Bücher:

Ian McEwan
Black Dogs, Atonement, Inbetween the Sheets, On Chesil Beach: IanMcEwan ist einer meiner absoluten Lieblingsschriftsteller, der es schafft, selbst banalste Geschichten spannend und mit völlig überraschenden Wendungen zu erzählen. Auf Deutsch sind seine Werke mit durchwegs sehr guten Übersetzungen bei Diogenes erschienen.

Lukas Hartmann
Auch von Lukas Hartmann habe ich schon einiges gelesen und mag seinen Stil. Heuer waren es „Abschied von Sansibar“ (das ich schon mal gelesen habe, aber das Buch nicht mehr finden konnte) und sein neuestes Buch „Auf beiden Seiten“. Eine Geschichte aus der Zeit kurz vor und nach dem Mauerfall. Hartmanns Bücher sind ebenfalls bei Diogenes erschienen, darunter auch Kinder- und Jugendbücher. Eines davon, „AnnA“, hat mir besonders gut gefallen.

Donna Leon
Ich bin bekennender Guido-Brunetti-Fan, daher habe ich alle Fälle des Commissario gelesen. Diese Jahr gab es mit „Tod zwischen den Zeilen“ und „Endlich mein“ gleich zwei neue Bücher, die wie alle anderen ebenfalls bei Diogenes erschienen sind.

Alan Rusbridger
Der Ex-Chefredakteur des „Guardian“ beschreibt in „Play it Again– an amateur against the impossible“  (Deutsch: Play it Again – Ein Jahr zwischen Noten und Nachrichten“, Secession-Verlag) wie er versucht, trotz seiner stressigen Arbeit Zeit fürs Klavierspielen zu finden. Ein sehr privates Buch, das daran erinnert, dass man Zeit für etwas finden kann, wenn man nur will.

James Rhodes
Wer mit klassischer Musik nichts anfangen kann, sollte dem britischen Pianisten James Rhodes eine Chance geben und einer Auswahl seiner Stücke auf Soundcloud anhören. Und sein biografischen Buch „Instrumental: Violence, music and love“ lesen – oder zumindest die deutschsprachige Ausgabe „Der Klang der Wut – Wie die Musik mich am leben hielt“ (Nagel&Kimche), die im Februar 2016 erscheinen wird, auf seine Leseliste setzen. In dem Buch, das in Großbritannien erst nach einem Gerichtsverfahren erscheinen durfte, schreibt James  über seine Kindheit, in der er über Jahre vergewaltigt wurde, seine Zeit in der Psychiatrie und darüber, das Musik, klassische Musik, sein Leben gerettet hat. Es ist zutiefst erschütternd, gleichzeitig aber auch witzig und sehr direkt geschrieben. Wer James auf Twitter folgt, wird den Stil wiedererkennen.

Sherlock-Holmes-Pastiches
Anthony Horowitz‘ „Moriarty“ (deutsch: „Der Fall Moriarty“) ist ganz im Stile Arthur Conan Doyles geschrieben. Allerdings hat mir „Das Geheimnis des weißen Bandes“ (Beide Insel) besser gefallen.
Nur etwas für echte Sherlock-Holmes-Fans ist „Sherlockian“ von Graham Moore.  Der Autor, der das Drehbuch zu „The Imitation Game“ geschrieben hat, taucht hier sehr tief in die Welt des großen Detektivs ein. Eine deutsche Ausgabe habe ich bisher nicht gefunden.

Neuentdeckt
Angharad Price: „Das Leben der Rebecca Jones“ ist ursprünglich auf Walisisch erschienen und wurde vom Englischen ins Deutsche übersetzt. Ein Glück, denn die Geschichte ist wunderbar erzählt und hat ein völlig überraschendes Ende.
Anthony Doerr: „Alles Licht, das wir nicht sehen“ ist eine meisterhaft erzählte Geschichte, die man nicht weglegen möchte und die einem noch lange im Gedächtnis bleibt.
Donna Tartt: „The Secret History“ (Deutsch: Die geheime Geschichte, Goldmann) spielt an einem  College in Neuengland, an dem es scheinbar nur um alte Sprachen und Literatur geht. Netter Nebeneffekt: Die Hauptfigur erinnert an Sherlock Holmes.

Zum Immer-Wieder-in-die-Hand-nehmen:
Shaun Usher: Letters of Note II – eine Sammlung von Briefen, die ganz unterschiedliche Menschen zu unterschiedlichen Zeiten geschrieben haben und die zum Teil als Faksimile abgedruckt sind. Der erste Teil „Letters of Note – Bücher, die die Welt bedeuten“ ist auch auf Deutsch erschienen. Mehr über die unterschiedlichen Ausgaben des Buchs und über das Projekt „Unbound“, auf dessen Seite man Bücher crowdfunden kann, gibt es hier (auf Englisch).

Prof Alan Turing decoded

What is the point in writing another biography of Alan Turing more than 60 years after his death? And what can be really new when you know Andrew Hodges‘ „Enigma“ which is both a thrilling approach to the professional life of the man who helped breaking the German Enigma code in the Second World War and an look inside the man who wasn’t allowed to live and love as a homosexual man in the UK of the 50s?

The point is that the author Dermot Turing, is Alan’s nephew and although he has never met his uncle, he takes the reader with „Prof – Alan Turing decoded“ inside the Turing family, presenting not only pictures you may not have seen before but also letters and notes scribbled by Alan when thinking about his work (which makes me wonder how his third notebook which was sold at an auction earlier this year may look like. ) Although the book is – as always when it comes to very specific scientific topics – not always an easy read. But even if you don’t have the brain of a mathematician  or a computer expert, you’ll can’t help but to be in awe of a man who apparently was awkward and brilliant as a codebreaker in Bletchley Park and as the father of the computer age, somehow way ahead of his time and down to earth in a stunningly pragmatic way.

„He was a strange character, a very reserved sort, but he mixed in with everyone quite well.“

A way that wasn’t always an easy one to cope with. Imagine Alan at your door at any time of day without any notice to announce his visit or him walking away when he found a conversation boring. But he easily connected with children whom he met on equal levels and talked seriously about such things as if God could catch a cold when he sat on wet grass.

„Prof“ is a biography about a man „who had something special which the rest of us do not“. It is worth reading.

 

Dermot Turing: Prof – Alan Turing decoded. A biography. The history press, about 20€/ 16£.

Further reading:
Alan Turing – his work and impact.

Letters of Note II

The moment you free that huge coffee table book from its packings, you feel that is indeed something special. This is of course because of its size (21 x 3,5 x 28,9 cm) but it is also because of its content. As I wrote before when I had the first volume in my hands, „Letters of Note, Volume II“ again makes letters available for readers and lure them into a very special place. The place – maybe the living room – is a very private one, normally not open for strangers, a place where letters were written in a time when the internet wasn’t even thought of.

So this book is a treat to dive into, to flick through its pages and get hooked by facsimiles, pictures or the name of the writer or their receivers. You want to have it within reach to hold it and re read certain letters again, so do make room on your shelves. And you’ll get letters by Abraham Lincoln, Aldous Huxley, Janis Joplin, Charlotte Brontë, Michelangelo, Alan Turing, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Florence Nightingale and many more. They tell stories of their writers, give  little insight looks into their lives at a special moment in time and will never leave you untouched.

LettersOfNote2

Photo: Petra Breunig

You will find different editions but even if you love reading ebooks (as I do), do yourself a favour and go for a hardcopy. It’s worth the money.

Unbound is a way of crowdfunding books directly by supporting their authors. Depending on how much money you want to spend, you get goodies and of course the books you are supporting. After signing up for Unbound – which is for free – and you have made up your mind to support a book you want to get to life, you’re getting emails keeping you updated on the progress the book is making.

Shaun Usher, Letters of Note II,  Unbound.

[Note: I was one of the subscribers and am very happy that this book  wouldn’t exist without me, as Shaun Usher wrote.

Donna Tartt: The secret history

What is a good book, a good novel? One that grabs you, draws you inside it’s pages, inside the story and even stays in your mind when you have read the last word.  At least this is what I consider a good book.  And „The secret history“ by Donna Tartt is definitely a good novel.

That is because the  story is so well written that once you have read a few pages, you have difficulties putting the book aside and if you have to – you know real life can be very demanding and your boss won’t take „reading“ for an excuse – you want to know very badly how the story unfolds. That story takes the reader to Hampden College in New England, together with the narrator Richard Papen who moves all the way from California to study English Literature here.  Soon he discovers that the only thing he really wants to learn is classic languages and attend the classes of Julian Morrow, a teacher who only has few pupils, four boys and a girl. A elitist group which is centred around Henry Winter. Henry is a stranger in modern times together with his intellect, his knowledge about everything and his appearance he seems to be another Sherlock Holmes. A hint that Sherlockians of course will get at the very beginning of the story but which Donna Tartt picks up every now and then.

„(Henry Winter) might have been handsome had his features been less set, or his eyes, behind the glasses, less expressionless and blank. (…) He spoke a number of languages, ancient and modern, and had published a translation of Anacreon, with commentary, when he was only eighteen.“

Richard convinces Julian to take him into his classes and finds himself within a community that while  concentrating on ancient languages lives a life separated from their fellow students, even from modern life itself.

„The secret history“ is thrilling, neither boring nor predictable and you will regret deeply when  you have reached the final page.

 

Donna Tartt: The secret history, Penguin £ 8,99.

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