Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jurek Becker - Three Short Stories by the Author of Jacob the Lier - From The Wall and other Stories -2014

The schedule and guidelines for participation are on the event webpage.  Just reading the  posts of all the other participants is tremendously informative. There is an interesting contest or two and some prizes to be won.  One of the tasks participants are charged with is reading a work first published in 2014 and this collection qualifies.  

I am very happy to be once again participating in German Literature Month, hosted by Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy of Lizzy's Literary Life.   Events like this are one of the great things about being part of the international book blog community.  I know there is a lot of work that goes into a month long event and I offer my thanks to Lizzy and Caroline.

One of my goals for German Literature Month 2014 was to discover some new to me writers of high quality.  With the month over a third done, my first new to me writer I greatly admire is Jurek Becker.  Becker, a German born in Poland (1937 to 1997), is best know for his holocaust novel, Jacob the Lier which was made into a movie  with Robin Williams in the lead role.

Some months ago I was kindly given an advance review copy of The Wall and other Stories by Jurek Becker.  I decided to save it for German Literature Month. ( It is now in print and is available as a Kindle edition.). There are five short stories in the collection and a selection from Jacob the Lier.

So far I have read three of the stories and will post on them today and hopefully the other two before the month is over.  Two of the stories deal with a child's experience of life in a Jewish Ghetto in Poland during World War Two and one amazing story centers on a foreign worker living in Berlin after the war during the period before the wall came down.  

Works I have so far read for German Literature Month 2014

1.   Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

2.   Gertrude by Hermann Hesse 

3.  "Diary of a School Boy" by Robert Walser (no post)

4.  Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse

5.  Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig

6.  Life Goes On by Hans Keilson

7.  Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson

8.  "The Wall" by Jurek Becker

9.  "Romeo" by Jurek Becker

10.   "The Invisible City" by Jurek Becker.

"Invisible Cities" 

"Invisible Cities", first published in 1990, is the shortest work in the collection. It is almost an essay.   Becker lived with his parents in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland under German control, from the  age two to five. Then for a while in a concentration camp. He and his parentd survived.   Of course for him life in the Ghetto was just normal life, starvation, inspection, and constant fear of his parents and the violence around them, the disappearing of those he knew, were just normal. Now the war is long over, he is a grown man, a well known author who writes stories about childhood in the Ghetto.  As a child and young man he never talked much about those years with his parents and now they are gone.  He is involved right now in putting together an exhibit on the Warsaw Ghetto.  He is trying to construct or find the lost memories of his experiences from the photos,trying to see a now to him invisible city.  We sense his sadness at the permanent loss memories, a loss of history.  Sort of you feel he is a bit ashamed of making a handsome living from experiences he cannot remember.  


"Romeo, initially published in 1980, is about a foreign worker, I guessed he was Polish, living in East Berlin but working, in the legally divided and separated by the infamous Berlin Wall city of Berlin, in West Berlin.  He is when we meet him fairly newly arrived, there to send money home, and learning the tricks of getting by while living in the divided city.  Everyday he has to cross through a check point, pay a fee and exchange his money.  All this traveling eats into his earnings.  He meets a Turkish worker who teaches him a lot of ways to save money. The more he can send home the sooner he can go back to his country.  The best idea is to find a West Berlin girlfriend he can live with to avoid the travel expenses and the border crossing fees. Of course the girls will want a bit of money, only fair.
  His friend takes him along to a bar said to be good for meeting German girls.  Compressing a good bit, he does meet a Germsn girl, not in his words , "too whorish looking" and seems shy at first.   Just an average looking girl.  I don't want to tell the end but their first encounter is beautifully done, you sense the great loneliness in both. The sexual encounter is very well narrated. You can tell it has been a very long time for both of them.   The girl is kind of prostituting herself and the man plans to use her for a place  to live, of course he will give her money, but in a country destroyed by war one cannot be too squeamish about puritanical strictures.  

"The Wall"

"The Wall", the title story and longest one in the collection, was first published in 1980.  It is told by a boy, maybe ten, living with his parents, in a Jewish Ghetto.   There are daily line ups for head counts to make sure no one has tried to climb over the wall.  The Germans are continually shirking the size of the Ghetto by moving the wall, constricting the people inside.  Germans are seen as subhuman beasts.  One day his family is ordered to move out of their house, taking only a few things.  Now they live in a terribly small place, all sleep in one bed.   Of course boys will be boys and a neighbor boy bolder than the narrator suggests they climb over the wall at night, when they reason all the Germans are sleeping, go back to vacated houses and see what they can find.   The trip across the wall is very dangerous and exciting, perfectly told from the boy's point of view.   I don't want to spoil the ending of this story but something amazing happens.

These were three great stories.  There are three more in the collection and I hope to read and post on them this month.  All are translated for the first time into English.

Author Bio (from the wepage of the Goethe Institute)

Jurek Becker was born in 1937 in Łódź, Poland. He was interned in the Łódź Ghetto with his parents from 1940 to 1944 and was subsequently a prisoner in the Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. After the war, Becker's father took him to East Berlin, where they were among the few surviving Jews who chose to stay in Germany. He became a screenwriter and novelist. A dissident in East Germany, in 1977 he emigrated to West Berlin. He died in 1997.

I am going to read Jacob the Lier very soon.


Mytwostotinki said...

Jurek Becker is an author I like very much, especially his novels Jakob the Liar and The Boxer (the latter is the most autobiographical work he wrote). Becker wrote also the scipts of the first part of the Liebling Kreuzberg TV serial which was extremely popular in Germany, starring Manfred Krug, Becker's cloesest friend in the leading role as lawyer.
I wonder if the book you reviewed was translated by Becker's wife Christine?!
Btw, the movie with Robin Williams (as much as I liked him) is the much much weaker Hollywood remake of the excellent DEFA movie (the only East German movie ever to be nominated for an Academy Award).

Suko said...

Mel, I just arrived here after reading Bellezza's (short) post on Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann ('As 1859 drew to a close, something dreadful happened.') Seems German Literature month is in full swing. I hope you enjoy the collection of short fiction by Jurek Becker.

Mel u said...

Mytwostotinki - thanks for your comments. His wife did in fact translate the stories and contributed an introduction.

Suko - thanks as always for the visit. The month is off to a good start