It happens rarely, but it does happen: me reading in German. "Fast genial" by Benedict Wells was recommended to me by my Mum, and as we often have a similar taste in books, I wasn't surprised to find that this one really was a good read.
The author is not yet thirty and wrote his first novel at 19. He was born in Munich and moved to Berlin after finishing school; nowadays, he divides his time between Barcelona and Munich, the back of the book informs me.
"Fast genial" means "almost ingenious" (our "genial" and the English "genial" are not the same). And the title fits:
18-year-old Francis has never known his father. He and his mother, a single mum with problems of depression you can't help feeling sorry for, share a shabby trailer somewhere in New Jersey and the little money they are able to scrape together from various small jobs whenever they are able to work (his Mum because of her problems and Francis because working hours have to fit around school).
When he's had to take his Mum (once again) to a psychiatric clinic, during his many visits there he meets and falls in love with Anne-May, a girl who is there because she has attempted suicide. When his Mum tries to kill herself, Francis finds her just in time - and he also finds her good-bye-letter to him. In that letter, she tells him about his father for the first time: He was a genius, and Francis was born as part of a genetic experiment.
Now Francis wants to find his father; he is convinced that everything, his entire life, will take a turn for the better if he manages to see him and speak to him. Together with his best friend, nerdy Grover, and Anne-May, he sets out on a trip across the U.S. from New Jersey to the West Coast.
Will he find his father? This question and what will happen then are central to the story, but by no means the only important part. The trip itself is equally important, and how the relationships between the three friends develop.
As the reader, you really want to know what is going to happen next, and you do care about Francis, although not so much about his friends (at least that was how I felt about them). The writing style is modern but not ridiculously so; the characters and the way they talk are credible.
As far as I could find out, none of Benedict Wells' books have yet been published in other languages, which is a shame, because I think that not only readers of German would enjoy this.
What I don't quite get about the book is the choice of cover illustration: it is a painting by David Hockney, "Rainy Night on Bridlington". Now, Bridlington is on the coast up in Yorkshire, a place that does not feature at all in the book, w hich is set entirely in the U.S. But I guess they just wanted to show the melancholy mood or something. I wonder whether the author had any say in it.
I really do like this book, and especially the unexpected end: It is "fast genial": "almoust ingenious".ReplyDelete
Thank you for having recommended this book, Mum! It was indeed a surprise ending.Delete
I'm really sorry this is not in English. I don't think my German would be up to it, and it sounds very interesting. Especially because one of my relatives is looking for, not his father, but his grandfather. German laws of privacy are different than ours here in the US and it is proving a much more difficult search than he thought.ReplyDelete
Well, Kristi, your relative could always ask the NSA - they know everything about everyone, don't they ;-)Delete
Apparently, the author said in an interview that having his book published in English is "a dream" but he feels it is unrealistic to expect this happening, although I don't see why. Maybe his publishers don't see a market outside Germany for his books.
Thanks for another book review of a (previously unknown to me) author. How do you find them?ReplyDelete
Do they come recommended in Feuilletons?
This one came to me through my Mum, and she found it at the library. I do remember, though, that Benedict Wells' first novel was reviewed in the ZEIT; it just didn't grab my attention back then.Delete
My German is certainly not up to very much at all these days I'm afraid. I'm now up to date with your blog posts Meike. I've enjoyed catching up.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Graham! It must have taken you rather long, and you even took the time to comment, I appreciate that very much!Delete
I must tell you, I LOVE the cover of this book. If I saw it somewhere, I think I would buy it just for the cover alone. (And you know I don't speak German!)
I'm sure you've heard of David Hockney. He's a Yorkshire man who's lived in the U.S. for a long time but has returned to his home country some years ago. I've read several interviews with him and he sounds like someone I'd enjoy meeting.
There is a wonderful TV programme about him too. I first saw his work back in the late 60s or early 70s at a John Moores Exhibition in Liverpool.Delete
Oh yes, I mentioned David Hockney in one of my posts. You MUST look at his painting called "Mr and MRS. Clark And Percy". Mr. Clark looks just like Richard when he was younger, I mean JUST LIKE HIM. It is uncanny!Delete
I love that painting on the book since it reminds me very much of Eastbourne, the glow of the yellow lights at night against wet pavements, very British to me!
I saw a great post about Salt Mills in Yorkshire from Lucy's blog, Attic 24 ( I mentioned her in my crochet post.) There is an exhibition of his paintings there, I believe.
I don't think I've yet seen any original Hockney painting, but if there was an exhibition near me, I'd certainly go and have a look.Delete
Kay, now that you mention it, I remember your post. And I am familiar with the "Clark" painting.
See, that painting chosen for the book cover looks so British to you, and it does to me, too (Scarborough is a bit like that, too). So why did they use it here? NOTHING in the entire book has anything to do with England.
Now, I am intrigued. Why don't you like to read in German? I know your English is perfect (or seems to be to me, from reading what you write) but surely your native language is always going to be easier?ReplyDelete
Oh, it's not that I don't like to read in German. It is more often just a case of being more interested in the topic (or the setting, or the characters, or all of it) of a book by an English or American author than by a German one, and if possible, I rather read a book in its original language than the translated version. And it does not make any difference to me whether I read, write or speak English or German.Delete
One reason for reading more English than German is also that I find many more free ebooks for my Kindle in English than in German ;-)
How interesting that a German writer is writing a book set in New Jersey. I don't know why it should surprise me. American writers set their books all over. What I'd really like to read is books by Germans (translated into English) set in Germany talking about life there since the second world war; fiction or nonfiction.ReplyDelete
Apparently, Benedict Wells travelled through the U.S. for some months more or less the same way the three friends in the book do; he probably used personal experiences to be as descriptive as he is.Delete
A contemporary German author I can highly recommend is Walter Kempowski. He died in 2007, and some of his work was translated into English. You can find him on Amazon. I was lucky enough to meet him personally at a reading.
i like these ,and i can't wait to readReplyDelete
What do you mean by "these"? I'm afraid you have not read my post at all, and therefore I must consider your comment as spam.Delete