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Hans Eichner's Kahn & Engelmann

(This post could be subtitled, “The Beginning of a Canadian Bender . . .” but more on that over the next couple days.)

One of the most exciting Canadian presses that I’ve come across in recent times is Biblioasis, in part because of their International Translation series, and in part because of Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell’s The Idler’s Glossary.

The third book in the Biblioasis International Translation series is Hans Eichner’s Kahn & Engelmann, which is releasing this week and has been getting some good advance press, including this great review from Library Journal:

Narrated by Peter Engelmann, a middle-aged veterinarian working in Haifa, this work is at once the story of a family and a memorial to Viennese Jews. The narrative, the stream-of-consciousness recollections of a man caught between the need to remember and the desire to forget, opens in both 1980 and 1880 and chronicles the Kahn family’s move from rural Hungary to Vienna, the narrator’s 1938 flight to Belgium and eventual settlement in Israel, and all the family drama in between. The result is a moving book full of humor and humanity.

Eichner led a pretty interesting life, fleeing Austria at the start of WWII, being shipped off to Australia where he studied mathematics, Latin, and English literature, and eventually settling in Canada, where he was the chair of German Studies at the University of Toronto. Unfortunately, he passed away last month at the age of 87. Kahn & Engelmann is his first novel, and it was published in Germany in 2000 and translated into English by Jean M. Snook (who also translated Gert Jonke’s Homage to Czerny: Studies for a Virtuoso Technique).

And the opening of his novel is pretty entertaining:

In the summer of 1938, a Jewish refugee is going for a walk on Carmel Beach (Is he from Cologne? from Berlin? from Vienna? It doesn’t matter). Twenty metres out from shore, a man is fighting against the waves and yelling for help in Hebrew. The refugees stops to listen, takes his jacket off, folds it neatly (one should never act too hastily); and while taking off his tie and shoes as well, before jumping into the sea to help the yelling man, he exclaims indignantly: “What a fool! Hebrew he has learned. Swimming he should have learned!”

That’s a travelling joke. It was told much the same way in 1789 in Mainz, when the first emigres arrived there and went for walks along the Rhine in their elegant clothes. But precisely because it is a travelling joke, it is also a Jewish joke; for who has travelled (or, as is mostly the case, has fled) more often than the Jews?

We’re planning on running a full review of this title in the not-too-distant future, and it might be a German Book Office “book of the month” at some point as well. In the meantime, here’s a longer excerpt from the book and here’s a book trailer.



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