Before getting to the main part of this post—which is admittedly a bit silly, but hopefully a good way to kick things off—I have a few quick notes.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make it easy for people to share their thoughts and opinions about these books—to make this really a book club and not some random Chad thoughts—and to that end I set up a Reading the World Book Club Facebook Group. Sure, you can always post in the comments section below, but to be honest, that’s not the most interactive of set-ups, and I think these automatically shut themselves off some days after the post goes live. Besides, it seems like the more ways to share your thoughts, the better.
I’ll be sure and share all of these post in the Facebook group where all Facebook users can easily join, make comments, interact with others, etc. (Invite all your friends!) Also, if you want to share your thoughts on Twitter, we can take over #RTWBC, which hasn’t been used for anything since 2012. (Ironically, or something, there is a @RTWBClub handle, which is for “Read the Whole Book Club” dedicated to reading the whole Bible every year. It has a total of two tweets, the last on January 31, 2012.)
I feel like a lot of the book club elements will come from the comments/FB posts/tweets, but if anyone out there gets really invested and wants to write a proper post for Three Percent about any of these books, just let me know. My email is chad.post [at] rochester[dot]edu.
OK, onto the first January book, The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz, translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West.
To start things off, I thought I’d post a sort of self-interview introducing the book and asking those sorts of questions readers might want to know before getting involved in a book club. Here goes:
Is this a long book?
No! It’s only 138 pages, including the afterword. And these pages are even a bit smaller than your standard trade paperback.
Who is Marianne Fritz?
Unfortunately, Marianne Fritz passed away in 2007, but she was a Austrian writer who won the Robert Walser Prize in 1978 and the Franz Kafka Prize in 2001. (She won other awards as well, but I like the idea of starting with Walser and ending with Kafka.)
When did she write The Weight of Things?
This was actually her first book and it came out in German in 1978. It was the start of a hugely ambitious cycle of novels referred to as “The Fortress.” (So German sounding!) Her later works—Das Kind der Gewalt und die Sterne der Romani, Dessen Sprache du nicht verstehst, and the three volumes of Naturgemäß—were all part of this project.
How come this is the first book of hers to be published in English translation?
Well, that’s a bit tricky. I think the main reason is that her later works got increasingly complicated from a stylistic, linguistic perspective. According to her publisher The Weight of Things might possibly be her only translatable book.
What do you mean “complicated”?
I mean this:
Reminds me of Christine Brooke-Rose. Or maybe even Brigid Brophy.
Yeah, me too. That’s why I’m really excited to read this book.
Are there other reasons why she hasn’t been translated before?
I have no factual proof for this, but I have a gut feeling that “The Fortress” would seem “more translatable” to conventional publishers if it had been written by a man. Finnegans Wake is “untranslatable” by most standards, and yet it’s been translated into at least French, German, Japanese, Dutch, Korean, Portuguese, Polish, and Greek. It’s seen as some sort of Mt. Everest of translation feats. And I have a gross, annoying suspicion that if “The Fortress” had been written by Hans Fritz, someone would’ve undertaken the challenge. That’s just my own opinion though.
Fair enough. Has anyone famous championed her work?
Actually, quite a few people have. Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek had this to say about Naturgemäß: “It is a singular work, before which one can do nothing but stand, like a devout Muslim before the Kaaba.” W. G. Sebald dedicated a section of one of his poems to her. Closer to home, Brian Evenson blurbed this novel calling it a “tiny, shattering masterpiece.”
Oh man, the Thomas Bernhard quote in the afterword is kind of amazing. Bernhard sure had opinions about things, and wasn’t afraid to share them. Here’s a snippet: “To print and bind over 3,000 pages of mindless proletarian trash with all the bombast of a centenary event belongs, quite frankly, in the record books: as a world record of stupidity.”
Damn! Before moving on, does The Weight of Things look all crazy like that image above?
Oh, no. In terms of layout, it looks like a normal novel. Here’s the opening paragraph of the first section, which is entitled “Wilhelmine Is Not Berta”:
Of all the events of 1945, there was one Wilhelmine recalled with particularly painful clarity. Wilhelm had hung the necklace with the tiny Madonna around Berta’s neck, not hers. This although Berta’s belly clearly demonstrated that she, unlike Wilhelmine, was no longer a chaste young woman. For her own sake—and for Berta’s!—she ought to have spoken her mind. Maybe Berta had been good enough for Rudolf, but she certainly was never right for Wilhelm!
Speaking of those section titles, some of these are really great: “A Man, A Word, and Then You’re Lost,” ““Wilhelm, The Smiler, Discovers to His Relief that He Is an Average Citizen,” and “Duty Is Duty, Schnapps Is Schnapps” are three good examples.
Those are intriguing. Anything else we should know before starting the book?
I guess there are some general plot points worth mentioning. It takes place between 1945 and 1963 and focuses on Bertha who, as we can see above, is pregnant at the start of the novel.
Are there any online resources worth pointing out?
Yes! The Paris Review ran an article by Adrian Nathan West about Fritz and translating this book, and Kate Zambreno interviewed him for The Believer. If you’re someone who likes to read reviews before starting a book, you can find a slew of them from the official Dorothy website page.
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