24 June 09 | Chad W. Post

The latest addition to our review section is a piece by Lara Ericson (one of our summer interns) on Hans Eichner’s Kahn & Engelmann, which was published earlier this year by Biblioasis in Canada (Windsor to be more specific), and translated from the German by Jean M. Snook.

Biblioasis is one of the most interesting young presses in Canada, and will definitely be getting a lot of great attention this fall when they release Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Dance with Snakes. But they’ve been doing some interesting works in translation for some time now, and this novel, although maybe not perfect, is pretty interesting:

Hans Eichner’s first novel (and last—he passed away earlier this year), originally published in 2000 in Austria, was released in English last month, directly after the eminent German scholar’s death. Kahn & Engelmann opens with a joke: a traveling joke and a Jewish joke.

“In the summer of 1938, a Jewish refugee is going for a walk on Carmel Beach . . . Twenty metres out from shore, a man is fighting against the waves and yelling for help in Hebrew. The refugee 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!’”

Though jokes are used throughout the novel, the placement of this particular joke emphasizes the centrality of travel (often forced travel) to the Jewish identity—a theme expanded throughout the novel, in the story of Peter Engelmann’s own life (he lives, at various times, in Vienna, Hungary, Belgium, England, Australia, Canada, and Israel) and that of the Austro-Hungarian Jews from whom he is descended. The question Peter poses at the beginning of the novel of “How did I get here?” is especially relevant to anyone of Jewish heritage and leads Peter to trace the experiences, and travels, of the Austro-Hungarian Jews through the last hundred years.

In the course of the novel, he tells three basic stories: the first is of his own life and recent experiences living in Haifa, Israel in the late-twentieth century; another starts in 1880 and tells his family story starting with his great-grandmother Sidonie; and the third tells the broader history of Austro-Hungarian Jews.

Click here to read the rest of Lara’s review.

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