Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kahn & Engelmann: Buddenbrooks and Bildungsroman

Another excellent review international review of Kahn & Engelmann, this one again by Damian Kelleher. It would be nice to see a bit more Canadian coverage: outside of the Globe and Quill, Geist, MacLeans, one or two university papers, we haven't been able to interest a single Canadian media outlet in reviewing it. Yet in the US and internationally we're starting to build up a solid collection of rave reviews from industry journals, newspapers and blogs If anyone out there cares to review this book, please let me know: I'd love to see it get more attention, and know we won't be able to count on awards season to keep it afloat.

From the review:

It is difficult to properly pin down the novel. At times it is a family saga reminiscent of Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, complete with the rise and fall of the family company (though in this case, there are several); other times it resembles a bildungsroman, as Peter Engelmann's young self slowly awakens to the rich intellectual heritage of both his Jewish ancestors and the immensity of German literature. There are scenes devoted to young men escaping the clutches of SS troops, but also letters between estranged brothers-in-law who quarrel as the Austrian kroner rises and the business they are discussing steadily disintegrates. Add to this the slow awakening of the elderly Engelmann that his life has been a lie because he never truly faced the horrors experienced by the Jews during the Second World War, and you have an incredibly complex tale, one in which so many balls are being juggled it seems Eichner must drop at least one, though happily this is not the case.

Engelmann as a narrator is not particularly overbearing intellectually, though at no time are we unaware of his formidable intelligence. Several pages might go by during which Kafka or Rilke are analysed, or on a single page can be found the names of Proust, Mann, Dostoevsky and Neitzsche. Engelmann often wonders at how the German nation could fall under the sway of Hitler and his brutality, a thought he admits isn't particularly original, but he is able to shape it in new and interesting ways. Kahn & Engelmann is rich with Jewish and Austro-Hungarian history. Toward the end of the novel Engelmann visits the grave of his poor father, only to find the cemetery neglected and forgotten by his fellow Jews to the extent that swastikas still remain etched into stone because nobody thought to remove them. The swastikas, like Engelmann himself, bear “witness to the way that world was lost.”

Biblioasis's Translation Series also comes in for some praise:

Kahn & Engelmann continues Biblioasis' impressive International Translation Series, an imprint that has already proved its worth, and continues to do so with each new novel. Eichner's novel is a monument of intellectual exploration, a thoroughly satisfying journey through the memory of pre-WWII Jewish life, a bitter examination of the difficulties of family and business, and a fine example of the bildungsroman in miniature. The sheer volume of ideas presented in this novel is staggering, and the meticulousness with which Eichner brings to life the Jewish culture of his grandparents time is simply wonderful.

For the full review, please go here.

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