Eurotour Stop 1. Hamburg, Germany: “Nowhere does the summer fade more splendidly”

Guten Tag from Hamburg! Our first extract comes from…

John le Carré, Smiley’s People (Sceptre, 2011 [1979], pp. 29-30). 

The extract is set at the height of the Cold War.

The second of the two events that brought George Smiley from his retirement occurred a few weeks after the first, in the early autumn of the same year: not in Paris at all, but in the once ancient, free, and Hanseatic city of Hamburg, now almost pounded to death by the thunder of its own prosperity; yet it remains true that nowhere does the summer fade more splendidly than along the gold and orange banks of the Alster, which nobody has yet drained or filled with concrete. George Smiley, needless to say, had seen nothing of its languorous autumn splendour. Smiley, on the day in question, was toiling obliviously, with whatever conviction he could muster, at his habitual desk in the London Library in St. James’s Square, with two spindly trees to look at through the sash-window of the reading room. The only link to Hamburg he might have pleaded – if he had afterwards attempted the connection, which he did not – was in the Parnassian field of German baroque poetry, for at the time he was composing a monograph on the bard Opitz, and trying loyally to distinguish true passion from the tiresome literary convention of the period.

The time in Hamburg was a few moments after eleven in the morning, and the footpath leading to the jetty was speckled with sunlight and dead leaves. A candescent haze hung over the flat water of the Aussenalster, and through it the spires of the Eastern bank were like green stains dabbed on the wet horizon. Along the shore, red squirrels scurried, foraging for the winter. But the slight and somewhat anarchistic-looking man standing on the jetty wearing a tracksuit and running shoes had neither eyes nor mind for them. His red-rimmed gaze was locked tensely upon the approaching steamer, his hollow face darkened by a two-day stubble. He carried a Hamburg newspaper under his left arm, and an eye as perceptive as George Smiley’s would have noticed at once that it was yesterday’s edition, not today’s.

Klaxon! le Carré’s new novel, A Legacy of Spies is out on 7 September. After 25 years, George Smiley is back! 

Hamburg Gallery

We’ve had a wonderful couple of days in Hamburg, seeing family, friends and lots of sights. It really is a most beautiful place. A few highlights below…

View across the Aussenalster (Outer Alster), which is mentioned in the passage above and lies right in the middle of the city:

Here’s the kind of boat our young man was waiting for – these chug around the Alster like genteel water-taxis:

Here’s the front of the Rathaus or City Hall. We noticed that it was flying the Hamburg flag and the European flag, but not a German one. The city’s Hanseatic Free City status is one it is very proud of and likes to stress:

Here’s the back of the Rathaus. Rather splendid:

Pavement graffiti – ‘be free’:

A local delicacy from this seafaring city – matjes (herring) with Bratkartoffel (fried potatoes). Delicious!

The German election is coming up later in September, so election posters are everywhere. Behind to the left, the offices of Die Zeit, the influential weekly broadsheet.

The Elbphilharmonie, a swish new concert hall and architectural wonder, has just opened. This is the way in (*hums stairway to heaven*). Hamburg locals have already nicknamed the building ‘Elphie’:

Lastly, the best souvenirs ever: an iconic Tatort key-ring and a book-bag (Lesestoff = reading matter).

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour

 

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Westö’s The Wednesday Club (Finland) and the #EU27Project

Kjell Westö, The Wednesday Club, tr. from Swedish by Neil Smith (MacLehose, 2016 [2013]). A 2017 Petrona Award entry.

westo-wednesday-club

First line: When Mrs. Wiik failed to turn up for work that morning, at first he felt irritated.

This excellent, multilayered crime novel won the Nordic Council Award in 2014. Set in 1938 Helsinki, it focuses on the members of ‘The Wednesday Club’ – a group of six Swedish-Finnish friends who meet regularly for drinks and conversation – as well as other individuals who are linked to them in various ways.

The novel is the story of how and why a crime is committed rather than a traditional murder mystery. The crime in question – triggered by a chance meeting – can be viewed as a tragic individual story, but also takes on larger symbolic dimensions, as historical crimes of the past, present and future are a major theme. These include the crimes committed at the end of the Finnish Civil War (when socialist ‘Red’ Finns were interned in prison camps), the rise of German and Finnish fascism in the present, as well as National Socialist crimes to come (euthanasia and the persecution of the Jews). Another closely linked theme is that of trauma, which is handled with great sensitivity via the figures of Matilda Wiik and Jary.

1938_helsinki_scandal_race

This photo and race, which ended in a scandal, is incorporated into Westo’s narrative. Thanks to Neil Smith for passing it on.

Reading The Wednesday Club has taught me a lot about Finland, especially its early history. We’re shown a young nation divided by its dual Swedish/Finnish heritage, and by politics and class. Its depiction of 1938 as a moment of great social and political uncertainty also feels resonant now, given that right-wing populism is once again on the rise. The whole novel is beautifully written, and Neil Smith’s translation communicates the measured and occasionally humorous tone of the original extremely well.

The day after finishing this novel, Marina Sofia’s ‘#EU27Project: Reading the European Union’ caught my eye. I’ll definitely be having a go myself, and will use The Wednesday Club as my Finnish entry. To find out more, see Marina Sofia’s post over at Findingtimetowrite. There’s a provisional list of her 27 novels here and you might also find inspiration in this earlier Mrs P post of ’35 European crime novels’.

european-union-map-2013-from-europaeu-e1393721006447

35 European crime novels

Here’s a random list of 35 European crime novels I love.

There are gaps (not all European countries are represented), but these are the ones particularly close to my heart because they’ve opened my mind and brought me joy.

Euro 4

Jakob Arjouni, Happy Birthday, Turk! (trans. from German by Anselm Hollo, Melville House, 2011 [1987])

Pieke Biermann, Violetta (trans. from German by Ines Rieder and Jill Hannum, Serpent’s Tail, 1996 [1991])

Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw (trans. from Greek by Yiannis Panas, Black & White Publishing, 2013 [2007])

Roberto Costantini, The Deliverance of Evil (trans. from Italian by N.S. Thompson, Quercus, 2013 [2011])

Jan Costin Wagner, Silence (set in Finland; trans. from German by Anthea Bell, Harvill Secker, 2010 [2007])

Didier Daeninckx, Murder in Memoriam (trans. from French by Liz Heron, Serpent’s Tail, 1991 [1984]; republished by Melville House in 2012)

Euro 2

Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Pledge (Swiss crime novel; trans. from German by Joel Agee, University of Chicago Press, 2006 [1958])

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (trans. from Italian by William Weaver, Vintage, 2004 [1980])

Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin (trans. from German by Michael Hofmann, Penguin, 2009 [1947])

Eugenio Fuentes, At Close Quarters (trans. from Spanish by Martin Schifino, Arcadia, 2009 [2007])

Friedrich Glauser, In Matto’s Realm (Swiss crime novel; trans. from German by Mike Mitchell, Bitter Lemon Press, 2006 [1936])

Euro 6

Petra Hammesfahr, The Sinner (trans. from German by John Brownjohn, Bitter Lemon Press, 2007 [1999])

Kati Hiekkapelto, The Defenceless (trans. from Finnish by David Hackston, Orenda Books, 2015 [2014])

Paulus Hochgatterer, The Sweetness of Life (Austrian crime novel; trans. from German by Jamie Bulloch, MacLehose, 2012 [2006])

Peter Høeg, Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (trans. from Danish by Felicity David, Vintage, 2014 [1992])

Jean-Claude Izzo, Total Chaos (trans. from French by Howard Curtis, Europa Editions, 2005 [1995])

Euro 1

Hans Hellmut Kirst, The Night of the Generals (trans. from German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Cassell, 2002 [1962])

Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (trans. from Swedish by Reg Keeland, MacLehose Press, 2008 [2005])

Carlo Lucarelli, Carte Blanche (trans. from Italian by Michael Reynolds, Europa Editions, 2006 [1990])

Henning Mankell, The Dogs of Riga (trans. from Swedish by Laurie Taylor, Vintage, 2012 [1992])

Dominique Manotti, Affairs of State (trans. from French by Ros Schwarz and Amanda Hopkinson, Arcadia Books, 2009 [2001])

Euro 5

Petros Markaris, Che Committed Suicide (trans. from Greek by David Connolly, Arcadia Books, 2009)

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Buenos Aires Quintet (trans. from Spanish by Nick Calstor, Serpent’s Tail, 2005)

Harry Mulisch, The Assault (trans. from Dutch by Clare Nicolas White, Random House, 1985 [1982])

Håkan Nesser, Bjorkman’s Point (trans. from Swedish by Laurie Thompson, Pan, 2007 [1994])

Europe 7

Ingrid Noll, The Pharmacist (trans. from German by Ian Mitchell, HarperCollins, 1999 [1994])

Lief G.W. Persson, Linda, as in the Linda Murder (trans. from Swedish by Neil Smith, Vintage, 2013)

Dolores Redondo, The Invisible Guardian (trans. from Spanish by Isabelle Kaufeler, HarperCollins, 2015 [2013])

Georges Simenon, Pietr the Latvian (Belgian crime novel, trans from French by David Bellos, Penguin, 2013 [1930])

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Laughing Policeman (trans. from Swedish by Alan Blair, Harper Perennial, 2007 [1968])

Euro 3

Josef Skvorecky, The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka (trans. from Czech by Rosemary Kavan, Kaca Polackova and George Theiner, Norton, 1991 [1966])

Olivier Truc, Forty Days without Shadow (set in Lapland; trans. from French by Louise Rogers LaLaurie, Trapdoor, 2014)

Antti Tuomainen, The Healer (trans. from Finnish by Lola Rogers, Harvill Secker, 2013 [2010])

Simon Urban, Plan D (trans. from German by Katy Derbyshire, Harvill Secker, 2013 [2011])

Fred Vargas, Have Mercy on us All (trans. from French by David Bellos, Vintage, 2004 [2001])

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As many of you will know, the UK voted to leave the European Union via a national referendum on 23rd June, with 52% voting ‘leave’ and 48% ‘remain’ (overall turnout of 72%). This isn’t a political blog, but given the seismic nature of what’s happened, here’s a brief personal comment.

I was one of the 48% who voted to remain and, as a British European and languages lecturer, I’m heartbroken at the result. As a nation, we’ve probably caused ourselves irreparable economic and political damage. We’ve also become a more divided and less tolerant place. Every aspect of our future is now uncertain, and the younger generation, who voted overwhelmingly to remain, will have to bear the consequences of the ‘Brexit’ for decades to come. It’s a monumental, catastrophic mistake that could well lead to the break up of the UK and destabilize Europe.

Those of you in Europe looking on in disbelief, please know that 48% of us did not wish to leave the EU. Many of us regard ourselves as European and are horrified by what’s happened. We don’t yet know how, but we will try to find our way back to you. And if you’re a European living in the UK, please know that millions of us appreciate you for your contribution to British society and the cultural enrichment you bring.

Brexit

Surreal: some UK papers on my kitchen table this morning