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May 29, 2005


Dan Wickett

Thanks Michael, interesting to hear of the other nominees and I love a good reason to support Godine.



Michael -- I'm glad you spoke up about this book because it sounds intriguing, especially given the parallels of the story and history. I don't read many translated works, but will pick this one up.


I'm sorry, Michael, but In The Flesh doesn't sound like a book I'd have even the remotest bit of interest in reading. As for Case Histories, I'd read the UK edition in Nov. of last year, and while I admired it, I didn't really love it or go out of my way to recommend it to anyone at the time. At this point I really can't understand why, with so many amazing novels always flying under the collective radar, you folks couldn't come up with titles that would generate a little more heat than these two you already named.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Why don't you suggest a few, Louis?

the happy booker

Michael, good post. I enjoyed the review and look forward to reading Wolf's work. Thanks, Wendi


Lauren, it would be more than a trifle gauche, not to mention downright un-neighborly, to come here as a guest on LBC turf and start dishing book recs left and right, so I'll be saving all those for the paying customers over at, a thriving little burg currently celebrating its 5th birthday BTW.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I believe that, not long ago, a request was made here by a member of the LitBlog Co-op for recommendations, the implication being they might be considered for future selections. As far as I can see, there's nothing gauche about making alternate recs at all, although I do think there's something a trifle gauche about taking shots at a worthy project without constructively offering up an alternative.


Louis, it's a shame that you're content to dismiss In the Flesh out of hand without cracking the book open. You're free, of course, to decide it doesn't sound interesting to you but it's a somewhat solipsistic approach to assume that you because you aren't turned on by the choice, it's somehow lacking heat. For the record - from someone who has actually read the book - it's a remarkable title that I'm unlikely to have gotten to on my own, and I'm grateful that Michael hipped me to it; quite perfectly fulfilling the LBC mandate, by the by ...


"I'll be saving all those for the paying customers over at, a thriving little burg currently celebrating its 5th birthday BTW." -LouisB

Gauche? Dear me no, I can't imagine who would have the gumption to suspect you of such a thing. Not at all. Happy anniversary btw! *kisses*

On to the post. I've already bought Case Histories and intend to get this one as well, it sounds quite intriguing. I haven't read much if any translated work outside of what has been required in class. Also many thanks for introducing me to the publisher.


One reason to dismiss this book out of hand without cracking it open is that Wolf was an informant for the Stasi before 1988. Perhaps she was coerced, but ever since I learned that fact I've been very dubious of her books.


Ah, a writer's politics and dirty secret deeds ... yes, they can be off-putting, but do they warrant out of hand dismissal ? I found In the Flesh to provide a fairly nuanced view of an ugly regime (to what extent Wolf is self-serving in trying to (re-)position herself in the post-wall world -- the book was written long after German reunification -- I can't judge); one of the secondary characters is based on a real-life case, a government apologist who eventually turned to suicide, so the book does deal with some of these issues.

I always like to focus on the literary work rather than the author behind it, though admittedly they can be hard to seperate (including here, autobiographical as In the Flesh obviously is). And I wonder where one would draw the line -- as well as how one goes about vetting all the authors whose books one would like to read (how do you do it, Tom ?). There's some appeal to the position -- and it would certainly help trim my reading list, if I refused to consider works by authors who have behaved reprehensibly -- but I'm not really comfortable with it.


Good point, Michael. I won't claim to be rational in how I go about deciding whose books I'll read and whose I'll consign to the dustbin. But precisely because my TBR pile grows everyday (although probably not as much as yours or your co-op partners) I reserve the right to be irrational. Or, at least in this case, I am somewhat informed. Do I not want to read Christa Wolf's new book? Fine, I'll see what else has been translated from German recently. Do I think that Norman Mailer is an absolute pig? Cool, I'll read something else. Hell, I'll even judge a book by its cover, something which Borges whole-heartedly approved. Of course, he was blind when said that.

I don't say this just to stir the pot- ok, I'm guilty of that in my first post- I'm only suggesting that many of us make snap decisions when we decide what to read. I'm sure I've closed off interesting avenues, but I still follow my bliss and find great books along the way. And no, I haven't read Blink!


I would like to suggest you read this writer's work...outstanding.


So if the Read This! selection is not by an American and this other nomination, Christa Wolf, is also not American, what nationalities are the other authors? And what does this say about American letters?


For a very different take on post-89 Germany, pick up Wladimir Kaminer. Russian Disco is the only one of his several books that's been translated into English (UK only, as best as I can tell), and his Berlin is almost nothing like Wolf's. Vietnamese shopkeepers, convoluted Russian families, the down and out, the up and coming, the chaos that is turn of the century Berlin. There's not the self-conscious reaching for High Art that I associate with Wolf, but darn if he doesn't capture an awful lot of life on the page. Deceptive simplicity.

The storyline described above for In the Flesh reminded me of the movie Goodbye Lenin. Anyone care to comment whether the parallels extend any further?

As for some of the issues raised here, Anna Funder's Stasiland is a terrific place to start. Or Timothy Garton Ash's The File, from another point of view.


Sabra: Two of the fivee authors on our shortlist are North Americans, yes. Personally, I think literature in the United States has much to recommend it, and the composition of our shortlist is more likely a reflection of the tastes and aims of this season's five LBC nominators. For all we know, the next batch of books could be written by five women from New York City!


Doug- Thanks for the heads-up.

the happy booker

Ron, you made me laugh out loud with your reference to the NBA's picks for 2004. I am only ankle-deep in Wolf's book, but so far it's pretty amazing. Once again, Literary Saloon/Complete Review has come through with a great recommendation.


I couldn't help commenting upon the sentence: "The writing is masterful -- coming across even in translation (by John S. Barrett)." As a rep from the translation community, I'd like to point out that translated books are discussed and reviewed in odd ways which often only point out that a work is a translation when there is something negative to say about it, as if the reviewer or reader has read the original text; or at best, offers a sort of backhanded compliment similar to the one above. This statement suggests that its writer has read the German text and compared it to the English. It is not only the writing that is masterful; it is the translation as well, because that is the only experience you have had of the book. No "even in translation" about it.

(excuse me if you have, in fact, read the German)

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