Eventless day, so lets make this another book post day.
So let’s see…. As you know, I’m totally hooked on audio books right now and as I have said in an earlier post (click here to read it if you’ve missed it), that while for a long time I haven’t found time to actually read books, it has become so much easier now because you’re able to do other things while listening to an audio book. And some of these things – e.g. cleaning or ironing – become less of a stupid hassle because you keep concentrating on the story that’s being read to you. Wonderful!
My first ever audio book… no wait… my first ever audio book experience was 11 years ago and didn’t end good, so I guess I’ve got to say my second audio book experience was with Juli Zeh‘s latest book Unterleuten.
Juli Zeh is a successful German writer who also holds a doctorate in international law. She has written a number of novels, some of which have also been translated into no less than 35 languages. She’s also written non-fiction, essays and plays.
I’ve heard her name several times but have never read a book written by her… for no particular reason. I think she’s the kind of author who is either loved or hated though. At least I could get that impression by now.
Anyway. After becoming an Audible subscriber, I could download my first audio book. Of course there were several recommendations of recent books on the website. I flipped through and my eyes found Unterleuten. I have seen that book in shops all the time. I know it is pretty high on the book charts for a while now. But I barely knew what it was about. But since I keep hearing the name Juli Zeh I thought I might check her out.
This is her latest work and it’s not yet translated and published elsewhere, I’m pretty sure though that this is only a matter of time.
Unterleuten is a bit of a playing with words. Looking at the book cover…
… it looks like Unter Leuten. This would actually mean “Among People”. In fact, in that story, we ARE kind of among people. Yet the title has to be read like Unterleuten, and that is the name of a small village in the State of Brandenburg, about 1 hour outside of Berlin (that only exsists in the novel though). Brandenburg belonged to the GDR before reunification.
In that village live a number of people. Some of them born here, some of them moved here after reunification. They come from the big city and are searching for the quiet country life. Basically, hillbilly meets big-city-know-it-all. We meet several different characters and learn about their stories, why they live here, what they think about everyone else, what their intentions are. We learn how the city people clash with the village people because they don’t understand the very specifics of living in a village.We learn about the typical dynamics and how people socialize in a village. Things are handled differently here…
We learn about two guys who more or less “rule” that whole village, named Gombrowski and Kron, who have lived here their whole life and generations before them, who know everyone and everything, and also hate each other because of some events in the past. These events only very slowly unfold…
Then there’s the couple from Berlin, Gerhard and Jule with their little daughter Sophie, who have moved here a short while ago. She’s much younger than him. He’s some intellectual smart-ass who never really got anywhere, career-wise, and has now become a bird conservationist, especially caring about the so-called Kampfläufer (English: Ruff, Latin: Philomachus pugnax, a bird that actually exists and which you can see on the book cover).
They live next to a guy whom they call “the animal”. He runs a car repair shop but keeps also burning down garbage and old tires on his grounds so that the couple next to him can’t go into their backyard and have to keep all their windows closed. Why? Also… there seems to be something in his past that’s mysterious and somehow connected to Gombrowski and Kron.
There’s Linda and her boyfriend Frederik. They also recently moved here. Linda is in love with her horse named Bergamotte. They have bought an old mansion that needs a lot of renovation. And by the time they’re done – along with building a stable for Bergamotte – she wants to bring the horse here, which for now remains in the town where she lived before. Linda is a firm believer in the theories of a guy who’s written a book about power and success and how to achieve it. One of her favorite quotes from the book is “power is the answer to the question of who moves whom”. And Linda will start to “move” other people to get what she wants soon! But what are the consequences?
There’s Hilde, a tiny woman, widow and BFF of Gombrowski. What has the death of her husband many years ago to do with the hate between Gombrowski and Kron? Hilde may be tiny but she has a strong will and knows a lot and is a schemer. She’s a bit strange now though and lives with 20 cats and doesn’t want to leave the house anymore.
There are a lot more characters, but never too many to lose sight or get confused. (If you pay attention, that is.)
Into that whole scenery comes a company that wants to build an onshore wind farm near Unterleuten. And now the story really begins. There are those who have a strong interest that this wind farm gets build, and the others with a strong interest against it. Each chapter now covers the thoughts and actions of a certain character. We learn about one view. Then we get to another character and see a completely different view and we also have to rethink of what we thought previously. It’s a story about how people only have their own egoistical interests in sight and what they are willing to do to get their way. We might change our views on certain characters as the story continues. It’s the typical thing when you judge someone for something you think to know about them or for their actions, while at the same time you know nothing about their motives, about why they are doing what they are doing and what their real backstory is. And we see how the situation gets worse by the minute. Until things happen that could have been prevented if only … yeah. If only.
If you live in Germany and you love really good and intelligently woven stories with brilliant characters and subtle irony then I URGE you to read that book. It, however, demands your full attention. But it’s all worth it. I haven’t read (heard) such a great book in a long long long time! The reviews are mostly very good, even from the professional book critics. It is a bestseller. It’s one of the most talked about books this year. And the film rights are already sold (or not film but TV show… I’m not sure.).
Juli Zeh has also created a whole universe around it. There’s a website called http://www.unterleuten.de and it looks as if that village actually exists. You get a map with the streets and you see where everyone lives. There are character bios and even links to websites of e.g. companies that exist in the books or even Facebook profiles of characters. It is as if village and people really exist. Yet it’s all “invented” by Juli Zeh. She has e.g. even written that book about power and success herself, that character Linda reads so religiously. There’s a character bio for the (fictional) author and you can even order that book from Amazon.
The whole concept is simply brilliant! That book is brilliant! This is a definite must-read. I’ll let you all know when I hear that it was also published in English. As I said, that’s only a matter of time for sure.
A word about the narrator of the book, Helene Grass. While this was my first audio book I heard through completely and couldn’t compare, I thought that she did an outstanding job. She found exactly the right tone with a very very subtle ironic undertone that fits the story PERFECTLY. Couldn’t have thought of a better narrator for this.
This is one of the very few books I would even consider reading again.
It’s in my personal Book Hall of Fame!
And because of course I have to post a Photo of the Day, here’s one from my latest finished coloring project.