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‘Little Zaches, Great Zinnober’ by E.T.A. Hoffmann

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I was hoping to read E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr for GLM4 but as I feared I ran out of time. However, I wanted to squeeze in a Hoffmann review of my own before it ended so I plumped for this tale Little Zaches, Great Zinnober. As far as I know it’s not readily available in English in any published work but a little while ago I found this great translation online by Michael Haldane which can be retrieved from his website here along with some other translations. The original German title is Klein Zaches genannt Zinnober and was originally published in 1819.

The novel is one of his more fantastical pieces in the style of The Golden Pot, The Nutcracker and Mouse King and Master Flea and it involves many of Hoffmann’s favourite themes: fairies, confused identities, magic, Romantic students, strange beings etc. The tale begins with an old peasant woman collapsing by the roadside with a basket full of twigs on her head. She laments her fate and we find out how she gave birth to a strange little child that has ‘spidery little legs, and instead of talking, he growls and miaows, like a cat.’ This is Little Zaches, and he crawls out from the basket that the old woman has been carrying. A more detailed description of Little Zaches follows:

The thing’s head was set deep between its shoulders, it had a pumpkin-like outgrowth in place of a back, and its hazel switch-thin little legs hung down directly beneath its breast, so that the boy resembled a split radish. A dull eye would discover little about the face, but looking more closely, you would become aware of a long, sharp nose jutting out beneath shaggy black hair and a pair of small, darkly flashing eyes that seemed — especially when one considered the otherwise quite old, furrowed facial features — to reveal a small alraun [mandrake root].

So Little Zaches supposedly looks like a mandrake root; these appear in witchcraft and folklore and are supposed to have magical properties. Anyway, along comes Fräulein von Rosenchön, a nun, who takes pity on them both, she picks up Little Zaches, combs his hair then sprinkles holy water over him, then leaves. When the woman wakes up she’s pleased with Zaches’ nicely combed hair and they walk on where they meet the local priest who is so impressed by Little Zaches’ looks and erudition that he offers to raise him as his own.

It turns out that Fräulein von Rosenchön is also known as Rosengrünschön (is there a German pun here?) but is really the Fairy Rosabelverde. Yes, she’s a fairy who escaped the ‘fairy purges’ that were instigated by Paphnutius when he tried to enforce Enlightenment values throughout the land and to get rid of all undesirable elements. Fairies are particularly offensive because of their ‘unbearable police-unfriendly habits’ and for their propensity to ‘drive in the air with harnessed doves, swans’ and ‘even winged horses’. If Hoffmann has a dig here at the expense of the Enlightenment then with the start of chapter Two he has a dig at Romanticism by introducing the student Balthasar, a poet and a student who is in love with his tutor’s beautiful daughter Candida. He likes going for lonely strolls in the forest alone when his friends are all enjoying themselves. Things start to escalate now because Balthasar and his friend see a horse approaching that seems as if it has no rider but is in fact being ridden by Zaches who strikes the students as preposterous. When Zaches appears in town (Kerepes) instead of being laughed at by everyone they thinks he’s wonderful. Zaches, now known as Zinnober, wheedles his way into a plush job as a minister to the Fürst (prince) by taking the credit of several people, including Balthasar, and he even ends up getting betrothed to Candida. Only a few people can see Zinnober as he really is; for most people he is a perfect gentleman, poet, scholar, diplomat and lover.

One day when Balthasar and his friend, Referendarius Pulcher, are walking in the woods they hear a strange musical sound and then see a man dressed like a Chinese man with plumes on his head in a cart that looked as if it was made of sparkling crystal, pulled by two unicorns and driven by a silver pheasant and at the back is a large rose-beetle which is cooling the man by fluttering its wings. It turns out that the man is Doctor Prosper Alpanus. The students get to know him and hope that he will be able to help them in their attempt to break the spell that Zinnober has over the townsfolk.

There are so many wonderful and humorous episodes in this short book such as when Zinnober is awarded the ‘Order of the Green-Spotted Tiger’ and it takes the best minds of the land over a week to determine the best way to fix it to his coat. And there’s Fabian whose coat sleeves end up shrinking and whose coat tail keeps growing until he is threatened with expulsion from the town for his outlandish behaviour. Alpanus flies about on giant dragonflies, Terpin studies why wine doesn’t taste like water and there is even an incident where someone dies by getting stuck in a teapot. This is fun stuff but one of my favourite episodes is when Fräulein (or Sister) Rosenchön visits Alpanus and there’s an incident with the coffee.

Prosper asked if she, as it was still early morning, would perhaps take a cup of coffee; Rosenschön said that a Nun never spurned such things. The coffee was brought, but however hard Prosper tried to pour it out, the cups remained empty, notwithstanding that coffee streamed out of the pot.
“Well, well,” smiled Prosper Alpanus, “this is naughty coffee! Would you, my dear Fraulein, be so good as to pour the coffee yourself?”
“With pleasure,” replied the Fraulein, grasping the pot. But despite the fact that not a single drop poured out of the pot, the cup became fuller and fuller, and the coffee flowed over on to the table, on to the Nun’s dress. She quickly put the pot down; the coffee immediately disappeared without a trace.

They’re using their magical powers to tussle with each other. A few more incidents occur until Alpanus declares that Rosenschön (Rosabelverde) is now in his power and we get this great scene.

  “In your power,” cried the Fraulein, angrily, “in your power, Doctor? Foolish conceit!”
And with these words her silk dress spread itself out, and she floated up to the ceiling as the loveliest Camberwell beauty. But at once Prosper Alpanus was buzzing and rushing after her as a huge stag-beetle. Totally exhausted, the Camberwell beauty fluttered down and ran around the ground as a little mouse. But the stag-beetle sprang after it, miaowing and snorting, as a grey tomcat. The little mouse rose once again as a dazzling hummingbird, when all sorts of strange voices were raised all around the country house, and all sorts of wonderful insects buzzed in, along with strange wood-fowl, and a golden web was spun over the window. Then all at once the Fairy Rosabelverde, radiant in all her splendour and eminence, in a glistening white garment fastened by a sparkling belt of diamonds, white and red roses woven in her dark locks, stood there in the middle of the room. Before her the magus in a gold-embroidered robe, a glittering crown on his head, the cane with the fiery-beaming knob in his hand.
As Rosabelverde strode up to the magus, a golden comb fell out of her hair and shattered, as if it were made of glass, on the marble floor.
“Oh my! Oh my!” cried the Fairy.
Suddenly Sister von Rosenschon was sitting once more in a long black dress at the coffee table, and opposite her sat Doctor Prosper Alpanus.

As it happens the golden comb is quite important but I won’t reveal any more of the plot. Will the students, with Alpanus’s help, manage to break the spell that Zinnober has over the town? Will Balthasar marry Candida? What will happen to Zaches/Zinnober? Will they all live happily ever after? As with many of Hoffmann’s stories this is such a fun read that it’s difficult to resist reading it. Isn’t it?

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‘The Hundred Days’ by Joseph Roth

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The Hundred Days was originally published in 1935 as Die Hundert Tage and the title refers to the famous period when Napoleon Bonaparte returned to Paris from his exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba to once again rule as Emperor of France. He arrived in Paris on 20th March 1815, whilst the Congress of Vienna was in full swing, and reigned as Emperor until he surrendered a little while after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.

Roth_Hundred-Days_fcX-700pxThe novel is split into four parts: the first and third parts are close-ups of Napoleon when he’s arriving in Paris in March and following his defeat at Waterloo respectively. The second and fourth parts concern the life of a laundress who is employed within the Emperor’s household and who idolises him.

At first this seems like a strange structure for a short novel about this period and I was a little dubious of whether it was going to work but by the end of the novel I was convinced – it’s just that it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

Book One opens in Paris – the King has fled and the Emperor has arrived to a rapturous reception. Roth explains why the populace loved him:

They loved him because he seemed to be one of them – and because he was none the less greater than them. He was an encouraging example to them.

Roth also gives us a quick summary of Napoleon’s character:

He promised the people liberty and dignity – but whoever entered into his service surrendered their freedom and gave themselves completely to him. He held the people and the nations in low regard, yet none the less he courted their favour. He despised those who were born kings but desired their friendship and recognition. He believed in God yet did not fear Him. He was familiar with death but did not want to die. He placed little value upon life yet wished to enjoy it. He had no use for love but wanted to have women. He did not believe in loyalty and friendship yet searched tirelessly for friends. He scorned the world but wanted to conquer it anyway.

Back in his imperial palace Napoleon sets about forming a new cabinet, he sees his family, especially his mother, sees a fortune teller, he inspects his army and prepares for war against the expected Allied attack.

He envied his enemy, the lethargic old King who had fled with his arrival. The King had ruled in God’s name and through the strength of his ancestors alone had kept the peace. He, however, the Emperor, had to make war. He was only the general of his soldiers.

We get to see the Emperor, quite often, when he is alone and so one time, whilst walking in a park he hears someone nearby and becomes fearful of an assassination. But it is only a laundress, who can barely answer his questions; we do discover that her name is Angelina Pietri and that she is originally from Corsica, as is the Emperor, and he takes a note of her name. In the following days he studies maps, reviews his troops and prepares for war. When he’s reviewing his troops he notices a drummer boy, calls him over and discovers that the boy is called Pascal Pietri. He remembers Angelina’s surname and confirms that she is Pascal’s mother. Pascal corrects Napoleon when he assumes that Pascal’s father has the surname Pietri, instead it is Levadour. We see the human side of Napoleon here.

He remembered Angelina Pietri, the little housemaid whom he had seen in the darkness of the park. The memory cheered him, and the name Angelina, her little son who beat the drum in his army, and the brave freshness with which the boy had corrected him about his father’s name nearly moved him. Yes, these were his people, these were his soldiers!

Book One ends with Napoleon going off to battle.

Book Two is titled ‘The Life of Angelina Pietri’ and so we learn how Angelina moved to Paris, how she got a position as a servant in the Imperial household through her aunt, Véronique Casimir. As she cleans, the Emperor is often present, though always in another room. There’s one curious passage where Angelina is asked to a room, given a drink and asked to wait. She waits, drinks some wine, inspects some paintings, waits and then falls asleep. She’s woken in the morning when the Emperor enters the room brusquely and she is dismissed. The reason for her being there is not explained though we can probably guess. Anyway it’s a mix up as the Emperor calls his servant an ‘idiot’.

In Book Two we also learn about Angelina’s relationship with the Sergeant-Major Sosthène Levadour. Angelina discovers that she is pregnant but wants nothing to do with the father, she certainly doesn’t want to marry him. Angelina doesn’t love Levadour, she loves the Emperor.

All across the land and the world, women loved the Emperor. But to Angelina it seemed that to love the Emperor was a special and mysterious art; she felt betrothed to him, the most exalted lord of all time.

Her son is, of course, Pascal. From this point on the tale of Angelina becomes more interesting, at least it did for me, as Book Two covers the period up to Napoleon’s abdication and the reinstatement of the monarchy under Louis XVIII.

I’ve probably revealed more of the plot than I’d originally intended so I’ll just say that we’re also introduced to one of the more loveable characters in the novel, Jan Wokurka. Books One and Two cover about two thirds of the novel. In Book Three we see the events following Waterloo from Napoleon’s perspective. There’s a wonderful scene in this section that takes place on the battlefield but I won’t reveal any more. Napoleon appears weaker, less sure of himself, and often just wants to give up – he’s truly defeated. With the final book we’re back with Angelina and we follow her fate during Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Be warned there’s an unexpected ending.

hundred_days_cover_300_430I read the translation by Richard Panchyk, published by ‘Peter Owen’ in 2011 and pictured at the head of this post. This was the first English translation for seventy years. This translation has recently been published in the U.S. by ‘New Directions’. I prefer the New Directions cover as it demonstrates that the focus of the novel is more on Angelina than on Napoleon directly but the Peter Owen cover makes a bit more sense when you’ve read the book.

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‘Auto da Fé’ by Elias Canetti

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Auto da Fé was originally published as Die Blendung in 1935 and was translated in 1946 by C.V. Wedgwood (Dame Cicely Veronica Wedgwood) and was translated ‘under the personal supervision of the author’. A more literal translation would be, I believe, The Blinding. Auto da Fé refers to the burning of heretics by the Spanish and Portuguese inquisition. I first read this book about twenty years ago and have been meaning to re-read it for years; GLM4 has given me a good excuse to do so.

Canetti_Auto-da-Fe-fcXC-700pxThe book is split into three parts: A Head Without a World; Headless World; The World in the Head. The first part introduces us to the main character, Peter Kien, who lives his bookish life largely inside his own head. In the opening pages we see Kien as he goes on his daily early morning walk which he takes between seven and eight o’clock before the bookshops open so he won’t be tempted to buy any more books but also to reassure himself that the bookshops only sell substandard books. He has his own personal library of 25,000 volumes, mostly on his specialist subject of Chinese Literature, and he even carries around a small portion of it in a suitcase wherever he goes. Unusually for Kien he takes an interest in a small boy who seems to share his interest in Chinese literature, maybe because this boy reminds him of himself as a child.

We soon learn that Kien has a housekeeper called Therese Krumbholz who has been employed by him for eight years; she was attracted by his advertisement in which it was stated that ‘money was no object’. Kien’s wealth comes solely from an inheritance and although he publishes papers he’s not employed by any academic institution. He lives frugally except when it comes to acquiring books. He dislikes talking: ‘The greatest danger which threatens a man of learning, is to lose himself in talk.’ Food is irrelevant to him: ‘As a rule he would not have been able to say what precisely he had in his mouth.’ But he likes books and thinking: ‘He reserved consciousness for real thoughts; they depend upon it; without consciousness, thoughts are unthinkable.’ Therese, in her blue starched skirt, believes that Kien has a secret vice – just what does he do in his study between six and seven a.m.?

One day he believes that Therese is taking an interest in his books and he offers to lend her one. When he’s reminded of his promise he gives her a tatty old novel and is surprised and impressed with the reverence that she has for it; she wears gloves to handle it, she wraps it up to stop it getting damaged and re-reads each page several times. Throughout the novel Kien and the other characters make decisions through torturous logic which they usually regret, so it is very often difficult for us, the reader, to understand their thought processes. Impressed by her devotion to books and taking advice from an imaginary conversation with Confucius Kien rashly decides to marry Therese; this is the beginning of his downfall.

For the rest of Part One Therese gradually takes over control of Kien’s flat, such as insisting on them having meals together, buying new furniture; she demands more control over the finances and is convinced that Kien is hiding his fortune from her. Therese becomes increasingly avaricious so that by the end of Part One she refuses to cook him any food and virtually has him imprisoned in his room and just wants him to hand over his bankbook. Kien takes the only route open to him and impersonates a stone statue. Yes, Auto da Fé gets gloriously weird at times:

Therese grabbed him by the legs of his chair and shoved him heavily to one side. She let go of the chair, went over to the writing desk and pulled out a drawer. She searched through the drawer, found nothing, and made for the next one. In the third, fourth and fifth she still could not find what she wanted. He understood: a ruse of war. She was not looking for anything; what could she be looking for? The manuscripts would all be alike to her, she had found papers in the very first drawer. She was working on his curiosity. He was to ask, what was she doing there. If he spoke he would be stone no longer, and she would strike him dead. She was tempting him out of his stone. She tore and wrenched at the desk. But he kept his blood cold and uttered not a breath.

By the end of Part One Therese throws Kien out of the flat – but he at least has the bankbook.

There are so many crazy characters in this novel, but one character who appears throughout the whole book is the brutish caretaker of the building. This man is an ex-policeman who just loves using his fists. Strangely enough Kien had befriended him over the years by paying him a monthly stipend to keep the building free of hawkers, beggars and other undesirables. This man, Benedikt Pfaff, bullied both his wife and daughter, and made their lives unbearable. There’s a brilliant one-page interior monologue of Pfaff’s thoughts; to give you a taste of his character here’s the beginning of that monologue:

Women ought to be beaten to death. The whole lot of them. I know them. I’m fifty-nine. Twenty-three years I was a married man. Almost half my life. Married to the same old woman. I know women. They’re all criminals. You just add up the poisoners, Professor, you’ve got books, have a good look at them. Women haven’t any guts. I know all about it. When a man tries anything on with me, I smash his face in so he has something to remember me by, you sh–, I say, you dirty little sh–, how dare you?

And so, with Part Two it gets even more weird. Kien ends up getting involved with a hunchbacked dwarf called Fischerle who is also intent on relieving Kien of his money which he has withdrawn from his bank account. Curiously he actually has Kien’s wallet twice in his hands but can’t seem to simply steal the money. Instead, when they visit a pawnbrokers he convinces Kien that when people pawn their books there they actually get eaten by the ‘hog’. Kien is so distressed by this that he stands watch on the stairs and pays people to take their books away from the hog. Fischerle soon gets a group of old friends together to take books along to the pawnbrokers when Kien is standing guard so that Fischerle can get Kien’s money. In his warped mind, Fischerle believes that he’s getting Kien’s money legally and that he’s a great entrepreneur.

There’s just too much to mention in this section; we learn that Kien can somehow load up his head with physical books and unload them at night – or is this just Kien being delusional? We can never be too sure. There is also a brilliant scene when Therese and Pfaff turn up at the pawnbroker’s to pawn some of Kien’s books – a magnificent tussle ensues and then an amazingly confused trip to the police station. This scene highlights how none of the characters ever understand what any of the other characters are thinking, feeling or what motivates them. They’re all isolated from each other and are just interested in their own obsessions. Fischerle however escapes with most of Kien’s money and the last chapter of Part Two is probably the weirdest of the novel; we follow Fischerle as he’s preparing to go to America (or Japan – it’s a bit confusing!) until a surprising and shocking ending involving a button.

Part Three initially calms down a bit and we get a bit of background information about Pfaff and we learn that he’s even nastier than we’ve thought up until this point. Kien is temporarily staying at Pfaff’s basement flat whilst Therese is still occupying Kien’s flat. Pfaff is virtually living with Therese and is spending most of his time there as well. In all the confusion of Part Two Fischerle had sent a telegram to Kien’s brother George, a famous psychiatrist, and out of concern for his brother George turns up and helps to restore an element of calm and order. So there’s a happy ending? Er, almost, but not quite! As with the rest of this novel it can easily turn weird and/or nasty.

If you enjoy Kafka or Beckett then you should enjoy this novel.

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‘Indian Summer’ by Adalbert Stifter

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Have you ever wondered what a novel would be like devoid of strife, war, tension, sex, violence, unreliable narrators, internal turmoil, wickedness, redemption, car-chases, gun-fights, zombies etc. Well, Adalbert Stifter’s Indian Summer is such a novel. ‘So what on Earth can it be about then?’ I hear you ask. The short reply is that it is a idyllic, nineteenth-century, middle-class bildungsroman. In fact, it is so idyllic that I don’t believe at any point in the novel do any of the characters say, or think, badly of any other character and I can only recall one point near the end of the novel, where one elderly character is recounting the story of a love affair from his past, when there was a degree of tension between characters. For those of us who have grown up with Dickens or Dostoyevsky this type of novel can be a bit of a surprise and even though I was familiar with a few of Stifter’s other works I wasn’t really prepared for this work.

Stifter_Indian-Summer-fcXC-700pxThe book was originally published in 1857 as Der Nachsommer. The English translation was by Wendell Frye and was published in 1999 by ‘Peter Lang Publishers’. It is quite a long book at 478 pages, especially as the book is larger than the usual novel size; it is more like a 700-800 page novel – so be warned! I’m not trying to put anyone off reading this book, because I really enjoyed reading it, but I think that a large portion of people will really dislike it. Indeed, in his introduction, Wendell Frye says that ‘Der Nachsommer had a mixed reception from the beginning; Hebbel offered the crown of Poland to whomever could read it through while Nietzsche pronounced it and Keller’s Der Grüne Heinrich the two greatest novels of the Nineteenth Century.’ And I believe that the gap between those that will like it and those that won’t will have increased enormously since then.

So the story largely concerns Heinrich and his intellectual development as he becomes a man. Although the blurb on the back of the book named the narrator he’s not actually given a name until the end of the book. The narrator is also vague about the name of another main character, Baron von Risach, throughout most of the book. It’s as if the narrator, and therefore the author also, would like to do away with such egotistical and individualistic things such as names. The novel starts by describing the ordered family life of Heinrich; his father works long hours but spends his spare time collecting and admiring art, furniture, coins etc., whilst his mother is enthusiastic about housekeeping. He also has a younger sister, Klotilde. When Heinrich turns eighteen he is allowed to draw money from his inheritance from a deceased uncle. Heinrich decides to pursue his interests in science and mathematics and soon settles on geology as his main interest especially as he likes to go hiking in the mountains. To give you a taste of the narrative style, here is a quote from the early part of the novel.

Even as a boy I had had a great liking for the reality of things as they actually exist in all Creation and in the orderly course of human life. This was often a source of bother for the people around me. I was constantly asking the names of things, where they came from, what they were used for, and couldn’t be content with an answer that just put me off. I couldn’t stand it either if someone made an object into something other than what it really was. This was particularly true when I felt that the object had become worse for the change. I was sad when they chopped down an old tree in the yard and cut it into firewood. The pieces were no longer a tree and since they were rotten couldn’t be made into a chair or a table or a cross-bar or a saw horse.

One day whilst hiking in the Alps Heinrich notices an approaching thunderstorm and seeks shelter in a nearby house on a hill. Heinrich notices, and describes in great detail, that one side of the house is covered in roses of all types and colours. He rings the bell on the gate and an old white-haired man comes out to see him. I’ll quote the encounter and their initial conversation as it is, I feel, a good taste of what will appear to the modern reader as quite a stilted conversational style.

At the sound of the bell a man came out from behind the bushes in the yard and walked toward me. When he was standing in front of me on the inside of the grill fence, I saw that he was bareheaded and had snow white hair. Otherwise, there was nothing remarkable about him, and he had a type of house jacket on, or whatever you might call it, which fitted snugly and extended down almost to his knees. After he had come up, he gazed at me for a moment and then asked, “What would you like, my dear young man?”
  “There’s a thunderstorm coming up”, I answered, “and it will start shortly. As you can see by my knapsack, I am a hiker and am asking that you give me shelter in this house until the rain, or at least the worst part of it is over.”
  “The thunderstorm won’t come”, said the man.
  “It won’t be an hour before it starts”, I replied, “I am very familiar with these hills and also know something about clouds and thunderstorms.”
  “However, in all probability I have been acquainted much longer with the place where we are now standing than you have with any hills since I am much older than you”, he answered, “I too am familiar with its clouds and thunderstorms and know that today no rain will fall on this house, this yard, or this whole area.”
  “Let’s not argue any longer about whether or not a thunderstorm is going to soak this house today”, I said, “if you refuse to open this gate, at least be so kind as to call the master of the house.”
  “I am the master of the house.”

Heinrich is invited in and they further discuss whether there will be a thunderstorm or not. It turns out that the house on the hill does escape the storm even though it rages in the surrounding area. The white-haired man turns out to be the Baron von Risach and the house is called the ‘Asperhof’. Risach shows Heinrich around his house and, as the novel develops, becomes a mentor to Heinrich. For the rest of the novel Heinrich shuttles between his parents’ home, the Asperhof and the house of some friends of Risach, the ‘Sternenhof’; he has many discussions with Risach on geology, art, illustrating, furniture restoring, statues, marble-flooring, roses, church restorations, nature and many other material things; I believe only once does the conversation turn to more spiritual matters. There is also quite a lot of zither-playing!

By the end of Part Two (of Three) Heinrich has become romantically involved with Natalie, the daughter of the owner of the Sternenhof and the novel concentrates on their future life together. Near the beginning of Part Three, not long after Heinrich and Natalie have declared their love for each other, there is a beautiful description of the wonder of the night sky:

How strange it was, I thought, that when the tiny though thousandfold beauties of the Earth disappeared and the immeasurable beauty of outer space rose in the distant quiet splendor of light, man and the greatest number of other creatures were supposed to be asleep! Was it because we were only permitted to catch a fleeting glimpse of those great bodies and then only in the mysterious time of a dream world, those great bodies about which man had only the slightest knowledge but perhaps one day would be permitted to examine more closely? Or was it permitted for the great majority of people to gaze at the starry firmament only in brief, sleepless moments so that the splendor wouldn’t become mundane, so that the greatness wouldn’t be diminished?

The novel ends with further revelations, especially from Risach, who reveals much about his early life, which helps us understand the title of the novel.

The book is in three parts and I ended up reading each part with a significant break inbetween. Although I really enjoyed the book I think I would find it difficult reading it in one go as it can get a bit suffocating. I must admit when I reached the end I couldn’t help cynically saying to myself ‘And they all lived happily ever after.’ I think this says much about myself and the cynical age we live in. I believe that to enjoy the book one needs to suspend as much of this cynicism as is possible – which I managed to do for most of the book. If you’re unsure about reading this and have not encountered any of Stifter’s work then I would thoroughly recommend Rock Crystal, which has to be one of my favourite books.

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