In 2018, I only read 6 books in my native German. This shocked me to the core because it was the lowest number I ever achieved since moving to the UK and mostly reading English books. A lot of it has to do with accessibility, I lack a German library (although the Onleihe by the Goethe Institut is great), I lack German bookshops (yes, one can order through the internet, but browsing in bookshops is what informs you about what is coming out etc.) and I just stopped reading reviews in newspapers and magazines (mostly because I don’t have access to magazines and also because I ended my Spiegel subscription). So I set out into 2019 with the firm conviction to read more German books again. In came a subscription to Skoobe, sort of like scribd but in German, which allowed me to browse, try things out and abandon books if I don’t like them. I also started reading reviews again and watched German-speaking literary TV programs. This resulted in 31 books read last year, which is quite the improvement.
However, I have been around long enough to know that you have to keep the effort up if you want to maintain an achievement. It is too easy to rest on your laurels. So this year, I started with my fellow booktuber and fellow German Britta Boehler a year-long “reading challenge” (I personally prefer the word “project”, but who nitpicks at words… surely not I) to Read More German Books in 2020. We have set up a Goodreads group because public accountability and all that shenanigans but also we felt that people should generally read a few more German books, I always think that German classics and contemporary fiction does not get enough airtime on YouTube, heck, it does not even get enough airtime on German Book TV shows, but that is a rant for another blog post.
My aim for 2020 is to read at least 25 German books, that would account for about 10% of my reading, however, my secret goal is to not just surpass the 31 from last year but to get to 50 and thus making German books account for 20% of my reading. In the lofty realms of future me, I would like to get it to 25%. I also plan to read more books translated into German from languages other than English (because I read them in English naturally), but I won’t count these in the German-language category for obvious reasons.
So what better way to start the year than by reading a German-language book and so I finally picked up my second Vea Kaiser: Makarionissi oder Die Insel der Seligen. Her Blasmusikpop (Oompah Pop – you can read a translated excerpt here) was one of my favourite reads in 2018, so it is fair to say that expectations were high and I am happy to report that my expectations were justified because I loved the book.
In essence, the book is about family bonds and migration and what happens to a family when parts of the family have to leave the home village to make their way in the world. This is a topic that fascinates me seeing that I am someone who does not live in the place where I was born and have not done so for nearly 30 years.
The story starts in a Greek mountain village and takes us to Hildesheim in German, St. Poelten in Austria, Chicago, Switzerland and to a Greek Island. I think the best way to describe this book is that it is a Pop-Melodrama in the Greek Heroic tradition. Yes, that’s definitely it. I also loved Kaiser’s look at migration, she presents us with various forms of migration: Economic, political and personal. Naturally, many Greek left the country in the 1960ies for economic reasons, many came to Germany, but then with the advent of the military Junta, many left-leaning or outright communist Greek had to flee the country to save their lives and became political migrants. Another character much later in the book leaves the country because of a broken heart. She presents us with these migration stories without bashing us with them around our heads, yet, they really left a deep impression on me and will be what I will remember about this book.
I also loved the characters in the book, trapped in a cycle of always never quite making the right choice yet somehow finding a bit of happiness here and there, but life always messes it up just when things are going ok. I think Vea Kaiser wants to say that life is a tragedy with happy moments, which naturally makes those fleeting times all the more precious.
I am pretty sure that 2020 will see me reading Rückwärtswalzer oder Die Manen der Familie Prischinger and that would then mean that I have read all her books, leaving me hoping dearly that she will soon bring out a new novel.
Makarionissi oder Die Insel der Seligen by Vea Kaiser
Hardcover, 464 pages