For German Lit Month 2012 I read Ferdinand von Schirach’s collection of crime short stories Crime & Guilt largely based on his experiences as one of Germany’s most prominent defence lawyers. The Collini Case is Schirach’s first attempt at slightly longer fiction (although it is still short at only 182 pages) and as with the stories in Crime & Guilt Schirach manages to portray the perpetrator of a vicious crime in a humane light by explaining his back story. The investigation into a seemingly motiveless attack on an elderly industrialist goes nowhere. This, plus his client’s unwillingness to talk, explain himself or defend his position, causes up-and-coming defence lawyer, Casper Leinen some sleepless nights. Casper’s personal connection to the victim provides the emotional conflict and personal angle to this story.
Schirach cleverly reveals the moving yet horrifying back story of both killer and victim with such dignity that I could not help but feel some sympathy for the defendant and his decision to commit such a brutal act (in fact my face streamed with tears reading parts of this book as my train chugged through the Belgian countryside towards Bruges last week). This is a tense and gripping yet precise courtroom drama with a bittersweet ending. And despite its brevity it packed a punch in Germany; the shame associated with the very specific piece of German law featured and highlighted in this novella led to a review of the marks left on the Ministry of Justice by its past connections to the Nazi party. Worth reading for that alone.
I read this for German Literature Month
Ferdinand von Schirach is not unfamiliar with crime or guilt, as one of Germany’s top defence lawyers he has spent years representing people in trouble. He also grew up in a family living with the guilt of his grandfather, a senior Nazi in charge of the Hitler Youth who stood trial at Nuremberg. But that is not what this book is about. Originally published in separate volumes, Crime & Guilt is a collection of fictionalised stories based on some of the cases he worked on.
The variety of crimes and characters depicted in these volumes is amazing and a testament to the breadth of von Schirach’s experience. What links all the stories is von Schirach’s resolution to portray even the vilest of criminals in the most humane light as possible (with the exception of “The Funfair”). I think he manages this by showing the reader the back story and the events leading up to the crime all in 3rd person narrative. I sympathised with many of the characters because of this approach – I felt I was allowed to form my own opinion about guilt. Part way through most of the stories, von Schirach inserts himself into the scene and switches to 1st person narration. He explains the German legal system and how he goes about defending his clients, but never gives his opinion on what they have done – he never judges them himself.
Some of the stories are heart breaking; the story of “Fähner”, a village doctor married to a cruel and violent wife. After many years of mental and physical abuse, he finally flips and finds himself in trouble. Or “The Cello”, a story of a brother and sister subjected to cruelty by their rich father, once free of his vice like grip, a sad accident leads to one of them committing a crime. Some of the stories are clever – The Hedgehog made me wonder at the lengths people will go to, to protect their family and how inventive they can be. There are also a couple of mad-cap stories, like “The Key”, which would make good Tarrantino or Guy Ritchie scripts. There is not a duff story in this double volume and Carol Brown Janeway has done a fantastic job with the translation. This is a great collection for readers who like true crime or bite sized crime stories. Ferdinand von Schirach has also recently written his first novel, The Collini Case, if you want to read a review, here’s a great one from Caroline.
I read this for German Literature Month (should have reviewed it last week during genre week – sorry about the delay!)
I started writing this blog in February and since then I have been concentrating on building up a portfolio of reviews. There have been several read-alongs and shared reading blog events I have wanted to join, but didn’t really have the confidence. Now I feel I’m finally ready for a shared reading event and so have signed up for (yes, confirmed my commitment) to German Literature Month hosted by Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life and Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat (follow the links for more info). If you’ve read any of my blog, you will know I have familial links to Germany, studied it at A Level and as part of my degree, I even spent a year at Trier University. I still try to read a German language book per year in the original, although haven’t managed it for a couple of years.
This blog event is an opportunity to explore some books I might not normally pick up and I’m looking forward to finding some gems as I follow the other participants. This is how the hosts have structured the month:
Week 1 (November 1-7) Novellas, plays and poems
Week 2 (November 8-14) Literary Novels
Week 3 (November 15-21) Genre Fiction – Crime, Fantasy, Horror, Romance
Week 4 (November 22-30) Read as you please
2012 is also the bi-centennial of the birth of the Brothers Grimm. We can’t let it pass without a Brothers Grimm Readathon. So we’ve put that in the calendar from 22-26 November.
The point is, to use the weekly guidelines, read and then write a review of as many German language books as possible. At the moment my plan is to read at least 3 books (I’m not that fast, you see). I have already finished one, hurrah!
The books I have in mind are:
- Week 1 Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki (trans. Anthea Bell) DONE
- Week 2 The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (trans. Joachim Neugroschel) Thanks to An Englishman in Berlin for the tip on this one
- Week 3 Crime & Guilt by Ferdinand von Schirach (trans. Carol Brown Janeway)
- Week 4 Not sure yet
The review for Next World Novella will come in the next few days. I hope I can keep up!