Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reading Places

Because of my upcoming European trip, I am trying to read a few books set in Munich or Berlin. It makes traveling to a city much more interesting if there is a bit of context in the streets or parks where you walk. Berlin is a city rich with art  - whether, literary, cinematic, performance-based. Munich is less so but there are still several novels set there which I have on my short-term list.

First and foremost is the work of Thomas Mann. His stories and novels often take a real world place and invert it or give it a dreamlike quality: the Swiss sanatorium in The Magic Mountain, the erotic and desolate canals (and beach?) in Death in Venice. Though he doesn't do much with place, his works still feel like they are integrated in a unique way with place.

Looking for Borges in Buenos Aires
It's interesting to me how certain writers need to ground their writing in real life places, that naming streets and parks and specific buildings anchors the setting, gives it tangible real world moments that make readers ( or at least me) want to see the actual corner, the building, the park (Google street view is excellent for this and often highly distracting). Orhan Pamuk does this with Istanbul. Roberto Bolano with Mexico City (among other places). Theodore Dreiser (and Henry James and Edith Wharton and many, many other writers) with New York City. Then there are writers who set their works in real life locations but the settings somehow don't reflect the reality of the city, don't capture its essence: I think of Thomas Mann but also of Kazuo Ishiguro, Borges, Juan Carlos Onetti, Julio Cortazar. These writers create alternate versions of their cities or settings or their writings reflect more internal concerns and they are less interested in the concrete, trees and earth of actual physical location.

Right now I am reading The Traitor's Emblem by Juan Gomez-Juraldo, largely set in Munich of the early 20th century, and sensing how Munich operates in his book makes me really look forward to putting my own feet down there in a few weeks.

If anyone has any good books set in Berlin to recommend, let us know on our Facebook page!

1 comment:

  1. My Berlin Kitchen (A Love Story, with Recipes)by Luisa Weiss. She is a charming writer and I'm sure that you know her blog, The Wednesday Chef.She lives in Berlin! The book has a September pub date...not sure when you're going exactly...