Anne Weber – Epic Annette
Anne Beaumanoir – better known as Annette – was a remarkable woman. Born to a humble family in rural Brittany in 1923, she joined the French Resistance as a teenager and fought against Nazi occupation in Paris. After the war, she trained as a neurophysiologist and began a bourgeois family life – until revelations about France’s brutal conduct in the Algerian War led her to take a stand once more. Annette started working for the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) in France, but got arrested and fled; she later served in Algeria’s first (ill-fated) independent government.
she joined the French Resistance as a teenager and fought against Nazi occupation in Paris.
Epic Annette (Indigo), the German Book Prize-winning novel by Berlin-born Anne Weber, covers all this ground and more in a moving, insightful biographical account. But what makes Weber’s text really extraordinary is that she wrote it in the form of a Homeric epic, a ‘novel in verse’ that positions one woman’s bravery within the vast, impersonal sweep of history. Wahlpariserin Weber produced versions of the text in both German and French – master translator and Exberliner favourite Tess Lewis used both to produce her characteristically excellent English edition.
Olivia Wenzel – 1,000 Coils of Fear
A very different new feminist novel is 1,000 Coils of Fear (Catapult) by Weimar-born Berlinerin Olivia Wenzel, out now in Priscilla Layne’s fine translation. Here, a young woman struggles with mental health problems, with the after effects of her childhood, and with the structural violence she suffers as a queer Black women from the former DDR. (In one memorable passage, Wenzel’s narrator details three reasons she can’t eat a banana on the street in Germany: sexist innuendo, racist iconography and anti-Ostdeutsch mockery.)
“I have more privileges than anyone in my family ever had,” she notes. “And I’m still fucked.”
This protagonist tries to navigate her personal relationships; she travels to New York and sleeps with a stranger while Donald Trump is elected; she remembers the suicide of her brother and a terrifying encounter with neo-Nazis at a Brandenburg lake. “I have more privileges than anyone in my family ever had,” she notes. “And I’m still fucked.”
Wenzel, who is also a musician and dramatist, enlivens her text by splitting the narration between a multitude of voices, some of which interrogate and contradict the others. What results is a richly textured, thought-provoking debut.
E. Annie Proulx – Fen, Bog & Swamp
Moving to nonfiction, this month sees the release of Fen, Bog & Swamp (Harper Collins), a powerful new work by US author E. Annie Proulx. Best known as a writer of fiction – particularly her Pulitzer-winning second novel The Shipping News (1993) and her short story ‘Brokeback Mountain’ – Proulx actually started out as a journalist. Here she brings her research skills together with her formidable storytelling to delve into the topic of wetlands, and what humanity has done to them.
From Russia to England, from Hudson Bay to the Amazon, Proulx leads her readers on a tour through the past and present of lowlands, fens, bogs and mires. As we follow her, we learn how these unglamorous bits of land are crucial to the health of our planet.
We recommend that everyone read it, especially those who – like us – happen to live in a city that was built on (and allegedly named after) a swamp.
All books are available at Dussmann English Bookshop