What Lies Beyond

Greetings to all those visiting Tony’s Reading List as part of the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop (and I hope you are going to visit all the other participants too!).  Today on my little blog, there will be a giveaway – the down side (just like last time) is that you’ll have to sit through the review first – it’s only fair 😉
Today’s offering is another slice of contemporary German literature, Matthias Politycki’s Jenseitsnovelle, which some of you may have heard of in the guise of Peirene Press’ translated version, Next World Novella.  This slender book begins in a most unusual and dramatic fashion when Hinrich Schepp, a professor of ancient Chinese literature, wakes up one morning to find his beloved wife Doro… well, to put it bluntly, dead.  As he struggles to cope with the shock of her demise, he notices some papers which she had obviously been working on shortly before she died – and this is where the story really begins.

You see, Schepp’s claims of a happy and fulfilling married life are not exactly shared by his wife, and in editing an old story of his that she has stumbled upon, Doro lets out her true feelings, revealing that she has been more aware of Hinrich’s shortcomings than he could ever have imagined.  In this story within a story, the message to her husband from beyond the grave will turn poor Hinrich’s life upside-down – but then should we care?  The more we learn about our academic friend, the less inclined we are to take his part in this (one-sided) argument…

It’s a rather Kafkaesque beginning to a puzzling tale, and that’s no coincidence.  Hinrich comes across at times like a Kafka anti-hero, full of bluster, monologues and constant contradictions, and (as suggested earlier) our respect for him goes downhill very quickly.  Even taking into account the effects of grief and the possibility of trauma, it’s hard to feel sorry for a man who seems more concerned with exonerating himself for past sins than with taking care of his dead wife’s body.  Towards the end of the book though, we see that he is not the only one with secrets – and the twist in the tail (or tale!) puts everything in perspective.

While Kafka has already been mentioned as a potential point of reference, another possible influence was suggested by the relationship problems of the hapless Schepps.  With the introduction of the charismatic Dana, a woman who seems to exert a magnetic pull over both Hinrich and Doro, the book began to remind me of a certain Japanese novel, namely Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s Quicksand.  In both, a middle-aged couple flounder in the depths they are lured into by a seductive siren…
…which brings us on nicely to the title of the piece, Jenseitsnovelle.  The Novelle part should be self-explanatory for even the most monolingual among us, but the Jenseits part refers to the next world, the afterlife, which Doro (drawing on her knowledge of Chinese mythology) envisages as an enormous, unending sea, which each of us is condemned to swim into alone.

However, jenseits has many connotations which do not come across in the English translation ‘next world’: ‘ the afterlife’ is one, and another important interpretation is the idea of ‘the other side’.  I found this to be a more accurate translation, and one which works on so many levels – not least of which is the idea that whatever someone tells us about a story, we should always try to hear the other side before passing judgement…

All in all, Jenseitsnovelle is an intriguing book, with a final section which will make you reconsider everything you’ve read up to that point.  The key to understanding the story is vision: how clearly have we seen the events unfolding, and how clearly do the protagonists see what the other has been doing?  The answer?  Well, you’ll find it on the other side… of the cover 😉

So, on to the giveaway!  I will be giving away a copy of the book reviewed above, either in the original German or in the 2011 Peirene Press English-language version.  If you want to enter, simply:

  – comment on this post, stating whether you want the English or German version
  – write the word ‘please‘ somewhere in your comment; manners are important 🙂

  – a contact e-mail would be nice, but I will endeavour to track down the winner!
  – commenting on my review is welcome but not obligatory 😉

This competition is open to all, but please note that I will be using The Book Depository to send this prize, so it is limited to people living in countries where The Book Depository has free delivery.  Entries will close at midnight (Melbourne time) on Thursday, the 20th of October, 2011, and I’ll be announcing the winner shortly after.  Good luck to all, and… sweet dreams 😉

43 thoughts on “What Lies Beyond

  1. Hi! This is Marta, from Barcelona, Spain. I'd love to read this book, it sounds interesting, intriguing, and even exotic (Chinese mythology). As I can't speak a word in German, I'd love to read it in English. Do you have an email subscription to your blog? I can't find it, let me know, please. Thank you!

    martaplayita at gmail dot com


  2. Thanks for the giveaway and for opening it to worldwide entries.

    The last German author I really liked was Gunther Grass but it is probably time I tried another so please be kind enough to enter me for the English edition.

    Thank you.

    Carol T

    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com


  3. Thanks for the giveaway, it is always great to have a chance to read some new books 🙂
    I rarely win anything, but if I won, please send me the German version 🙂
    Also thanks for the review, with the quantum of books on the market, good reviews are always welcome 🙂



  4. Haven't heard of this book yet, but it sounds really interesting. Great review.
    So I would like a chance to win pretty pretty please. My German really isn't that good so I would like the English version.

    bookaddictkim (at) gmail (dot) com


  5. I've seen this book mentioned a couple of times, With the reference to Kafka but the Juni'chiro Tanizaki mention it has me intrigued. Will have to be English, as I've referred to my failing German before. Thanks.


  6. I have read the twitter conversation about the translation of the title and found the discussion very interesting. Your review made it sound even better.
    Yes, please, I would like to be entered in the giveaway. IF I win I would prefer the German version. Thank you!


  7. Other Side Novella. Yeah, that had a good ring to it. I've never read something from Peirene Press before and I keep hearing good things. Plus your review – Kafka and Tanizaki in the same breath! – tips it over for me. Please count me in for the English translation.



  8. Hello. Please enter me into your giveaway. My email address is cerievans1[at]gmail[dot]com. Since my German knowledge is limited to about 5 words, I would like to win the English Peirene press version. Thanks!


  9. thank you for this giveaway ^^
    i want to be entered please 😉
    if i win i would love to get it in german – it's easier to read for me that way XD

    witchvela at web dot de


  10. The book sounds very interesting and I'd love to win a copy. Thanks for the giveaway and please enter me for the English version.

    Have enjoyed browsing your blog which is new to me.



  11. This sounds like an intriguing book, Tony. I'd love to win it. * Please* accept my thanks for you joining in the blog hop. Much appreciated.

    jh303015 at gmail.com (leeswammes)


  12. Oh, I am crazy intrigued by this. I wish I could request it in German because then I would sound quite cultured, but I'll have to request the English translation – if I should win – please. Thank you for hosting, for turning me on to a new book, and for promoting manners.

    farewelloffice (at) gmail (dot) com


  13. I wasn't happy about the translation of the title but Meike commented on my blog saying they didn't want to choose anything like afterlife because they found the religious connotations were too strong. She agreed that that the consonant x was a bit hard.
    I usually think one should also try to stay close to the sound of the original when translating but that's just me.
    In any case this doesn't diminish the reading. It's quite an orginal book and even more so once you arrive at the end.


  14. Thanks for the great review, Tony. I'm so glad I found your blog through this Hop. I would love to read Next World Novella, in English, please. I've been living in China for the past few years, so it's interesting to find Chinese references in literature. My e-mail is nerfreader at gmail dot com

    Thanks again! Chris


  15. Thanks a lot for the giveaway! This blog hop feels like Christmas for readers and makes me discover lots of new blogs!

    I'd love the english version, please!

    aliasgirl at libero dot it


  16. Thanks for the giveaway! I'm participating in a “German lit month” event in November, so hopefully this will give me something else to read besides Mann and Goethe (not that they're not great writers). Unfortunately, I can only speak and read English, so I'd prefer that edition, please.

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org


  17. Thanks for the giveaway and making it worldwide. The novella sounds intriguing. And you have whet my appetite by mentioning that twist in the end.

    I'd love to have this book in an English Translation. I am participating in the German Literature Month being hosted next month and would love to read and review this book for the same.

    So if you would be so kind …please ..oh please…:)


  18. While I was reading about the giveaway, I was saying to myself, please let it be available in English. Even though from a strong German background, I do not read German.

    This really looks like a fantastic read.

    Thanks for the opportunity to read.



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