Peter Kurzeck

kurzeck

At quite an early age, I gave in to the irresistible urge not to forget anything because everything that we cannot remember may be lost forever. If we know nothing of yesterday, yesterday never was, neither was Bohemia, and neither were we.

– Peter Kurzeck (International Literature Festival Berlin, 2002)

Peter Kurzeck is widely regarded as the great overlooked German author of our times. When Die Zeit’s autumn 2008 literary supplement asked which author should be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, it was Kurzeck’s name that was mentioned first. He has been compared to Robert Walser, Marcel Proust and Thomas Bernhard, among others.

Born in Bohemia in 1943, his family came to Germany as refugees in 1946. He was raised in Staufenberg and now divides his time between Frankfurt and Uzès, France.

Kurzeck’s books are autobiographical fiction. Going beyond the boundaries of autobiography, his books are a flow of memories, sensations and associations. A poetic story of a time unfolds from his pages, whether on the subject of his childhood village or the hustle and bustle of a big city. His amazed and bemused dwelling on the details of life, which he does with childlike intensity, is the reason his books burst with a delight in people, places and foods. And yet they are also terribly sad – the literary equivalent of the blues. His books are one long song to time passing, things lost, treasured moments that are soon to disappear.

Featured Reading Group Title

Übers Eis (Over Ice)

Übers Eis (Over Ice) is the first book in a planned series of seven by Peter Kurzeck, although each book can be read on its own. Übers Eis starts soon after the end of Kurzeck’s nine-year relationship with Sibylle, the mother of his child. He has moved out into temporary accommodation in a little shoebox of a storage room, sharing it with a piano and walls that start to shake at night.

Kurzeck’s characteristic rhythm seems to have reached its heights in this stunning cycle of books. He writes in short, staccato sentences, or half sentences, like jottings often. The ends of sentences are often left off as in speech, leaving readers room for their own associations. The telling loops back to certain metaphors and memories and veers off to as yet untold experiences.The continuous monologue may at first surprise readers used to more conventional narration, but it soon develops a strong hold on the reader with its rich supply of images, encounters and anecdotes.

More information:

  • Übers Eis is featured in the And Other Stories German reading group for Spring 2011.
  • ‘Kurzeck’s books cannot be read like other books. Impatience blocks the reading of this prose and is an obstacle to enchantment. Kurzeck’s language is certainly the best being written by an author in Germany today.’ Andreas Maier, Die Zeit. Maier’s updated article appears in English as a feature in the spring 2011 edition of New Books in German.
  • Vorabend – his latest novel – was a runaway success with critics and readers. The June 2011 critical round-up list SWR-Bestenliste showed it had received twice the number of review points of the second placed title by Alice Munro.
  • Translated extracts from his work are available on the website of the Goethe-Institut
  • If you’ve read the book or translated extracts, let us know what you think by commenting below.

4 Comments

  1. Imogen Taylor says:

    Peter Kurzeck writes about what changes, what disappears, what is lost, but at the same time he captures so much of the past in his writing; his short, tentative sentences and the repetition which structures his novels allow him to pin down even the most elusive of memories. Novels rarely get as close to poetry as Kurzeck’s: Carina in her ladybird pyjamas, a Janis Joplin song, the red curtains in the narrator’s flat – these are like images in a poem, not descriptions in a novel. And yet Kurzeck’s language is never self-indulgent or pretentious; its rhythms are the rhythms of speech, so that it is absolutely readable. If he goes into immense detail, it is not that the description is microscopic or overwrought; it is more as if we had been there too, walking, reading, drinking, eating, talking, smoking. I normally regard 1000-page novels with a mixture of awe and repulsion, but I’m already well into Kurzeck’s new novel, Vorabend.

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  2. Stefan Tobler says:

    I completely agree with Imogen’s comment.
    Something that fascinates me too: Peter Kurzeck’s books often have a sadness about time passing, but they are a glorious repudiation of the current culture of efficiency, time-saving and cutting corners and short cuts. (So you could say he writes against his name as his surname means, literally, ‘short corner’.)
    His books take their time, there’s no hurry, no need for speed. ‘Narrative drive’ is not a Kurzeck thing. The best moments aren’t missed.
    For example, we hear how his co-worker at a second-hand bookshop takes two boiled eggs to work on cold days, one to warm each hand on the journey. And we hear that they eat them for lunch. And that they keep salt in the bookshop for their eggs. And of course… it’s how he tells it.

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  3. Silvia says:

    Wow, Peter Kurzeck is one of my absolute favourite contemporary writers – one of the most charming literary weirdos we have in Germany. Whenever I am feeling down and low I simply grab his novel “Oktober und wer wir selbst sind” (October and who we are), read one page and feel reconciled with the world. The melancholy musicality of his writing is unique – and I can only say, if you ever have the chance to hear him read live from his works, this is something not to be missed. Nor his audio books: Listening to him brings back memories of childhood days when summers were so long they never seemed to end. (Well, we are not talking about the British summer here ;-)).
    Should you think of setting up another reading group – please count me in!
    Yours sincerely,
    Silvia

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  4. I’m waiting to read a translation, then. (I have about twenty years left…)

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