#GermanLitMonth: Anna Katharina Hahn


For Translation Thursday and for German Lit Month, here is a German book which has the relationship between parents and children at its very heart. Clearly, although I bought this a while ago, it’s a subject which continues to rumble through all of my recent reading.

anna-katharina-hahn-kurzere-tageAfter 2 volumes of short stories, Anna Katharina Hahn published her first novel Kurzere Tage (Shorter Days) in 2009. It was highly praised and apparently quite a successful debut. In many respects, it maintains the fragmentary, vignette-like character of a collection of short stories, albeit about the same street in Stuttgart, neighbours who all know each other (more or less). The author examines the cracks in the façade of bourgeois families in a leafy neighbourhood.

Judith is one of those Yummy Mummies who smotes everyone else with judgemental observations: she bakes cakes and doesn’t allow her children to watch TV or play with plastic toys. She is a convert to the therapeutic benefits of cleaning (without the help of a vacuum cleaner) and loves her little routines. Of course, she masks her breath after an occasional cigarette with a mint, and she doesn’t let her husband know that she is popping pills in order to function. Leonie is a working mother whose husband seems to be putting in far too many overtime hours, and often loses her patience with her offspring. Marco is a youngster in danger of turning into a criminal, neglected by his mother and her latest boyfriend. The last POV we encounter is Luise, devoted wife to her beloved Wenzel, the oldest inhabitant in that block of flats, who remembers the deprivation but also the youthful romanticism of the post-war years.

In the hands of a gifted writer, these rather stereotypical characters could find heart and come to life.  And perhaps Anna Katharina Hahn is a gifted writer, she has won plenty of prizes and there are plenty of satirical observations and social critique bubbling away underneath the calm surface. The interaction between mothers and children (or the lack thereof) is perhaps the most successful aspect of the novel to me. But I nearly gave up halfway through the book because the minutiae of the description of daily life and household objects was really overwhelming. Nothing was happening, there was no interaction between any of the characters in whose POV we were slipping, and we kept moving from Judith to Leonie then back to Judith again, and it didn’t seem to be leading anywhere. What kept me going was sheer bloody-mindedness and refusal to acknowledge I could have wasted 9 euros plus P&P to have the book shipped over from Germany. It did improve in the end – and the young boy and old woman’s scenes were particularly affecting. However, it was a lesson in how NOT to start a novel.

29 thoughts on “#GermanLitMonth: Anna Katharina Hahn”

      1. Really? ü is ALT + 129, ä is ALT + 132 and ö is ALT +148 (and ß is ALT +225!). I just memorise them as I need them a lot 😉

        Yeah, I was never keen on trying this, and I think I was right not to give it a go…

        1. Is now the time to confess that I have no idea what you are talking about? I’m trying to press the keys you are talking about and it’s not working. And I can’t remember what it is on the German keyboard if I switch to that. Plus all of that only works if I am at home, while when travelling with only phone and tablet, it all gets lost…

        2. If you keep the ALT key pressed down while typing those numbers, you get the accented letters

    1. There were some moving moments, but too few and far away. Shame – it sounded on paper like just the kind of book of close observation and subtlety which would appeal to me.

  1. Sorry to hear that this didn’t do it for you, Marina Sofia. You’re right that too much detail can take away from a plot and keep it from moving along. The concept is interesting – all of these disparate people in the same block – but if it’s not well-executed…

    1. It wasn’t too bad in the end, although perhaps too much was squeezed into the second half, compared with the wasteland of the first half. A deliberate choice perhaps?

    1. Sorry about that – we can’t all like the same things! Have you written a review of it? Will have to look it up. I think it could have worked in a shorter format, but I got the point about the cataloguing of domestic appliances and moves early on and didn’t need to be constantly reminded of it.

    1. Sorry I didn’t feel the same then… 😦 I haven’t read that many German novels of the last decade, but one memorable one was Jenny Erpenbeck’s Gehen Ging Gegangen.

  2. I laughed a bit when I read your continued on in the book because you paid nine Euros for it. The relationships between mother and daughters seem interesting. She is a new to me author.

    1. Plus P&P, don’t forget! It’s mostly mothers and children in general, although there are some interesting contrasts between mothers of daughters (Leonie) and mothers of sons (Judith).

  3. Bravo for persevering to get your money’s worth! I’m currently wading through a 600 page monster and every time I pick it up I am whisked back to the days of homework. I am reluctant to give up though. And it did only cost 2 quid…. #tightwad

    1. I have too much unpleasantness going on in my life at the mo’, I’ve decided, to spend time on books which feel like punishment, but I did keep hoping the pace would pick up and then it finally did. The writing is not bad, just a bit too… much of it.

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