Putin's Mailbox and Spies

We found a little notice in the local paper that a colleague of WiseMans, Aris Fioretos, would be discussing the books of Marcel Beyer together with the author at the city library in Malmö this evening.  Since it was Bokrea day, the day the books of the 2011 season are remandered in Sweden and the book stores open at 7am and are packed with people buying books like there is no tomorrow, and we had to be right in there with everyone, we drove down to civilization for the day.

The library in Malmö is magnificent, and they had the open space with about a four-story atrium set up with a stage and lots of chairs. The evening was held in three languages: There was an introduction in Swedish, then the discussion in English. Beyer read a bit from one of his books in German, and a Swedish actor read from two books in Swedish.

His books appear to have a lot to do with identity, and with German politics. He himself, born in the West, now resides in Dresden and would not go back to live in the West. When questioned by a listener he explained, as we also have experienced, that for many people in the western part of Germany, living in the former East Germany is tantamount to living in the Congo. People look at you, wild-eyed, when you say you live there. They wonder if you can get lattes there, and food, and whether the heating works. Yes, to all.

Putins Briefkasten (Putin's Mailbox)  is about a search for the house in which Putin lived when he was a Russian secret agent living in Dresden. Spione: Roman (Spies) is about four children finding a photo album with pictures of their grandfather in a Nazi uniform and start to dig into their grandparents history. Discussing this last book, Fioretos pointed out that we tend to find our parents boring, because we know everything about them (we think) - we've lived with them all our lives. But our grandparents - they are exciting, and our parents know nothing much about them, because they are their parents.

I had a nice chat with Beyer afterwards, he's quite an insightful guy, very sensitive to the environment he is observing. I'll have to get the books back in Germany. No sense buying a nice German book in the Swedish translation, even if the Swedish publisher did spring for potato chips, German sausages, and alcohol-free German beer.

(Spies is also available as a used book in English.)

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