Zsuzsa Bank, L’été le plus chaud (Orig. German, 2005, French, 2007)

I discovered this collection of short stories by a contemporary German female writer (b. 1965) entirely by chance (one of those recent library acquisitions laid on the tables, so you could say it’s a nice librarian’s choice and not chance that put it my way). I liked the atmosphere, mostly sad, or nostalgic, or muted, but I was somewhat disconcerted by their fuzziness.

 

I don’t demand at all costs to know where, when, why the story takes place, but here we are left in a near total darkness. Much basic information is allusive, or entirely missing, but after a while we discover we don’t quite need it anymore. We are introduced to (mostly female) characters who are very strong and memorable, but there is no traditional arch of tension / resolution like you often find in American short stories. The endings are very mellow, as if we just got a snapshot of a situation and just leave the people to evolve by themselves or to repeat the same mental processes over and over again.

 

I especially liked the story of a woman who goes to visit a childhood friend in a small town in winter (maybe in Canada?). As the house is isolated by snow, she observes how they drifted apart, how the friend’s family works or rather doesn’t. Another story tells how a woman finds distant relatives in a Eastern European city as she comes for a conference. They briefly meet, get back in touch, exchange letters, then later on the loose relation unravels itself once again. The title story is about American siblings who try and find out the place in a remote Italian village where the (recently deceased) mother comes from. They don’t speak any Italian, the Italian farmer (a relative left behind) still welcomes them with gestures and a lot of kindness. There is an extraordinary communication without words between them all, where the young American woman gets absorbed in old fabrics’ scent that remind her of the mother.

 

My feeling is mitigated because some stories are unequal, but there are some gems inside this book. Unfortunately Bank hasn’t been translated into English yet.

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