Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Friend or foe? (Books - David's Revenge by Hans Werner Kettenbach)

I was glad to receive the surprise of an ARC of Hans Werner Ketttenbach's David's Revenge a week or two ago. It's put out by Bitter Lemon Press which specializes in literary crime and romain noir (mostly in translation) and has an interesting list.

A middle class German school teacher, Christian Kestner, visits Soviet Georgia some years back and has an entanglement with the wife of a man named David Ninoshvili, his host. Now, during the violent civil war in Georgia, David contacts Kestner for the first time to stay with him. Kestner's fear and guilt surface as he perceives David's involvement with his wife and growing relationship with his teenage son (who is involved in extremist right wing politics). It is evident that David's Revenge is a Dostoevskian sort of thriller, building the threat mostly in the mind of Kestner. At the same time, its plot is a metaphor of the relationship of Germany (or any Western country) to its refugees - are they innocents in need of shelter and should we as a humane nation always be welcoming hosts? Or does their involvement in violent political activities (encouraged by the West's peddling of democratic ideals) and their poverty give us some reason to fear for our safety?

The themes and plotting are generally very well handled (so far) however, I am finding the writing stiff and the dialogue especially clumsy and unbelievable, particularly those passages involving Ralf, the teenage son. I have no way of knowing if this is Anthea Bell's translation or Kettenbach's writing, although judging by Bell's other competent work on Stefan Zweig and Sasa Stanisic's novels, I would guess it reflects Kettenbach's writing. I am going to stay with it as I find the story involving and fast-moving.

1 comment:

C. B. James said...

This looks very good. I've been finding more and more crime in translation lately.

Unfortunately, America is notoriously low on books in translation. I'll look for it.