“summerhouse, later” by Judith Hermann – Luminous Stories with an Emotional Depth Charge

“summerhouse, later” by Judith Hermann (1998) – 205 pages
Translated from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo

I first heard of Judith Hermann at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat in an article called ’14 German Women Writers You Shouldn’t Miss’ which was written as part of German Literature Month. What spurred me to read this collection of short stories was because the article said that Hermann has refrained from writing about World War II. Over the years I’ve read so many novels about different aspects of World War II that I have become somewhat burned out on the subject and am ready for something else.

Something else is exactly what I got with “Summerhouse, Later”. It is difficult to summarize these stories, because each story is completely different from the others. The stories defy your expectations and are outside the comfort zone. They are easy to read because the words and sentences are simple, but there is a hidden depth charge

Many of the stories are about the interaction between men and women. The stories are not about sex. Three of the stories had quite different plots but had the same emotional setup. Here is the setup. A man, in order to live in peace, has carefully built up a wall of solitude and isolation over the years. A woman comes along who somehow begins to break through this wall. The man is quite irritated at first and expresses his annoyance. Then it becomes obvious to the man that this woman has broken through his wall, and for the man this is a momentous occasion. By this time the woman sees the man as a bit of a bother, and she has casually moved on to something or someone else. That seems about right.

As I mentioned before, the sentences are short and easy to follow. Judith Hermann is not the kind of writer where there are a lot of grand quotable sentences. However I want to give you a sample of the art of Judith Hermann. The following from the story “Sonja” will do.

Sonja never talked. Practically never. To this day I don’t know anything about her family, her childhood, where she was born, her friends. I have no idea what she lived on, whether she had a paying job or whether someone kept her, whether she had professional ambitions, where she was headed, and what she wanted. The one person she spoke of was the small red-haired woman I had seen at her party; otherwise she mentioned no one, certainly not men, even though I was sure there were plenty.

If you want something different, something with a sharp edge, that tells emotional truths, read Judith Hermann.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. I’m very glad you liked and reviewed this wonderful collection. And thanks for the link as well.
    Many of the participants of the German Literature Month said that they had a feeling German Literature was all WWII or dead authors.
    Herrmann is one of the best examples that this isn’t true. Her second short story collection is equally good.
    I reviewed a short story collection by Peter Stamm In Strange Gardens and Other Stories that you might like as well.

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    • Hi Caroline,
      Your list of German woman writers will be very helpful to a lot of people besides me.
      I actually did try to get a more recent work by Judith Hermann, but at this point the Minneapolis library has neither ‘Nothing but Ghosts’ or ‘Alice’.
      I suppose at some point I will read Jenny Erpenbeck, becuase she gets a lot of attention on the blogs.

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  2. I’m glad you liked the list.
    Erpenbeck is quite a hit with bloggers these days, I agree, but there you have WWII again. I think more recent writers like Karen Duve, Inka Parei, Alina Brosnky are worth exploring if you’d like to avoid WWII.

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    • Hi Caroline,
      I had not yet heard of any of the three writers you mention. I’ll be looking for reviews of their work. One of my favorite German writers is Ingeborg Bachmann whose novels ‘Malina’ and ‘The Thirtieth Year’ and book of stories ‘Three paths to the Lake’ I particularly enjoyed.

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  3. […] Thiel (1) (2) (3)/On Characterisation) Heine (An Apparation in The Sea/Gods in Exile) Hermann (Summerhouse, Later)  Hesse (Harry’s Loves/Narziss and Goldmund /Within and Without) Hoffmann (The […]

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