“Seven Years” by Peter Stamm (2009) – 264 pages Translated by Michael Hofmann
It is November, time for German Literature Month which is hosted by Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life and by Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat. Today’s novel is “Seven Years” by Swiss writer Peter Stamm and translated from the German by writer Michael Hofmann.
In “Seven Years”, Alexander has two women in his life. First there is Sonia. Sonia “was lovely and smart and talkative and charming and sure of herself. I always found her presence somewhat intimidating, and I had the feeling of having to be better than I actually was.” Sonia is headed for a successful career in architecture, the same field as Alexander. She is the perfect socialite and from a well-off background.
Then there is Ivona who “was completely unattractive. Her face was puffy…Her nose was reddened, and a few crumpled up tissues were in front of her…Her clothing looked cheap and worn…From the very onset Ivona was disagreeable to me…Her whole appearance was somehow sagging and feeble. She seemed to have given up all hope of pleasing anyone, even herself.” Ivona’s monosyllabic replies stop any conversation in its tracks.
There is no comparison between Sonia and Ivona. Yet who is Alexander always sneaking off to see and be with? Ivona. He sneaks off, because he doesn’t want any of his friends and especially Sonia ever to see Ivona and him together. Why is Alexander so strangely attracted to Ivona? Ivona is in love with Alexander and her love is unconditional. She was actually stalking him when they met. Maybe his attraction is based on the fact that he doesn’t have to be something he isn’t in front of Ivona.
I have not encountered this plot in a novel before, so I give Peter Stamm points for originality. In most novels the hero winds up with the lovely lady, and that’s that. “Seven Years” goes deeper, and I find it somewhat courageous how Stamm sets this story up.
There are a few things in the novel for which I would subtract points. Whenever Stamm describes Ivona’s unattractiveness he mentions that she is from Poland. This is mentioned so many times you wonder if that is one of the reasons Alexander finds her unattractive. Also I don’t think Stamm goes quite deep enough to find the underlying reasons for Alexander’s visceral attraction to Ivona. Alexander does express severe guilt at times for his clandestine treatment of Ivona, but she doesn’t seem to mind.
I found “Seven Years” to be quite a strong novel overall. It is well-written, and it’s always refreshing to read a novel that has an original yet realistic plot. I suspect many men are faced with a situation similar to Alexander’s. . .