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Alice Paperback – 4 Aug 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Clerkenwell Press (4 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184668529X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846685293
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 602,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

These five linked stories all unfold in the shadow of death. Yet, with their pin-sharp precision and lyrical tenderness, they make you feel thrillingly alive. Exquisitely written, gracefully translated, Judith Hermann's everyday elegies might have proved depressing - in clumsier hands. They are just the opposite. All the more precious for their transience, these glimpses of love, beauty and happiness brim with the small joys of life --Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Book Description

A work of exceptional power and beauty from one of Europe's finest writers

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By Gloria on 27 May 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At different stages during her life Alice is faced with bereavement and grief. This is her story describing these difficult times. Originally published in German it received very good reviews.
To fully appreciate a book of this kind it has to be read 'at the right' time.
I thought the time was right for me to read this however I feel that something may have been 'lost in translation' and was not as I expected.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A marvellous writer. Should be known better in this country. Maybe not quite as good as her earlier work but still a voice that needs to be listened to.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Hester Velmans on 27 Dec. 2011
Format: Paperback
Five quiet, linked stories about coming to terms with death and dying, beautifully translated from the German by Margot Dembo. Alice, the protagonist, is depicted as a melancholy but resigned attendant of death -- a largely peripheral figure hovering alongside the families of the dying men who meant something to her at an earlier stage of her life. Strikingly vivid observations of the mundane, substituting for unspoken emotions, pull the reader in.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ann Fairweather TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 29 May 2012
Format: Paperback
The book contains 5 stories, all linked by Alice, the central character in all of them. Alice is obviously an elderly woman going through the death of close friends. I even felt rather sorry for her as it seems that the only event going on in her life is being drawn into friends or relatives's deaths. In spite of the austere subject, the book has a beautiful and meditative tone, not unlike a japanese zen garden, that quietly illuminates and soothes the reader. I liked the detached yet insightful take on these painful moments that the author has. It is not a book you will want to read at just anytime but at the right time, it will prove to be a most rewarding read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Take Your Time 15 Jun. 2012
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"After [Johann] died, Alice began getting rid of his things. Putting away, giving away, throwing away, selling. Keeping. A kind of excavation project, uncovering the layers, the various colours, materials, eras; in the end there would be nothing to salvage, nothing except for the fact that [Johann] was dead. That's what it boiled down to. It wasn't the worst of jobs."

Even in translation -- a fine one by Margot Bettauer Dembo -- there is a rhythm to this, a rightness, a matter-of-fact sense of calm. No, not the worst of jobs; just take your time. Loss is best coped with in small practical ways, which bring their own memories, their own rewards. If I told you that this entire novel consists of five separate but interconnected stories, each centered around the death of a different man, you might think it depressing, but no. The cover photo of a woman swimming in a mountain lake is totally to the point: the book is cleansing, bracing, exquisitely simple. These are ordinary lives here, described with the almost neutral objectivity of a Max Frisch by way of Peter Stamm. But the more you read, the more the stories fill out into a complete life, that of the central character, a Berliner known only as Alice.

The name "Johann" above is a place-holder. One of the chief delights in the novel is the way in which Judith Hermann has the reader gradually work out who each dying person is, and what his particular relationship is to Alice. In no particular order, we have an uncle, a former lover, a husband, and two close friends, one of her own generation, the other much older. Some of the deaths are expected, some not. The settings include Berlin, a rented apartment in Zweibrücken, and the Lago di Garda. It is not even clear in which order the five stories in the book occur; Alice seems to be anything from her twenties to her sixties; only in the final story are some of the relationships made clear. But it doesn't really matter; the emphasis in each story is not on the deaths but on Alice herself, her friends, and details of her current life. She emerges as a sympathetic woman, strong but no more special than the rest of us, and totally real. Forget that Hermann hangs her stories on the occurrence of death; this is a book about life. Ordinary life, and all the more beautiful because of it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
How to describe loss? 1 Sept. 2012
By Friederike Knabe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In ALICE, her most recent book available in English *), Judith Hermann takes an unusual approach to portraying her central character: through five more or less independent stories, placing Alice into the centre of each, the author explores different kinds of confrontation with death and loss. While Alice is, or was, personally connected in some way to each of the five dying men, she appears to prefer a secondary role, assisting those whose grief is more immediate and palpable. Each story captures a moment in time that brings Alice back in contact with a former lover, a family friend, an older mentor (?), even the memory of a long dead uncle. Is this a cover for her way of coping with loss and death or is she really that remote from the person dying? Do these four experiences prepare her for the loss closest to her? Can we get a sense who Alice is? Does it matter or does she stand for many who have experienced loss through death of a loved one?

Told in an unassuming and quiet and even detached voice, Hermann is very sparse in her depictions of the dying and the grieving individuals at the centre of each story. She only gives away little, brief glimpses of her relationships to the men and the other women. With each storym though, we can get a bit closer to Alice and how she approaches grieving: through keeping busy and being useful and helpful to others. Wherever the story is set - the majority in Berlin - Hermann uses the description of place to give Alice (and the reader) a tangible precise environment and a kind of grounding in mundane reality that in the face of an unexpected death may otherwise totally disappear. This juxtaposition of unpreparedness for an impending drama is especially well illustrated in the story, CONRAD, set around a villa on the shores of beautiful Lake Garda in northern Italy. Conrad, presumably a fatherly friend, had invited Alice and her friends to visit him and his wife Lotte at their Villa at the Lake. This is one story with more explicit emotional depth than we find in the others where Alice's distance, her preoccupation with practical matters hides her own sadness and grief. The story MALTE touched me particularly deeply. Alice who only knew her uncle from hear-say finally discovers who he really was when meeting an old friend of his. The last story centres on the person closest to Alice and focuses on her efforts to survive into the day-to-day. It is also the only story that touches on protagonists from the other stories and in that sense provides "closure" in more ways than one.

Not everybody will relate to this book. For some, Alice might appear too remote; it might feel unsatisfactory that she is not able to express her emotions directly or visibly. On the other hand, for other readers like me, Hermann's writing touches in many ways, mostly indirectly, on emotions and atmosphere as she explores Alice's grief and sense of loss. Alice stands for many of us.

*) I read the book in German. Apparently, the translation captures Hermann's language very well.

[Friederike Knabe]
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