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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Could do better; could have done better, 22 April 2013
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This review is from: Keeping Up With the Germans: A History of Anglo-German Encounters (Paperback)
There are a number of things wrong with this work, measured against the claims implied in the all-encompassing sub-title "A History of Anglo-German Encounters". To begin with, Oltermann has a fixation about football and popular music which runs through the whole book, and this is curiously at odds with his repeated mention of the German philosopher Adorno and his own scarcely-concealed attempts to present himself as knowledgeable about philosophy. He doesn't in fact quite bridge the gap between what are often seen as highbrow and lowbrow culture, with very little in between.
In fiction the use of dialogue is a pre-requisite. However, when a man in his thirties has supposed verbatim recall of dozens of complex conversations that took place several decades earlier, this makes him appear as either a somewhat bumptious individual or someone who doesn't allow facts to get in the way of point-making. There are, quite simply, far too many factual errors in this book. Some of them can easily be explained. If you relocate to another country, you may think that things stay the same in your home country as you remembered them from your childhood, but that is not always the case. Newsreaders on the Tagesschau now make use of the tele-prompter and do not read from their scripts, as Oltermann maintains. He decries any suggestion that there is anything comparable to the Academie Francaise in Germany, but he has plainly forgotten all about the prescriptive nature of the Duden-Redaktion. And what then also happens is because he has not grown up with the culture, history and idiom in this country he presumes to understand things which are beyond his comprehension. He misunderstands the function of bonfires on Guy Fawkes Day, for instance, and the significance of burning an effigy of the Catholic terrorist, he gets historical dates wrong (the Education Act of 1870, for instance, introduced uniform elementary education and this did not occur later, as he maintains), his vocabulary does not extend to kale for the German Gruenkohl, calling it "green cabbage" instead (a direct translation) and he makes the absurd statement on page 215 that Labour won in 1997 because of "a new wave of cultural patriotism". A lot of the typographical errors and misprints as well as the factual inaccuracies could have been avoided, had he spent a little more care and attention on every precise detail.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 Jun 2013 09:02:40 BDT
mervyn lang says:
This book is extremely entertaining and has received highly positive reviews. So this review here is unreasonably severe focussing on very minor points in the overall complex of a perceptive and appreciative perception of the contrasting cultural panoramas of England and Germany

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Jun 2013 11:23:05 BDT
Alexander says:
I think readers are entitled to expect very high standards of journalists. Precision and accuracy are essential if the finished work wishes to be regarded as fully validated. The same criticism applies to another political journalist, Robert Harris, whose "Fatherland" has also received positive reviews but which is riddled with mistakes, inaccuracies and historical implausibilities. Most readers who are not familiar with the German cultural context will inevitably skate over such details - whether by Harris or by Oltermann - while reading and query any supposed nit-picking. However, facts (not opinions!) always matter. If you really want to read a satisfying work of cross-cultural comparison which does justice to both the British and German frames of reference, look no further than Thomas Kielinger's "Crossroads and Roundabouts". Oltermann still has much to learn.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Jun 2013 11:46:39 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Jun 2013 13:55:01 BDT
Just picked up (well, electroniclly) a copy of Crossroads for 2.79 + postage. Thanks, Al. Keep reviewing!

Actually, as a Germanist it might interest you to know that I recently had the dubious pleasure of trashing the Michael Hofmann translation of The Seventh Well (I happened to own an earlier one). What japes!
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