Literary Backpack Through Europe | Wrap-up 1

Hi, folks!

I am somewhat in the middle of my reading travels for the Backpack Through Europe Summer Reading Challenge (BTE), so it is time for a partial wrap-up. As you will see, I’ve strayed from my original plans a little (my reviews will be all linked below):

England (UK): Hardened to stone by the Medusa head of misery

Mathilda, by Mary Shelley (originally published in 1819, 144 p.)

“It’s no wonder that Mathilda reminds me of Matelda in Dante’s Purgatory: a symbol for the human condition before the original sin. The book has this atmosphere of purgatory: we have sin and confession, but no redemption is to be found here. Mathilda is a captive of what she knows and shouldn’t know; her father never escapes the prison of what he feels and shouldn’t feel. They are locked in their personal purgatories, forever revolving around the moment just before they have both fallen from grace together.” My review.

France: Marriage had been shockingly debased

Valentine, by George Sand (2013, tr. George Burnham Ives, 336 p. Originally published in 1832)

The book presents a strange combination of features: it has radical social ideas buried deep beneath a heavy blanket of conservative (sometimes even cheap) aesthetic elements. We have to bite into the superficial layer of romantic drama (full of attacks of hysteria and suicide threats; full of people hiding behind curtains and dying from sorrow), in order to come to the heart of the matter – the sharp social criticism that offers no easy answer to the questions it raises.” My review.

Belgium: One gets the criminals one deserves

Kosmetik des Bösen, by Amélie Nothomb (2004, translated by Brigitte Große,128 p. Original: Cosmétique de l’ennemi, 2001)

“From the role of a seducer ensnaring a victim into sin, Textor reverts into the role of Angust’s inner conscience, a kind of sinister angel of salvation. Textor not only wants to torture, he longs for that which only love can provide: the ultimate role-swap – that is, reciprocity.” My review.

The Netherlands: I was giving the glad-eye like blazes

The Laws, by Connie Palmen (1993, tr. Richard Huijing. Original: De Wetten, 1991).

“I actually tried to read the book as satire:  perhaps she is poking fun at such women?, I asked myself. But how much more misogynistic would that be then? We are down the rabbit hole here.” My review.

Germany: Memories lie slumbering within us

The Rings of Saturn, by W. G. Sebald (1999, 296 p., tr. Michael Hulse. Original: Die Ringe des Saturn, 1995)

“Together with the narrator, we are thrown into a whirlwind of scattered fragments, where we are made to impose new sediment layers of meaning over each other, so as to weave in the fragments all around. We are the silkworms, too. The book’s delight – and terror – lies in this consistent feeling of defeat: the centre will not hold, and we will eventually be taken along with the rubble.” My review.

Switzerland: The various crimes of sadness

I Am the Brother of XX, by Fleur Jaeggy (2017, 128 p., tr.  Gini Alhadeff. Original: Sono il fratello di XX, 2014)

“It’s strange, it’s melancholic, disorienting, and mean. It feels almost like we are holding a perfect fractal – some kind of vitreous pain circumscribing a void; something intangible just within our touch.” My review.

Italy: Nothing holds the wind back from its wings

Artemisia, by Anna Banti (2003, 224 p., tr. Shirley D’Ardia Caracciolo. Original: Artemisia, 1947)

“Our protagonist is dead, her first fictional version has been destroyed in a bombing, but you carry her with you through the ruins: she is everywhere. She may even be here, more than three hundred years after her death, and more than fifty years after you have published this book; here with us, as we read her on.” My review.

Austria: Trust is fine, but control is better

The Piano Teacher, by Elfriede Jelinek (1988, 290 p., tr. Joachim Neugroschel. Die Klavierspielerin, 1983)

“Much like Erika, we are the voyeurs here, and you are striping us of any polite excuse. If, outraged, we throw the book on the wall, screaming: This is garbage! – we will be doing exactly what you want us to do in the end. After all, this may well be just another power struggle: and you are the one managing the sharp instrument; the one inflicting the cut.” My review.

This is all for now, folks. I am now heading East, and have spent the week in the Czech Republic in the company of Daniela Hodrová. And you – where are your books leading you this Summer? 🙂

Yours truly,


James Tissot, ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ [Detail], 1873.

July’s balance sheet:
  • Countries visited so far:
    • England (UK), France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria
  • Current score: 12
    • 1 (England, UK) + 2 (Special Event – The Henley Regatta) + 1 (France) + 2 (Special Event – Ghent Festival) + 1 (Belgium) + 1 (The Netherlands) + 1 (Germany) + 1 (Switzerland) + 1 (Italy) + 1 (Austria)

2 thoughts on “Literary Backpack Through Europe | Wrap-up 1

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.