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A Whole Life

This is beautiful, exquisite, and elegiac. An Alpine man’s whole life in a short novella, taking in the two World Wars, a spell in a Russian POW camp, the advent of tourism & television, love and loss, stasis & movement. Well translated too, with a sensitive & crisp prose style (full disclosure: the translator Charlotte Collins is a relative of mine) that achieves the sensation of transparency between the original German and the English. It’s poignant and sad.

I am not sure that I agree that the protagonist Eggers really did live a whole life – I found myself wondering if there was an implied interrogation mark after the title, whether the author is inviting us to be critical as well as respectful. There is an unspoken implication that it is important to be out in the world, that observation is no substitute for experience.

Originally published by the Berlin branch of the most distinguished German-language publisher Hanser, this English version comes from another classy literary UK outfit, Picador, and the US rights have been sold to Farrar, Straus, Giroux, so the readers who propelled it to the bestseller lists in Germany are matched by the calibre of the international publishers. Maybe that dilemma at the heart of the story is what makes it so compelling.

Susie Nicklin

Pan Macmillan/9781447283904/£8.99