The Book of Franza & Requiem for Fanny Goldmann

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9780810112049: The Book of Franza & Requiem for Fanny Goldmann

These unfinished novels were intended to follow her widely acclaimed Malina in a Proustian cycle to be entitled Todesarten, or Ways of Dying. Through the tales of two women in postwar Austria, Bachmann explores the ways of dying inflicted on women by men, and upon the living by history, politics, religion, family, and the self.

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Review:

Perhaps it's something in the air, or an ironic additive found exclusively in the Danube, but Central Europe seems to breed a certain kind of mordant and malicious stylist. From Joseph Roth to Robert Musil to Thomas Bernhard, there's a tendency to go straight for society's jugular--without, however, relinquishing an iota of humor. And Ingeborg Bachmann, who perished in a fire in 1973, surely fits into this lineage. A poet, librettist, essayist, and fiction writer, she made postwar Austria the object of her skeptical scrutiny. She saw a nation with blood on its hands and corruption in its heart, not to mention an ongoing gender war between Mann and Madchen. And nowhere did she address these conditions with more passion and penetrating wit than in The Book of Franza & Requiem for Fanny Goldmann.

Neither work was quite finished at the time of Bachmann's death. But in both cases, translator Peter Filkins has assembled manuscripts and variants into a coherent whole, and turned the author's high-density prose into eminently readable English. The Book of Franza represents a pitched battle between the sexes--or more particularly, between the eponymous heroine and her manipulative psychiatrist of a husband. How could she have overlooked debris of Dr. Leopold Jordan's previous marriages?

Only now do I wonder about the other women and why all of them disappeared without a sound, why one no longer left the house, why another turned on the gas, while I myself am the third who amended herself with this name, becoming the third Frau Jordan.... Yet I hung myself with my immature thinking, with my careless rapture for his charged wire of thought, for had I touched a high-voltage wire, causing electrocution, severe damage, and burns, it would have been faster and gentler, and certainly no worse.
The novella-length Requiem for Fanny Goldmann transposes the same concerns--silence and sex, language and corruption--into a lighter key, with a more satiric touch. But here, too, the heroine is seduced and abandoned. And again the accumulation of bad faith and broken promises seems like a national rather then merely personal affliction. Even Fanny's fading looks are made to sound like a defeat for the body politic: "During this night something happened to her beautiful Goldmann shoulders. They had fallen like the front line of an army laid low by the enemy, and there was no one who could say who this enemy was, by what means he advanced, and what he was planning." Early and late, Bachmann seemed always to survey a defeated world. But her work remained adamantly alive to the end, which is just the sort of victory that every writer (and every reader) desires. --Ingrid Broun

About the Author:

Ingeborg Bachmann was born in Austria in 1926. A winner of numerous awards, including the Georg Büchner Prize, the Berlin Critics Prize, the Bremen Literature Prize, and the Grand Austrian State Prize for Literature, she died in Rome in an apartment fire in 1973.

Peter Filkins is an associate professor of English at Simon's Rock College of Bard. He is the author of "What She Knew" and the translator of "Songs in Flight: The Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann," winner of an ALTA Award for Outstanding Translation.


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