Yesterday I finished Die Taube. I stopped reading German after my graduation in 1994, so for me this was the first German book in ten years. And everything went wonderfully well. I didn’t need a dictionary or anything. (As a matter of fact: I’ve no idea where my German dictionary’s are. Probably with one of my younger sisters.)
I have to say that to me it really is an incredible sensation to read in foreign languages. I’m studying Dutch language and literature, and only a few months ago I found out that reading in English isn’t as difficult as I always thought. After that I tried French (easy!), and now German (even more easy). Now al that’s left for me is Spanish… (The fourth foreign language I learned in secondary school, but actually only for a period of two years, so I think that’s not going to be easy freshening up.)
And now for Die Taube. It’s a good story! Just for my own memory I’m going to include a small summary:
The story is about Jonathan Noel, a French (Jewish?) man in his fifties. Jonathan lost both his parents during the 2nd World War, and is later on also left by his fiancée. Apparently enough for him to decide for a life in solitude. He rents a small room in Paris, gets himself a job as a servant in a bank, and for twenty years lives a very well planned and structured, solitary, and ‘ruhig’ life.
Just as Jonathan’s goal in life is almost accomplished (he’s about to buy the room he’s living in, which gives him an enormous feeling of certainty and freedom), he runs into a pigeon in front of his room.
For Jonathan this pigeon is very disturbing and distracting. He acts as if it’s some sort of bad omen; in fact he even thinks that his life is about to end.
Jonathan lets the pigeon scare him away from his only certainty in life: his home. During the day (the story actually consists out of only two days in the life of Jonathan) al his ideas about freedom and certainty change: suddenly he understands that a clochard can enjoy freedom as well, although he doesn’t own a home and has no job. First Jonathan is scared for these new ideas he develops; he’s afraid that when he loosens up a bit, all his life will go out of control. But after one day of big distress, Jonathan returns to his room, to find the pigeon gone.
My thoughts about the story
At first I found it a bit surreal. But I am utterly convinced that the life of people can change into a disaster before they know it. People feel secure, but just think about what can happen when you loose your job. Most people have the feeling they are safe because they have a lot of nice people surrounding them: parents, friends, a partner, children. Jonathan has nothing of it all. There’s no safety net to rescue him. Besides that he is probably suffering an enormous trauma, because he has lost his parents when he was still very young. There for it’s easy to comprehend that small events are enough for him to get out of balance.
The story makes a fine circle. It starts with Jonathan as a child, walking barefoot in the rain, and ends with Jonathan as a grown middle aged man, who longs to walk barefoot in the rain. This makes that you have to make a connection with something in Jonathan’s childhood to fully comprehend the story.
Question mark still is the pigeon. Usually pigeons are a peace sign, or a substitute for faithfulness. Here the pigeon has a negative role. Or has it? (As you can also see the pigeon as a catalyst for a better life for Jonathan.)
For myself I decided that the pigeon must have remembered Jonathan to something in his subconscious. It seems very possible that he spotted a pigeon somewhere on the terrible day just before he learned that his mother was taken away (to a concentration camp?). But I think it’s also plausible that only one distracting minor event in Jonathan’s life that makes his regular days different and out of his control, is enough for him to break. (Anybody see that movie with Michael Douglas pulling a gun on the highway? That’s my point.)
Some citations that I liked:
Durch die vielen Anschaffungen war das Zimmer freilich noch kleiner geworden, es war gleichsam nach innen zugewachsen wie eine Muschel, die zuviel Perlmutt agezetst hat, und ähnelte mit seinen diversen raffinierten Installationen eher einer Schiffskabine oder einem luxuriösen Schlafwagenabteil als einer einfachen chambre de bonne.
Als Jonathan die Erkenntnis gekommen war, daß das Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit im Besitz eines Etagenklos bestand und daß er über diese essentielle Freiheit verfügte, wurde er von einem Gefühl tiefer Genugtuung ergriffen.
Thanks for this BookRay, buchsuch!
And by the way, don’t you feel guilty to give a birthday present up for a BookRay? Besides that I’m also curious when it is your birthday, as it seems to be in July, the month I was born too.
I'm sorry for not having written this sooner; I received the book quite a while ago and read it since. I didn't understand everything because I haven't studied German very well, but it was still nice to read a book in German and understand quite alright. (I had read Die Kontrabass last year, and didn't understand as much as I did now...)
The story was a bit weird, but I liked that, because finally J. Noel seems very human after all -alon with his fears, hopes, thoughts, etc etc. And Süskind definitely writes extremely well, so that alone is a pleasure.
Thank you buchsuch! I'll give it to tweesty as soon as I can.