Lisette Buchholz: Anna Gmeyner – gesucht und gefunden
Unter einer majestätischen Blutbuche sitzt eine Frau im Rollstuhl und sieht mir ruhig und aufmerksam entgegen. Im Frühsommer des Jahres 1984 ist Anna Gmeyner 82 Jahre alt, sie lebt in einem Altersheim im englischen York, und unser Treffen findet im Garten dieses Heims statt.
Ein langer Weg hatte zu ihr geführt.
1983 beschloss ich, den persona verlag für unbekannte Texte aus dem deutschen und österreichischen Exil 1933-45 zu gründen. Zu diesem Entschluss hatten Erlebnisse während meiner Studienaufenthalte in Osteuropa beigetragen. Dort war die Erinnerung an den Zweiten Weltkrieg noch sehr lebendig. Zudem empörte es mich, dass die Missachtung der Exilautoren fünfzig Jahre nach der Bücherverbrennung andauerte. Die Nachkriegsgesellschaft erkannte ihre Vergangenheit „besser im Ritterkreuzträger als im deutschen Emigranten“, las ich bei Alexander Mitscherlich.
Ich begann zu recherchieren, durchforstete Literaturgeschichten sowie Exilzeitschriften auf der Suche nach Titeln für eine Neuauflage oder Erstveröffentlichung. Ich schrieb an Fritz Landshoff, der nach 1933 die deutsche Abteilung des Amsterdamer Querido-Verlags geleitet hatte, und bat um Hinweise. Er empfahl mir den Roman „Manja“ von Anna Reiner, den er 1938 verlegt hatte. Dass „Reiner“ ein Pseudonym der Autorin war, um ihre in Österreich lebenden Verwandten zu schützen, fand ich erst später heraus.
Eine Amsterdamer Freundin besorgte mir das Buch über die Fernleihe. Ich war sehr gespannt. Nach den ersten Seiten stellte ich meinen Kräutertee beiseite und schenkte mir einen Whisky ein. Das schien mir die würdigere Begleitung für ein Buch, dessen Sprache mich sofort einnahm und staunen ließ. Es war klar: Das würde mein erstes Buch werden!
Lebte die Autorin noch? Und wenn ja, wo? Kein Archiv konnte mir weiterhelfen, Fritz Landshoff auch nicht. Ich setzte eine Suchannonce in den New Yorker „Aufbau“ und in die Londoner „AJR Information“ (Association of Jewish Refugees). Auf die Londoner Anzeige hin meldete sich die Tochter Anna Gmeyners bei mir. Sie hatte die Anzeige nicht einmal selbst gelesen, sie war zufällig einem Onkel aufgefallen. Nun war ich also in Kontakt mit Eva Ibbotson, ihrerseits eine bekannte englische Autorin, die bescheiden bemerkte: „My mother is the real writer.“
Wir verabredeten ein Treffen in Newcastle, wo Eva Ibbotson lebte. Zusammen würden wir ihre Mutter besuchen.
Der Besuch in York hat mich erschüttert. Wir sprachen über „Manja“, den Exil-Roman, der am Beispiel von fünf Kindern und ihren Familien den Zerfall einer Gesellschaft nachvollzieht, der Deutschland 1933 in die Diktatur führt. Ich spürte bei dieser Begegnung etwas von der Gewalt dieser Katastrophe, aber auch von Anna Gmeyners Kraft zum Widerstand.
„Ich suche immer noch nach dem Sinn“, sagte sie mir zum Abschied.
Anna Gmeyner hat so gut wie nichts aufbewahrt, wollte auch nie über die Jahre um 1930 und später sprechen. Das meiste, was wir heute über sie wissen, verdankt sich der Forschungsarbeit der Literatur- und Filmwissenschaftlerin Heike Klapdor.
Was zeichnet Anna Gmeyners Werke aus? Für mich sind es der feine Stil, die reiche Sprache, die Menschlichkeit der Autorin und ihr Humor. Und eine Sehnsucht, die Dr. Bach in „Welt überfüllt“, Anna Gmeyners letztem Weimarer Zeitstück, so ausdrückt:
„Ich möchte den Tag erleben, wo man vor einem Baum in Blüte steht und sich nicht schämen muss, dass man ein Mensch ist. Wo man nachts auf den Himmel blicken kann und nichts spürt als Freude.“
Tatsächlich habe ich mich im vergangenen Jahr erneut viel mit meiner Exilautorin Anna Gmeyner (1902-1991) beschäftigt. Ihr Theaterstück „Automatenbüffet“ (1932) wurde von mehreren Bühnen gespielt, und ihr „Welt überfüllt“ (vermutlich auch 1932) erlebte seine Welturaufführung im September 2022 im Theater Oberhausen. Dazu schrieb ich einen kleinen Erinnerungsbeitrag – den obigen Text.
- Der in Mannheim beheimatete persona verlag von Lisette Buchholz wird jetzt im neuen Jahr 40 Jahre alt. Sein Programm ist schlank und klein – und immer besonders. 2022 etwa erschien die Erzählung „Wir waren ja wahnsinnig, damals“ von Elisabeth Freundlich. Von unserer Autorin Hazel Rosenstrauch (ihr Jahresrückblick hier) sind dort vier Bücher erschienen, zuletzt „Simon Veit. Der missachtete Mann einer berühmten Frau“, hier bei uns besprochen.
John Byron: 2022 Roundup
Australian fiction had a great 2022, but I’ll limit myself to four local offerings that stood out for me. These books trawl the past, the present and the future to unpick some of the complexity of who we are and how we live down under.
In The Sawdust House (Fremantle, 2022) David Whish-Wilson follows on from The Coves (Fremantle, 2018) to hark back to the brutal and raw colonial period, taking us inside the mind of a convict turned professional boxer awaiting trial in a San Francisco that is homicidally fed up with the anarchic criminality of the Australian gold rush diaspora. – This reviewed by CrimeMag’s Alf Mayer (in German) here.
Josh Kemp’s Banjawarn (UWAP, 2022) won the prestigious Australia Crime Writers Association Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction this year. It’s a chilling and gripping contemporary outback Gothic novel of criminality, addiction and the yearning for both human belonging and connection to the land. It reverses the modern staple of good people doing bad things to take us inside bad people who are trying to do good things – and even succeeding sometimes, kind of.
In Every Version of You (Affirm, 2022) Grace Chan leaps forward to a desolate future Melbourne whose denizens flee the terminally degraded physical environment for sublimation into a hypercorporatised, late-late-capitalist digital realm. This is screen-time on steroids colliding with the slow, smoking ruins we are currently fashioning for ourselves to live in. It’s a quick and engaging read that nonetheless confronts the uncomfortable truth that participation in the way things are going is a choice, not an inevitability.
The first ever anthology of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander speculative fiction, This All Come Back Now (UQP, 2022) is a stunning achievement, taking us forward to an astonishing range of imagined futures with doses of (variously, and sometimes at once) humour, rage, generosity, love of Country, care for Mob, and undying thirst for justice. These voices are instantly recognisable to me, with the lingo, wit, heart and sorrow of our continent’s truest citizens – they just could not come from anywhere else.
If your picture of Australia is dominated by Sydney Harbour, the Great Barrier Reef and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, these four books will give you a taste of the remarkable diversity of Australias, and of Australian storytelling now.
From the Australian page to the Australian stage, a take on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray by the Sydney Theatre Company was one of the most original theatre productions I’ve ever seen. Adapted and directed by Kip Williams, the play features only one actor playing all 26 characters, in an utterly riveting performance by Eryn Jean Norvill. It sounds impossible, or at least over-ambitious, but they pull it off brilliantly with the clever use of live video feeds on multiple screens, constant prop movements and witty on-stage costume changes. The fourth wall is not so much breached as entirely demolished. This production looks set to tour around the world, so if it comes your way you should buy, beg, steal or forge tickets to see it (okay, not forge – but do get along).
Recent international fiction highlights include Heat 2 by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner, a prequel/sequel novel to Mann’s iconic 1995 film starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino as formidable opposing – and at times indistinguishable – forces of nature. If you’ve seen the film this book is an absolute delight, exploiting the literary format to offer nuances and tangents that even Mann couldn’t get away with in an action film, no matter how cerebral. If you haven’t seen the film do yourself a favour and make amends now: then rush out and buy the book.
Staying with books and their films, my 2022 guilty cinematic pleasure was the sublimely ridiculous Bullet Train with Brad Pitt, an absurdly implausible non-stop action romp with the kind of funny yet introspective dialogue we used to get from Tarantino. As soon as the movie ended I went to a bookstore and bought the source novel by Kōtarō Isaka, which I enjoyed the more for having the film’s vivid visuals and personas to attach to the action and characters. This could be another case of see the film first then read the book, contrary to conventional wisdom.
I would revert to standard practice for An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl), an Irish language film adapted and directed by Colm Bairéad from the phenomenal novella Foster by Claire Keegan. Keegan is a maven of the short story form, and the success of her original New Yorker short story spurred her to develop the tale of the expansive possibilities of love, generosity and genuine nurturing – and of the oppressive consequences of their others. The film is slow and gentle, perfectly calibrated to the unfolding story, but with the same cool and unsentimental eye as Foster’s original story. One or two tiny tweaks to the film’s plot – almost at the level of texture rather than action – add further depth to the shadows of this melancholy but beautiful story.
On a completely different register I loved The Anomaly by Hervé le Tellier, winner of the 2020 Prix Goncourt. Dressed as a SF thriller, this yarn makes the most of a neat spec fic plot device to pull apart who we think we are and how we think we know it. Like all the best fiction, it’s not really about them, it’s about us, and this one will keep you thinking for weeks after the striking last page.
I’ve just finished the twin books that seem likely to close out the career of Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger and Stella Maris. This pair stands apart from his earlier work, as an exercise in late style that explore themes of meaning and the void, reality and its undecidability, and the possibility or otherwise of genuine human connection. These volumes are decidedly less grim and gruesome than frontier works like Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men, but no less confronting in their own way.
If anyone can make Cormac McCarthy look cheerful, it’s David Peace, especially his Red Riding Quartet, mired in the filth, corruption and moral vacuity of Ripper-era Yorkshire (and that’s just the cops I’m talking about). I have been slowly working through this brutal excoriation of Thatcher’s Britain – I need a year or two off between episodes to decontaminate – and am about to embark on Nineteen Eighty, which my compatriot Andrew Nette advises is in fact a Christmas story. Deck the halls.
Speaking of Andrew Nette, he has returned to us from academia and film criticism with a new novel – his third – coming out in 2023. I am very much looking forward to it.
- John Byron grew up in Sydney and lives in Melbourne. He is the author of The Tribute, reviewed by Alf Mayer in this magazine in May 2022. This outstanding thriller is his first novel and was shortlisted for the prestigious Victoria Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2019.
Alan Carter: 2022 in review
Another strange year, wasn’t/isn’t it? Slowly evolving into new post-Covid (but not really post) realities. Travelling again. And just when we thought things might be drifting back to what we thought was normal – bang, Ukraine. Those four apocalyptic horsemen not yet ready to ride off into the sunset.
But at least in Australia things do seem a little brighter. After a decade of conservative nepotism, corruption, and mis-management we now have a new government and while the ALP are by no means perfect, they are at least grown-up and able to converse rather than bully/bluster/sneer. And hey, they turn up for work and get shit done.
Personally, on the writing front, having said goodbye to Cato with CROCODILE TEARS in late 2021 it’s been something of a limbo year since. Not sure where things are headed, watch this space. Although I was delighted to be invited to contribute towards DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER ed Craig Sisterson, an anthology of Aus/NZ crime. A new Nick Chester short sits alongside works by Garry Disher, Sulari Gentil, Dave Whish-Wilson, and other luminaries.
Recommended reading from 2022. Top of the list has to be Michael Bennett’s sizzling fiction debut, BETTER THE BLOOD – a Maori cop investigates a series of murders which link to New Zealand’s colonial past and present. A fast-paced intelligent read with great characters. And, as always, Garry Disher doesn’t disappoint with his latest Hirsch outing DAY’S END interrogating crimes emerging from the covid fever dream of conspiracists and RWNJs (right wing nut jobs). So many writers have chosen to ignore covid – perhaps thinking it was/is too big or would date their novel – I’m pleased to see Disher embracing and confronting the subject.
Viewing? ABCs MYSTERY ROAD, ORIGINS took our beloved First Nation’s hero detective back to his early days in a riveting series prequel which shows there’s plenty of life in the brand yet. Mark Coles Smith confidently fills Aaron Pedersen’s cowboy boots to take on the role of young Jay Swann. If you haven’t managed to see this series yet, put it on your list.
And finally, a shout out to the new man-baby of the hour. Elon Musk did what my willpower long failed to do and drove me off Twitter. It’s good to be away from the poison and the inanity and have my life back.
Happy and safe 2023.
- Alan Carter ist der Autor von Prime Cut und Des einen Feind, zwei weitere Cato-Kwong-Thriller warten auf Übersetzung: Bad Seed und Heaven Sent. 2019 erschien Marlborough Man in der von TW herausgegebenen Reihe bei Suhrkamp, Übersetzung: Karen Witthuhn, im August dann 2021 Doom Creek. – Alan Carter with CrimeMag here and here.
Andrew Cartmel: John Dickson Carr, Dark Genius of Golden Age Crime
John Dickson Carr was one of the greats of golden age crime writing, a contemporary and worthy rival of Agatha Christie. Indeed I first discovered his work because one of his novels (The White Priory Murders) was nestling on the shelf of a secondhand shop beside a stack of books by Agatha Christie. Unlike the Queen of Crime, though, Carr is now largely forgotten.
But I’m delighted that there are signs this might be changing. Rian Johnson, the writer and director of Knives Out and Glass Onion, films which are themselves brilliant revivals of the golden age crime story, is currently name-checking Carr in interviews. When asked who his favourite fictional detective is, Johnson replied, “Probably Poirot, although I have to say I’ve been reading a lot of John Dickson Carr and his detective Gideon Fell absolutely tickles me.”
Gideon Fell was one of two memorable long-running sleuths created by Carr. The other was Henry Merrivale, known as H.M. Both characters are corpulent grotesques —in the course of three pages, Merrivale is described as “wheezing”, “lumbering” and “waddling” — but also engaging, amusing and quite brilliant at their trade.
Gideon Fell was closely modelled on a real person, another great crime writer, G.K. Chesterton (creator of Father Brown), right down to Chesterton’s characteristic hat and cloak. Henry Merrivale was inspired, physically at least, by none other than Winston Churchill.
The Gideon Fell books — 23 novels plus one collection of short stories — were published under John Dickson Carr’s own name. The Henry Merrivale novels — 22 of them — appeared under the pseudonym Carter Dickson. In addition to these, over thirty more titles appeared under these names and one other (“Roger Fairbairn”).
So Carr (1906-1977) had a productive career and a long one, with his first novel published in 1930 and his last in 1972. And despite the large number of these books, the quality of them remains impressively high.
As Carter Dickson, Carr wrote one of the finest locked room mysteries of them all, his magnificent Merrivale story The Judas Window (1938) also known as The Crossbow Murder — don’t worry, disclosing the identity of the weapon doesn’t do anything to make this fiendish puzzle any easier to solve.
Locked room mysteries were a specialty of Carr’s. The Hollow Man (1935) also known as The Three Coffins, a Gideon Fell caper, is regarded as another classic of the genre.
But to get a flavour for the sheer joyous inventiveness of Carr’s plotting I’d recommend a collection of short stories called The Department of Queer Complaints, published under the name of Carter Dickson. The stories in this anthology are addictive — salty snacks of narrative — comprising vivid anecdotes and lovely little brain exercises. ‘Hot Money’ is a tiny gem and, in its simple neat ingenuity, ‘The Silver Curtain’ is a masterpiece.
This book is rather hard to find now and copies can change hands at high prices, so it’s ripe for a reprint. As are so many of Carr’s titles…
It would be an injustice to this writer to praise the brilliance of his plotting without mentioning his outstanding gift for characterisation and his superb prose style. Carr’s descriptions are terrific (“The typewriter pecked sharply, like a hen after corn”) and, in particular, he has a genius for concise scene setting and conjuring mood and atmosphere: “It was a raw and windy twilight”… “sleet flew at his face in fine needles”… “The long surf thundered through a hot summer.”
But, above all, to quote J.B. Priestley, Carr had “a sense of the macabre which lifts him high above the average run of detective story writers.”
His novels frequently hint at a supernatural agency behind the malevolent forces at work. He created a fictional realm where the hero could be ambushed with “no warning that a bit of the dark world had pierced through and pinioned him.” Or where “the words of the old ballad, one of the most subtly terrifying in English, hung in the room as though all the evil of the past were moving here in imperceptible waves.”
Invariably, of course, in the manner of the classic golden age crime story, it would turn out that there was a perfectly natural explanation for the sinister things that were happening.
Not always, though.
On at least one unforgettable occasion Carr pulled the rug out from under the feet of the reader with a twist ending that revealed the solution was, after all, entirely supernatural. There was a scandalised outcry from crime fiction purists at the time, and the book still packs a considerable punch now. It’s one of the author’s outstanding works.
It would be a massive spoiler if I was to tell you which novel this is. Instead let me suggest you investigate these three books — Below Suspicion, The Witch of the Low Tide and The Burning Court.
It might be one of these…
In any case, if you read all of them, along with The Judas Window, you will be richer for the experience, having enjoyed some of the finest novels in the genre.
- Andrew Cartmel is a British author and journalist, he was also the script editor for „Doctor Who“ from 1987 to 1989. His Vinyl Detective Series is published in Germany at Suhrkamp as Murder Swing, translated by Susanna Mende, followed by Killer Rock. His most recent is the Vinyl Detective novel „Attack and Decay“. 2023 will see the first book in a new series appearing, the premiere Paperback Sleuth adventure, „Death in Fine Condition“.