random thoughts to oil the mind

Month: April 2012

Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons in Life

Screw It, Let's Do ItDieser Eintrag ist auch auf Deutsch verfügbar.

Not normally one for autobiographies, I picked this book up on a whim as it was standing proudly on the local library shelf. It’s a pretty short, easy read with some interesting ideas and amusing anecdotes, essentially snippets hewn from Branson’s life and career with some generic advice strewn about. The autobiographical sections are probably the most interesting, though given the book’s format are often repeated or presented in a strange order.

There are plenty of interesting comments on Branson’s approach to sustainable capitalism, or his humanitarian and voluntary work. Occasionally, however, there are chapters dealing with issues like global warming which read all too much like a diatribe copied verbatim from some other book and feel like they have little place here. It would have been enough for Branson to say that he perceives global warming as an all-too-real threat to the planet, and is determined to tackle the problem head-on with his Virgin Empire, without trying to go into detail convincing readers that the figures add up.

All in all for a quick light read there were plenty of interesting titbits and anecdotes to make it worth picking up, but the haphazard and repeated presentation of events, and the over-the-top explanation of global warming were a distraction. I imagine Branson’s autobiography would make a much more worthwhile read.

Geht nicht gibt’s nicht!

Geht nicht, gibt's nichtThis post is also available in English.

In der Regel interessiere ich mich nicht für Autobiografien, aber da dieses Buch so stolz auf dem Bibliotheksregal da stand, habe ich es einfach aus der Laune heraus mal mitgenommen. Es ist eine relativ kurze und einfache Lektüre, im Grunde bestehend aus Bruchstücken aus dem Leben und der Karriere Bransons mit einigen interessanten Ideen und unterhaltsamen Anekdoten, verstreut mit allgemeinen Ratschlägen. Die autobiografischen Stücke sind wohl am interessantesten, aufgrund des Buchformats sind sie jedoch oft wiederholt oder in einer komischen Reihenfolge präsentiert.

Wesentlich vorhanden sind Kommentare über Bransons Vorgehensweise in Bezug auf den nachhaltigen Kapitalismus und seine humanitäre und ehrenamtliche Arbeit. Leider gibt es aber einige Kapitel, die von Themen wie der globalen Erwärmung handeln, die sich wie Wort für Wort aus einem anderen Buche abgeschriebene Diatriben lesen und hier ziemlich fehl am Platz sind. Es hätte genügt, wenn Branson erklärt hätte, er nehme die globale Erwärmung als eine ernste Bedrohung für den Planeten und engagiere sich deswegen mit seinem Virgin-Imperium, diesem Problem ohne Umschweife entgegenzutreten, ohne so ins Detail gehen zu müssen, um seine Leser davon zu überzeugen, die Firmenzahlen gehen auf.

Ein letztes Wort über die Übersetzung: Obwohl ich das Original „Screw It, Let’s Do It“ nicht gelesen habe, sehe ich ein, dass es schwierig sein musste, dem Original treu zu bleiben und gleichzeitig das Argument zu überliefern. Deshalb bieten viele Anmerkungen des Übersetzers wertvolle Hintergrundinformationen oder erklären Wortspiele, die auf Deutsch einfach nicht funktionieren. Dennoch wimmelt das Buch von typographischen und anderweitigen Fehlern, die den Lesefluss stören und teilweise ein wiederholtes Lesen verlangen, um den Fehler zu entdecken.

Als schnelle, leichte Unterhaltung bietet das Buch genügend Anekdoten und Informationsleckerbissen für die, die für die Erfolgsgeschichte und Geschäftsphilosophie Bransons interessieren. Jedoch stört die planlose und teilweise wiederholte Darstellung der Firmengeschichte, und die übertriebene Belehrung über die globale Erwärmung gehört eigentlich auf einer anderen Bühne. Wahrscheinlich wäre seine Autobiografie die interessantere Lektüre.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Unbearable Lightness of BeingAt its simplest level, this is merely a short novel about attitudes to love and the meanings of fidelity. The main characters approaches to love are almost diametric opposites, the surgeon Tomas, a promiscuous conqueror of women, and his wife Tereza, ashamed of her very body and unable to reconcile her husband’s habits with her view of married fidelity. While the events unfold in front of the backdrop of the Prague Spring and the difficult years that follow, this is a novel focussed on the smaller, personal image, albeit no less profound in scope.

Despite this concentration on the characters, this is a novel bound to disappoint anyone looking for character and plot development. Various scenes are revisited from different perspectives, but there is no real plot to speak of, certainly the novel ends rather abruptly without any hint of a conclusion. Instead, we are treated to a philosophical tour of what it means to ‘be’ at all. The characters are explored for who they are and how they deal with people and with the world around them, their approach to love, sex, relationships, work. The principal dichotomy on display is that between the weight of responsibility and the lightness of inconsequence, but there is plenty of musing in other fields. Kundera fleetingly touches on many areas of life, from the meaning of words and their role in (mis)communication, to the position of kitsch in art, and our treatment of animals.

For all its philosophising, this is an eminently readable book. The prose is straight-forward and the interspersed author’s comments on his creations provide plenty of food for thought, though this constant interruption might annoy some readers. Even its chapters are very short, which may have been Kundera’s intention to give the reader plenty of time to pause and reflect.

Jeder stirbt für sich allein

Jeden stirbt für sich alleinThis is a truly fascinating story, an insight into the lives of those who endured the excesses of the Nazi state at the height of its power. Fallada wrote this book shortly after the war in less than a month, a novel inspired by reading through Gestapo files. It was his last, but one he was very proud to have written.

At heart, the book deals with one couple’s private campaign of resistance to the Nazi regime. As Fallada wrote in an article about the novel, “Über den doch vorhandenen Widerstand der Deutschen gegen den Hitlerterror”, his writings were dedicated to their sacrifice that it not be in vain. The core of the book centres on the Quangels, a couple who lose their son during Hitler’s invasion of France, and who strive to offer a token of resistance, by way of writing postcards and letters denouncing the Nazi acts. These political flyers almost unswervingly end in the arms of the Gestapo, who catalogue this defiance and use their ruthless methods in pursuit of the perpetrators, destroying lives as they do so. This, in my opinion, is one of the book’s greatest strengths, its depth of living characters, almost reminiscent to me of a Dickensian world, each role played by a figure of flesh and blood, and not merely props for the main actors to play up against. Thus the novel details episodes in the lives of thieves and prostitutes, Jews and Gestapo inspectors, youth and the permanently unemployed.

Aside from the insight into what life was like under the Nazis, the book also offers this strong message of hope. The very premise of the powerless individual trying to make a difference against the faceless society is a strong one. During the sham trial, the farcical nature of events finally sees the otherwise stoical Otto Quangel laughing at his prosecutor, something which many of us should no doubt revel in. It’s also fitting that Fallada should choose to end the novel with a look towards the future, at the youth who would inherit the responsibility for Germany in post-war Europe.

All in all a heartily recommendable read. The glimpse of life in Nazi-run Berlin is fascinating, and the police and courtroom scenery definitely sits in companion to the likes of Arthur Koestler’s portrayal of Soviet excesses in Sonnenfinsternis. It was a surprise to me to learn that the book was only recently translated into English.

Finally, a word about the language. As another commenter has written, there is a fair amount of Berlin dialect in the book which for makes for a challenge for non-native speakers and advanced learners, and given the book’s age there are also a fair number of old-fashioned or unusual turns of phrase, but the book is otherwise written in a fairly straightforward style.

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