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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

We Are Doing Fine

Arno Geiger

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To purchase We Are Doing Fine

Title: We Are Doing Fine
Author: Arno Geiger
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 390 pages
Original in: German
Availability: We Are Doing Fine - US
We Are Doing Fine - UK
We Are Doing Fine - Canada
We Are Doing Fine - India
Tout va bien - France
Es geht uns gut - Deutschland
Va tutto bene - Italia
Todo nos va bien - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fairly well-done family chronicle

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 17/9/2005 Kolja Mensing
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 27/9/2005 Franz Haas
Die Zeit A 13/10/2005 Verena Auffermann

  From the Reviews:
  • "Es geht also um die verlorene Zeit, und damit unterscheidet sich Es geht uns gut von vielen anderen, oft bestürzend gut gemeinten Familienromanen aus dem deutsprachigen Raum.(...) Es ist ebendie Literatur, die gleichzeitig vom Vergessen und von der Erinnerung erzählen kann und der es mit den Mitteln der Fiktion manchmal gelingt, ein wenig von der verloren geglaubten Zeit als Möglichkeit zurückzugewinnen. Es geht uns gut ist ein sehr überzeugender Beweis dafür." - Kolja Mensing, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Arno Geigers Buch ist kein braver Roman über Glück, Spott oder Schmäh, auf den sich die Österreicher so gut verstehen. (...) Arno Geiger ist ein Meister der Vermischung der Realitäten, von Weltpolitik und Alltag, von Geplapper und Überlegung. Er beschreibt, was schwer zu beschreiben ist. (...) Es geht uns gut ist mehr als ein Österreich- und Familienroman. Es ist auch ein Buch über den Beruf des Schriftstellers und das Leben des Beobachters. Arno Geiger entfaltet ein genau komponiertes Stück" - Verena Auffermann, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Es geht uns gut (now trabslated as: We Are Doing Fine) is the story of a Viennese family. More of the chapters (but fewer of the pages) are set in the spring and summer of 2001, and centre on Philipp Erlach, who has inherited his grandparents' house and is now in the process of beginning to renovate it. The remaining chapters centre around his grandparents (and also parents), each chapter focussed on a single day from their lives -- first in 1982, then advancing chronologically from 1938 through 1989, with stations at or near many of the most significant dates in recent Austrian history (8 April 1945, 12 May 1955, etc.).
       Philipp finds himself facing more of a challenge than he might have expected. His grandparent's house is a relic of older times, and modern man Philipp isn't entirely comfortable in these walls. It's not just pieces of family history that intimidate. For one, there's the attic: pigeons have long roosted there, and a first foray -- or attempt -- to enter their space finds him overwhelmed by pigeon-shit and birds. Much of his renovation-work centres around fixing this particular problem. Another problem he faces is that a good deal of the house defies change: much of the furniture is a fixture, bolted fast very effectively almost half a century earlier and almost impossible to budge since then. (There was a decent reason for keeping the furniture in place this way, but it long ago outlived its usefulness.)
       Philipp hires some day-labourers to help him out, one a Ukrainian who speaks little German, but he wants to play along as well, uneasy with the employer-employee relationship, and wanting them just to all be buddies (which doesn't bode well for getting things done efficiently). There's a woman in Philipp's life, too, but she is married, and their relationship isn't on the most solid footing either. Meanwhile, the house is a daily confrontation with the past.
       Philipp's grandfather, Richard, opposed the Nazis (but not very stridently), but eventually became a Minister in the post-war Austrian Cabinet, an important person for a while. The scenes from the past offer glimpses -- a day in the life -- of Richard and his wife Alma, as well as their daughter Ingrid and the boy she goes on to marry, Peter (first glimpsed as a fifteen year old Hitler Youth still trying to defend the city as the Russian and American tanks roll in). Many of the days are significant, but a great deal also takes place in between, and the situation changes dramatically from chapter to chapter (jumping as they do through the years 1938, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1970, 1978, and 1989). From Alma's businesses (including her beekeeping efforts) to Richard's politics and his estrangement from his daughter to Ingrid's tragic death, it is a family history running alongside a nation's history in almost photo-album style -- a few snapshots from across the decades.
       Geiger does not aim for obvious grand sweep: history is in the details and the everyday for him. The strengths of the narrative are in the constant sense of making do (and not rocking the boat too much), as well as the descriptions of the small things that happen, from Alma's concerns about the elderly Richard's dementia to individual confrontations and meetings to the game Peter invents ('Wer kennt Österreich ?' ('Who knows Austria ?'), which after some success is also his ruin). Even Ingrid's death becomes a scene among many, a tragedy but also just another piece of the much larger picture.
       The characters are not terribly sympathetic -- with Geiger going a bit out of his way to make sure of that. The leaps through time also make it hard to identify with them, as they change from chapter to chapter as their situations change -- part of the point, but also inevitably accentuating a certain vagueness. Only Philipp plods ahead slowly in the present, but his dissatisfaction (with himself and his world) also weighs down that strand of the novel. That he flees for new frontiers at the end, included in his new buddies' big adventure, is the not surprising cop-out on his part, but also leaves the reader with a sense of frustration. Despite holding our attention, by the end we're not entirely sure these characters really deserved our time.
       Well written in its detail, half a history of modern Austria, half a family chronicle, Es geht uns gut has considerable appeal but isn't fully satisfying. The grand panoramic picture, of family and of nation, never quite seems whole, too much left a blur.

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We Are Doing Fine: Reviews: Other books by Arno Geiger under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Arno Geiger was born in 1968.

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