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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

Das erste Jahr

Durs Grünbein

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To purchase Das erste Jahr

Title: Das erste Jahr
Author: Durs Grünbein
Genre: Autobiographical
Written: 2001
Length: 328 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Das erste Jahr
  • Berliner Aufzeichnungen
  • Das erste Jahr has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a year in the life, quite well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Berliner Zeitung . 29/12/2001 Andreas Mix
Der Tagesspiegel A 10/10/2001 Gregor Dotzauer
Die Welt . 8/12/2001 .
Die Zeit . (29/2002) Katharina Döbler

  From the Reviews:
  • "Persönliches steht neben Allgemeinem, breiten Raum nehmen Reflexionen über Sprache und Dichtung, Anekdoten von Kollegen und Geschichten aus der Kindheit ein. Seinem emphatischen Bekenntnis zur Lyrik zum Trotz, erweist sich Grünbein dabei als solider Erzähler." - Andreas Mix, Berliner Zeitung

  • "Man kann die wichtigsten Gedankenfiguren, Gewährsleute und Szenerien aus früheren Essays und Gedichten kennen. Aber die Eindringlichkeit, mit der er vertraute Motive zusammenführt, hat zugenommen. (...) Durs Grünbeins Berliner Aufzeichnungen sind das gedankenreichste, thematisch vielfältigste und sprachlich virtuoseste deutsche Buch, das man in diesem Herbst lesen kann, wenn seine Zwiespältigkeit solche Anpreisungen vertragen würde. Manches ist nur besseres Feuilleton, aber auf jede in Granit gehauene Binse kommt eine überraschende Erkenntnis." - Gregor Dotzauer, Der Tagesspiegel

  • "Der Duktus ist zuweilen von unangenehmer Eitelkeit, die Kunstgestalt mitunter allzu kalkuliert. Aber wer sich anstrengt und durch des Dichters Augen sieht, sieht tatsächlich mehr -- und das ist immer ein Geschenk." - Die Welt

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:

       Durs Grünbein, born in 1962 and awarded one of the most prestigious German literary prizes, the Georg Büchner Prize, when he was barely in his early thirties, is the foremost German poet of his generation. Born in what was then still East Germany, he lived there through reunification in 1990 -- though he already straddled both Germanys before then, having made a name for himself in West Germany with the publication there of Grauzone morgens (see our review) in 1988.
       Das erste Jahr is a chronicle of that first year after the millennium, the year 2000, as he experienced it. It is not quite a diary: Grünbein doesn't exactly go day by day (skipping quite a few), and what entries there are are broader than the usual descriptions of daily events and life described in a diary, and focus generally only on one or two subjects and occurrences. There are also few things here that are merely jotted down. There is little that is fragmentary anywhere in the volume; it is a very polished account.
       Also on display: the poet at work -- or at least his poetry, as a few new works are included. Tellingly they are presented complete -- not as works in progress, with few hints of what was tried and discarded, or details of how the poems came to be. Several stand alone as the single entry for a day.
       Grünbein does recount what happens in his life over the course of this year, but also looks beyond that. The book progresses unevenly. A nice introduction sets the scene from 1999, looking towards the new millennium (and the now decade-old reunified Germany). The first three months are then covered in just over twenty pages, as Grünbein seems unsure exactly what to do. From there, however, the book grows more expansive.
       There are a variety of domestic observations, as well as some from abroad. A German-Arabic Poetry Conference, held in Yemen, is a brief foreign highlight. He also happens to be in America during the presidential election fiasco in November 1999. Both foreign experiences are casually, comfortably discussed, Grünbein not making too much of them, playing neither the naïf nor the expert, merely recounting -- but that in his stylish, sure manner. (Still, he reports of a quick trip from Washington D.C. "in den benachtbarten Bundesstaat Massachusetts" ("to the neighbouring state Massachusetts") and the small city of Bethesda -- though the state he means is, of course, Maryland (Massachusetts being separated from D.C. by several states and hundreds of miles, while Bethesda MD is literally right next door).)
       He travels quite a bit, around Europe, around Germany, but most of it is incidental, not figuring large in his account. The changing face of Germany, and Eastern Europe as a whole, often figures, at least peripherally, in his entries. Events -- May Day, the anniversary of Hiroshima, and many others -- also (briefly) attract his attention. There are also some far-fetched digressions -- so a lament for the dying art of ventriloquism.
       Certain personal events play a large role, none more so than the birth of his daughter which figures prominently in the latter part of the book. He revels in the event, and the new being, without letting himself (or his account) get completely carried away with it.
       Poetry also figures prominently -- not only the few works that are included, but poetry as a larger subject -- as a world view, even. "Wer dichtet, ist nicht tot" ("Whoever writes poetry isn't dead"), he maintains. Or: "Poesie ist die Intimität mit dem Anonymen" ("Poesy is the intimacy with the anonymous."). Or: "Gedichte sind mathematische Gleichungen" ("Poems are mathematical equations"). All are ideas he elaborates on, at least to some degree. He also offers any number of other ideas on the theme as well.
       Das erste Jahr is an ambitious sort of commonplace book -- with little in it that is commonplace. It is awash with ideas and observations, spun, briefly, dizzyingly around themselves, artfully presented. Grünbein writes very well, expressing himself with poetic succinctness (and carefully dosing the lyricism). It is a great deal for one volume -- but, carefully presented, is also much more than a mere jumble of notes and thoughts. Grünbein seems always in control -- and that is one of the few disappointments of the volume too: it does not feel revealing, with each entry so carefully composed and presented.
       Still, an interesting volume. Grünbein broaches many subjects, generally intelligently, often from interesting angles. And his writing is always a pleasure to read: he always expresses himself very well.

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Das erste Jahr: Reviews: Durs Grünbein: Other books by Durs Grünbein under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Durs Grünbein was born in Dresden in 1962. He has won many literary prizes, including the 1995 Georg Büchner Prize.

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© 2002-2008 the complete review

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