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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Sibylle Lewitscharoff

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To purchase Apostoloff

Title: Apostoloff
Author: Sibylle Lewitscharoff
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 279 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Apostoloff - US
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  • German title: Apostoloff
  • Translated by Katy Derbyshire

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Our Assessment:

B+ : impressive writing, but doesn't really go far enough for a road-trip/memory-lane book

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 12/3/2009 Richard Kämmerlings
The National . 23/2/2013 Mark Angeles
NZZ . 10/3/2009 Paul Jandl
Publishers Weekly . 29/10/2013 .
Die Zeit . 12/3/2009 Eberhard Falcke

  From the Reviews:
  • "Diese Diskrepanz zwischen Idee und Wirklichkeit, Seele und Körper, reinem Logos und seinen schwachen Emanationen im Kunstwerk ist der Motor des Schreibens von Sibylle Lewitscharoff. Spannungsfunken wirft hier nicht der Plot ab, der so banal ist wie ein Billigflug an die Schwarzmeerküste (Urlaubsliebschaft inklusive), sondern nur die unaufhörlich rotierende Gedankenmaschine der Erzählerin. In diesem Buch wird deutlich wie nie zuvor, dass das tranzendente Dauerglühen dieser Prosa Konsequenz einer radikalen und frühen Verlusterfahrung ist" - Richard Kämmerlings, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(T)he literal and figurative road to the last three comparably enjoyable chapters is long and often nasty." - Mark Angeles, The National

  • "Kein falsches Heil geht von Apostoloff aus, den faulen Kompromiss der Ironie kennt der Roman nicht. Wer die Rhetorik des gesunden Zorns so virtuos beherrscht, der braucht keine Seelendiätetik. (...) Es hiesse, Sibylle Lewitscharoffs Buch zu unterschätzen, wenn man es nur als satirische Aufschreibung einer Familiengeschichte lesen würde. Apostoloff ist ein Buch, das das Hässliche auch als politische Signatur eines Jahrhunderts sieht. (...) Mit grosser Genauigkeit und einem sprachlichen Furor, der in der deutschen Literatur einzigartig ist, macht Sibylle Lewitscharoff den Zusammenhang zwischen Schmerz und Hass deutlich." - Paul Jandl, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Lewitscharoff’s caustic prose can be occasionally overbearing but it’s her sharp-eyed, unsentimental, and even lyrical musings that make this novel a spiky, pungent pleasure." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Allerdings hat das Feuerwerk an sprachlicher Bravour, Schwarze-Komödien-Effekten und geistreichen Keckheiten seinen Preis. Dem Grundproblem eines jeden Exzellenzstils, der mit allem, was er präsentiert, wenigstens ein bisschen Furore machen will, entkommt auch Lewitscharoff nicht. Der Stoff, von dem sie handelt, wird dabei doch ziemlich gezaust und verschlissen, zerplaudert und verjuxt, seine Substanz löst sich auf, sein Gewicht zerbröselt." - Eberhard Falcke, 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:

       Apostoloff is a road-trip book, two sisters from Germany being chauffeured through contemporary Bulgaria by the eponymous, local Apostoloff -- Rumen ("Rumen is our Hermes"). Their main reason or excuse for coming to Bulgaria is already behind them -- "It ended last Sunday in Sofia, although not for my sister and me, because we decided to spend a few extra days in the country" -- but it also continues to haunt the narrator (the younger sister), as the novel is also one down memory lane -- little of which is visible en route, but rather unfolds in her mind and recollection.
       Alexander Tabakoff is the one who got them here in the first place: the last survivor (and, financially, by far the most successful) of twenty Bulgarians who came to Germany at the end of World War II (Bulgaria was an ally of Germany in both World Wars ...), he wanted to now, quite literally, "bring home his one-time companions" and (re-)inter them in Bulgaria. The two sisters' father was one of the original twenty, and they take a handsome pay-off in order to go along with this crackpot scheme. Still, all the others can also be convinced (or bought) and so there was a convoy of luxury limousines transporting everyone, dead and alive, from Germany to Bulgaria.
       The sisters' father, a successful doctor, was actually the first of the nineteen to die, a suicide at age forty-three, when the girls were still young. Naturally, his death -- and this transporting-his-remains reminder of it -- weighs heavily on them, especially since, as the narrator admits:

     We don't know much. So what ? It's clear enough -- even if we'd majored in Bulgarian Studies, Feta Cheese Production and Indo-German Suicide with a focus on the psychopathology of male gynaecologists -- we'd still be out of the question to serve as magistrates on the matter of our father.
       It's not surprising the sisters have daddy-issues. They also have Bulgaria issues -- "We've had enough of Bulgaria before we even get to know it properly" -- and Apostoloff is no happy sightseeing tour, as the narrator complains and picks at pretty much everything they see and encounter in this "ridiculous and bad country". From the dangerous driving conditions and indifferent (and possibly tainted) food and service to the mafiosi they meet, they're not really having the trip-of-a-lifetime. That's part of the fun of the novel -- Lewitscharoff's impressive way with words includes an enjoyably wicked side, too, and what she takes down she takes down hard yet with the finest of pin-pricks, too -- but it also makes for some heavy and somewhat dreary going. And this is a novel dealing with death, too, after all, so there's already that .....
       The narrator is a bookish sort (reading Amis' Koba the Dread for ... enjoyment (?) on the trip) and among the few things that connected her with her older sister in youth was their love of books (even as they had very different preferences). This added literary element to the narrative is rather enjoyable -- right down to the narrator comparing Tabakoff's limousine (as opposed to Apostoloff's Daihatsu) to Raymond Roussel's fancy vehicle, suggesting:
     In principle, Roussel was right -- being driven around the world with the curtain closed and never getting out to look at anything is well worth emulating.
       Yes, she isn't the world's most enthusiastic tourist -- and the attitude of course also reflects the carefully walled-off world she's made for herself in not quite dealing with her father and his death (even as he haunts her in her dreams), among other things.
       There's a sense of Apostoloff being part of a larger narrative, from the obviously autobiographical aspects of the text (it seems to hit and sit way too close to home) to allusions to some of Lewitscharoff's other work (Hans Blumenberg's lion already appears here -- an idea that she went on to turn into the full-fledged novel Blumenberg (2011)). The novel does come nicely full circle, the narrator even closing her eyes on the ride to the airport ("not wanting to take this hideous image of Sofia onto the plane with me"), but it is still only a partial resolution of what seems a much larger picture.
       Lewitscharoff writes crisply, dryly, stylishly -- it's simply good reading, regardless of what is actually happening (though note that I did read this in German, comparing every now and then with Katy Derbyshire's valiant efforts to recreate the prose in English: it says a lot that it still reads well in English, but that version pales beside the sparkle of the original). But even as there's some appeal to the moaning about all things Bulgarian, and the reflections on the long-dead father and the sisters' own paths there's not quite enough story to it all. Perhaps because of the constant travel -- they're always going somewhere -- the fact that the story doesn't really get anywhere beyond laying dad to rest wears it down a bit. Dealing with the deceased might be story enough, but it doesn't feel that way here -- it doesn't feel like that that's the whole story (or, indeed, that we get the whole story).
       Impressive, in many ways, but also a bit hard to like.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 January 2014

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Apostoloff: Reviews: Other books by Sibylle Lewitscharoff under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       German author Sibylle Lewitscharoff was born in 1954.

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