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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Happy Man

Hansjörg Schertenleib

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To purchase A Happy Man

Title: A Happy Man
Author: Hansjörg Schertenleib
Genre: Novella
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 93 pages
Original in: German
Availability: A Happy Man - US
A Happy Man - UK
A Happy Man - Canada
Der Glückliche - Deutschland
  • German title: Der Glückliche
  • Translated by David Dollenmayer

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Our Assessment:

B+ : small, surprisingly poignant tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 26/9/2005 Sabine Doering
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 8/6/2005 Gieri Cavelty

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hansjörg Schertenleib hat in diesem schmalen Buch mehr zu bieten als aufdringliche Glücksmaximen. Mit leichter Hand zeichnet er das Porträt eines liebenswürdigen Lebenskünstlers." - Sabine Doering, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

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:

       The 'happy man' of the title of this book is nearly fifty-year-old Swiss trumpeter This Studer. His given name ('This') is cause for some confusion in English -- and the title's description doesn't quite capture him either. Closer to the mark -- but still relying on foreign words (Dutch, in this case) among others-- is:

     "This is een geluksvogel," Tim Krabendonk finished his sentence for him, "fortune's darling, a happy man."
       This is all of these (summed up also in the German title, Der Glückliche), someone for whom life and almost all the things in it are simply a pleasure, and who can properly and easily revel in and appreciate everyday life.
       This' persona -- pretty much exactly the opposite of a tortured soul -- seems an unpromising one for a work of fiction. Schertenleib's choice of an omniscient narrator who makes his presence occasionally felt and insists on reader-complicity -- "That's how mundanely our story begins", is the second line, and the protagonist is soon introduced as: "This Studer (the name of the man we shall accompany on this journey)" -- also threatens to be too cute a game for the book's own good. It's a balancing act, and for a while Schertenleib's approach frequently teeters near the edge.
       The novella is divided into two parts. In the first This travels to Amsterdam with his wife, Daniela. He's filling in for another trumpeter at some gigs there, staying and playing with his old friend, Henk Scharpenzeel. Everything is fairly easy-going and carefree, Daniela a bit more serious than the others, but also (and still) in the thrall of her husband. And so there are scenes which lead the narrator to rhetorically ask:
Isn't it wonderful when we know exactly what the person who shares our life is thinking and seeing in their mind's eye ?
       There's not too much of this, but there is some -- which is, arguably, too much .....
       This describes his own state as one of contentment, rather than outright (or at least permanent) happiness:
Everybody in this world has doubts, everybody carps and bellyaches, but the contended man is king. He lives in peace, unlike the happy man. He doesn't have to prove anything, not to himself or anybody else. He doesn't feel called upon to convince anyone of anything, has nothing to fear. He's content because he knows he's gotten past his fear.
       This doesn't have too many bellyaches, however; perhaps his teenage daughter, going through an annoying phase, is what gives him most cause for concern, but he's quite understanding about that too.
       The story meanders along, with Daniela absent in the second part (because she had to head back home, to get back to work) but This still having fun in Amsterdam. There are also some looks to the past, from This' first encounter with Daniela to times from his childhood. It makes for a decent character-portrait, though at times it can seem this is a story that is going nowhere.
       As it turns out, A Happy Man does go somewhere, the story coming to a rather sudden, poignant turning point, the character-portrait rounded off in a surprising and effective way. Schertenleib's touch proves surer than it had seemed -- and even the narrator's occasional turning to the reader proves, in the novella's closing lines, entirely appropriate (and quite powerful).
       A Happy Man is an appealing novella -- and a very good example of the form, since Schertenleib couldn't cram everything he wants to convey here into a simple short story, nor could it be stretched out into full-length novel form. To call it a modest success is higher praise than it sounds, because Schertenleib clearly aspired to tell a modest tale, and he did so very well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 December 2009

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A Happy Man: Reviews: Hansjörg Schertenleib: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Hansjörg Schertenleib was born in 1957.

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