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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Who is Martha ?

Marjana Gaponenko

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To purchase Who is Martha ?

Title: Who is Martha ?
Author: Marjana Gaponenko
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 216 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Who is Martha ? - US
Who is Martha ? - UK
Who is Martha ? - Canada
Who is Martha ? - India
Qui est Martha ? - France
Wer ist Martha ? - Deutschland
La misteriosa scomparsa del piccione viaggiatore - Italia
  • German title: Wer ist Martha ?
  • Translated by Arabella Spencer

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Our Assessment:

B : sprightly charm and writing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 23/1/2013 Beate Tröger
NZZ . 9/10/2012 Angelika Overath
Publishers Weekly . 18/8/2014 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Marjana Gaponenko hat mit Luka Lewadski eine skurrile und eigenwillige Figur wie aus einer Erzählung von Isaak Babel geschaffen, einen kindlichen Greis, dessen letztes lebenslustiges Aufbegehren gegen den Tod Ausdruck in einer Sprache findet, die das Oszillieren aus Wachen und Traum, aus melancholischer Nostalgie und Hunger nach Leben ausbalanciert." - Beate Tröger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Marjana Gaponenko verbindet hohes Pathos mit Slapstick; sie zeichnet in den Zirkusfarben von Pomp und Pauken und im leisen Sfumato der Zärtlichkeit. (...) Ein Buch wie ein grandioses Fest, sicher wie ein Kinderglaube, und wo es intellektuell haltlos wäre, wird es souverän getragen durch eine mutige Sprache, die erstaunt bis zum Schluss." - Angelika Overath, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "(A) mostly successful portrayal of a terminally ill nonagenarian who decides to leave life with a bang." - Publishers Weekly

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 protagonist of Who is Martha ? is Luka Levadski, emeritus professor of zoology, specializing in ornithology -- birds -- and, at age ninety-six, served up with a death sentence in the form of a cancer diagnosis. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment can prolong his life for a couple of months, but he prefers to go out in style -- indeed, he finds:

     The desire to die in luxury he had never lived in spread like wildfire within him. It grew within him and swallowed up his fear of death.
       Born on 1 September 1914, he's now a man who can look back upon having lived in: "two utopias: Austro-Hungary and the Soviet Union". Born in Galicia, he finds his homeland -- after Polish and Soviet interims -- modern Ukraine. Fond childhood memories of Vienna between the wars, as well as a nice, more recent stay at the Hotel Imperial, courtesy of the Konrad Lorenz Institute which had invited the scholar, lead him to decide that that's the place he wants to live out his limited remaining days -- better than his small, Ukrainian apartment, certainly.
       The Levadski-name is still enough to quickly arrange a visa, and off he goes. Soon, he's very comfortably established at the luxury hotel -- going so far as to have one of the house-butlers, Habib, on call to help him out a bit (including getting out of the bathtub, which he can't manage on his own any longer).
       There are encounters with a variety of personnel -- many foreign-born, too -- and he also befriends another lonely old man, Mr. Witzturn. There's a visit to the Musikverein -- another blast from the past --, some good food (chocolate cake, as in times long gone by), perhaps too much to drink, and an old mind wandering a bit. There's even a young woman in a bar who explains:
     "I am writing a book about a old man," the young lady with the Cosmonaut Cocktail tells the bartender. "A lonely old man returns to the city of his childhood in order to die there, so that the circle is complete."
       Levadski was long a strange old bird: he never married -- was never even capable of love, he admits. His protective mother-hen saw to it that he was kept safe (including by having him abandon his studies before the Second World War, and dragging him off to Chechnya, of all places -- ironically, a safe spot to survive the war), but he was a last-of-his-kind kind of guy. Much like the Martha of the title: the caged passenger pigeon -- the very last of its species -- that died on the very day of his birth, a coincidence overshadowing his life.
       With a terminally ill near-centenarian as the central character, there's a predictable, almost inevitable, story arc to the novel. Like Martha's, Levadski's fate is preordained -- there's no escaping fate. But Gaponenko's presentation has a lot of charm, and the writing is sprightly. As much as any novel about a dying man can be, Who is Martha ? is good fun And fortunately Gaponenko doesn't lay it on entirely too thick, either, as writers of similar novels far too often do.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 February 2015

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Who is Martha ?: Reviews: Marjana Gaponenko: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German-writing author Marjana Gaponenko (Мар'яна Михайлівна Гапоненко) was born in Ukraine in 1981.

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