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Peter Weiss

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To purchase Leavetaking

Title: Leavetaking
Author: Peter Weiss
Genre: Novel
Written: 1961 (Eng. 1966)
Length: 88 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Leavetaking - US
Leavetaking - UK
Leavetaking - Canada
Leavetaking - India
Abschied von den Eltern - Deutschland
Congedo dai genitori - Italia
  • German title: Abschied von den Eltern
  • Translated by E.B.Garside, Alastair Hamilton, and Christopher Levenson
  • Published, together with Vanishing Point (see our review), as Exile

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Our Assessment:

A- : strong, dark autobiographical novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 13/10/1961 Michael Hamburger
Die Zeit . 1/9/1961 Werner Weber

  From the Reviews:
  • "In the light of this achievement this is a dynamic work, a re-creation and excorcism of the past rather than a recollection of it in tranquility. Brief though it is, its truthfulness and imaginative power are such as to involve the reader in what may have begun as an act of personal liberation." - Michael Hamburger, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Bei Peter Weiss spürt man das Nötige -- etwas, in dem die Not mitlautet. Emigration, Exil: Unter diesen Zeichen steht jedes Motiv im Bericht Abschied von den Eltern. Und so stark ist das Nötige, daß der Dichter die Sprache gar nicht entschieden und durchwegs auf den Stand hebt, wo man von Kunstsprache reden könnte. (...) Die Dringlichkeit läßt in dieser Sprache keine Pause, keinen Abschnitt zu; ohne Schnaufhalt bleibt sie tätig. Da ist der Gang wichtiger als der Übergang." - Werner Weber, 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:

       Peter Weiss' father died in March, 1959, shortly after his mother (she died in December, 1958). Leavetaking -- In German the title is literally Leavetaking from the Parents -- marks Weiss' coming to terms with his family and his past and the emergence of Weiss the artist. With this novel, and the companion piece Vanishing Point (see our review), Weiss emerged on the German literary scene.
       Leavetaking begins with the narrator's father's death, but the focus of the novel is on the narrator's childhood and youth, covering the years 1916 to 1940. It is presented as a solid block of writing, a single paragraph. It is a gush of pent-up words and feelings finally released, but Weiss narrates his story clearly and the reader is easily swept into the flow.
       Weiss describes his childhood and awkward and difficult youth. There is the tragedy of his beloved sister Margit, who died when Weiss was still young. There is the difficult relationship with his parents. There are the fantasies of adolescence and youth, of sex and love -- dark, ugly fantasies here, with no small amount of self-loathing. And it is all set in a world that is all the while precariously balanced on the precipice.
       A focus is Weiss' effort to become an artist, including his time at the Prague Academy. Weiss was not oblivious to political circumstances, but it is remarkable how politics and history recede into the background, his main struggle being to find his own way, even as the world crumbles around him and as truly life-threatening danger apporaches from all sides. This picture of Europe on the eve of the Second World War is an unlikely but fascinating one.
       Weiss' pilgrimage to Hermann Hesse in Switzerland is described, and his relationship with the master (called Harry Haller here, after the character from Steppenwolf) well-presented. (Hesse's interest in the young artist was of great significance to Weiss. Hesse allowed Weiss to illustrate two of his books (recently re-published by Suhrkamp Verlag) and in homage to the master Weiss published the German edition of Der Fremde under the pseudonym "Sinclair", a nod to one of Hesse's characters.)
       Indifferent to politics, Weiss wishes to pursue his art. He joins his family briefly in their London exile but finds no place there. He does paint and advance his art, but he does so mainly in a hopeless environment in which art can not thrive. Significantly, his mother destroys his paintings before the family flees to Sweden.
       The book closes in 1940, with the narrator stating: "I was on my way to look for a life of my own." Weiss endures -- and he would go on to become an artist -- but it is only with his parents' deaths that he truly finds that life of his own and can finally write completely freely.
       An impressive stark and dark effort, Weiss' slow coming to terms with his past -- and his future -- is impressively captured, the honesty often brutal. Recommended.

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Leavetaking: Reviews: Peter Weiss: Other works by Peter Weiss under review: Works about Peter Weiss under Review:
  • Werner Schmidt's biography, Peter Weiss: Leben eines kritischen Intellektuellen
Other books of interest under review:
  • See also the Index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Peter Weiss (1916-82) was born in Germany. A remarkable artist, he was a talented painter who then turned to writing. Only slow to achieve recognition with his fiction he burst onto the international scene with the stunning success of his play, Marat/Sade. Winner of many West and East German literary prizes, he was also the author of Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, the most important German novel since The Tin Drum.

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