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Der Trafikant by Robert Seethaler
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Der Trafikant (original 2012; edition 2013)

by Robert Seethaler (Author)

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139686,313 (4.05)7
Member:timoheuer
Title:Der Trafikant
Authors:Robert Seethaler (Author)
Info:Kein & Aber (2013), Ausgabe: 21., 249 Seiten
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:lang:de, österreich, leben, biografie, kiosk, krieg, zweiter weltkrieg, wien, belletristik, roman

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The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler (2012)

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The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler.

Robert Seethaler came to the attention of the English speaking world when ''A Whole Life' was published in 2015, the novel was shortlisted for the Man-Booker International Prize, 2016. Described by Jim Crace as;
"...heart rending and heart warming...for all its gentleness, a very powerful novel".
This novel is every bit as good. The Tobacconist is an elegantly written coming of age novel set in Vienna just before WWII. The story is overshadowed by the coming storm but at the beginning of the novel Austria has not yet fallen completely to the Nazis. The young life of country boy Franz is beautifully portrayed in a novel that becomes progressively darker - a rights of passage from simple country existence to the bright lights of the city to the depths of Nazi depravity.
There are scenes of touching naivity, of a boy growing up and of being lost in a world that is beyond his comprehension. At times humourous and at times sad, the contrast highlights the tragedy of the times all the more vividly. The rise of Nazism is initially a backdrop to the story but becomes the overarching menace within which every character must act and react. Actions become not just choices but a matter of acquiescence or defiance in the face of tyranny. Defiance has a high price but Franz has integrity, an honest nature and a firm understanding of what he believes to be right from wrong. There is a stark contrast between the mollycoddled life in his mother's house and the challenge of coping alone in the city, of work in the tobacconist shop, of girls, of clashing cultures - the city, itself, is changing with the Anschluss fast approaching. The growing clamour for a greater Germany, the free rein granted to anti-Semitic hatred, the repression of free speech and the general climate of fear all colour the novel.
Franzl Huchel is 17 in 1937 Austria, he is wholly unprepared when his mother sends him into the wide world following the death of their benefactor, Herr Preininger, one of the richest men in the region, (the man who has provided for them and prevented her son working on a farm or in a salt mine). From Salzkammergut's rural life Franz is sent to Vienna to be apprentice Tobacconist to Otto Trsnyek, an old friend of his mother. Here he meets Freud and forms an attachment to the old man, Freud tells him he needs a girlfriend. Unfortunately his experience leads to love sickness and pangs of the heart.
The novel revolves around the three crucial relationships in Franz's life, (after his mother). Otto Trsnyek, the Tobacconist - and a sort of father figure, Anezka the Bohemian peasant girl (his lover) and Dr. Freud his mentor. Trsnyek is passionate about his little shop and the news but Franz realises that there is more to life. He becomes obsessed with ideas, with falling in love, with taking a stand. The meeting with Dr. Freud are witty and playful, not exactly analysis but an exploration of the young mind and it's obsessions. The change for Franz to the city leaves him homesick but the discovery of an emotional world he never imagined intrigues him, truly eye opening. Gradually he realises the city is changing, the Nazis begin to take over. The emboldened butcher throws offal at the Tobacco shop for serving Jews and degenerates, (both political and sexual).
The setting of the Tobacconist shop, the dismal streets of the poorer districts of Vienna, the living condition of the working class and the rich are all vividly realised. The first encounter with an underground club is straight out of Spencer or Isherwood, just like Cabaret. The experience is both a delight and a torment for the young man - a heartbreaking read. The casual nature of every day anti-Semitism gives way to systematic violence and cruelty. The tragic incident of Red Egon sets the tone for worse to come. Franz' feelings are intuit, his understanding more emotional than intellectual but everyone must decide where they stand. The novel questions where will Franz stand, what kind of a man will be become? The fate of everyone in the city depends upon the whim of the Nazis; Franz, Otto, Anezka and Dr. Freud.
The​ Tobacconist is a beguiling tale beautiful told and warmly translated, full of tragedy and pathos. Franz imagined life has the feel of the experience of a real teenager faced with extraordinary times. Ultimately everyone has to make choices in life.
Robert Seethaler is an Austrian writer and actor. Over the past twelve years he has received numerous prizes and accolades for his work. I hope we get more soon, this novel is a terrific read. ( )
  paulobk | Jun 13, 2017 |
In the autumn of 1937, Franz, a country boy from the depths of the Salzkammergut, comes to the big city to work in Otto Trsnjek's newspaper kiosk (a Trafik in Austrian German) in the Währingerstraße. Just round the corner is what might well be Vienna's most famous street address, Berggasse 19, where the well-known Deppendoktor, Prof. Dr. Freud, lives. And, naturally enough, the professor himself pops in from time to time for 20 Virginias and the Neue Freie Presse. As we are all expecting, an unlikely friendship develops between the elderly Freud and our Franzl, who manages to extract a certain amount of grandfatherly advice from the great man in exchange for the occasional Hoyo de Monterrey ("...harvested by bold men and tenderly rolled by beautiful women on the sunny, fertile banks of the Rio San Juan y Martínez", as Franz has learnt).

Franz meets a girl, the political situation worsens, there is an Anschluss, Otto is arrested by the Gestapo, and various other bad things happen, also more or less as we would expect. What we perhaps don't quite expect so much is the cleverly indirect way that Franz's talks with Freud lead him to discover more about himself, and incidentally to come up with an ingenious marketing strategy exploiting the subconscious to get customers into the shop...

An entertaining, competent and intelligent historical novel, with some nice bits of descriptive writing and a few really good scenes, but let down by a rather too predictable plot and a little bit of clumsiness in balancing the different threads of the plot. And at least one puzzling anachronism (in a newspaper report that's only relevant to the story as background colour, Hitler, in early 1938, is said to be inspecting an Atombunker). Worth a look, probably, but all routine stuff compared to Ein ganzes Leben. ( )
  thorold | Oct 15, 2016 |
Showing 2 of 2
Seethaler blends tragedy and whimsy to create a bittersweet picture of youthful ideals getting clobbered by external forces.
 
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An einem Sonntag im Spätsommer des Jahres 1937 zog ein ungewöhnlich heftiges Gewitter über das Salzkammergut, das dem bislang eher ereignislos vor sich hin tröpfelnden Leben Franz Huchels eine ebenso jähe wie folgenschwere Wendung geben sollte.
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"Das Leben ist halt kein Märchen, Freunderl - aber irgendwann ist sowieso alles vorbei!"
"Das ist nichts Außergewöhnliches. Von der Liebe versteht nämlich niemand irgendetwas."
"Nicht einmal Sie?"
"Gerade ich nicht!"
"Aber warum verlieben sich dann alle Leute und ständig und überall?"
"Junger Mann" sagte Freud und hielt an. "Man muss das Wasser nicht verstehen,  um kopfvoran hineinzuspringen!"
"Mit Frauen ist es wie mit Zigarren: Wenn man zu fest an ihnen zieht, verweigern sie einem den Genuss. Ich wünsche einen angenehmen Tag!"
"Diese junge Dame hat dich also sitzen lassen", murmelte er vor sich hin. "So weit die Fakten. Meiner Ansicht nach hast Du jetzt genau zwei Möglichkeiten. Möglichkeit Nummer eins: Hol sie dir zurück! Möglichkeit Nummer zwei: Vergiss sie!"
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