Welcome to Travel Readings
Melbourne: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Books, Movies and Beyond…
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Washington, DC and New York
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Rome
Rio de Janeiro: Crimes of August (Agosto) by Rubem Fonseca
Istanbul: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Liège (Belgium): Pedigree by Georges Simenon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Lisbon
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Cambodia
Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
Paris: Flowers of Ruin and Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Naples
Books, Movies and Beyond…: Tanzania
Sri Lanka: Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Books, Movies and Beyond… : Venice
Dublin: The Dead by James Joyce
Books, Movies and Beyond: Iran
Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The Matter of Desire (Materia del Deseo) by Edmundo Paz Soldán
Books, Movies and Beyond: Syria
Djibouti: Passage of Tears (Passage des Larmes) by Abdourahman Waberi
Books, Movies and Beyond: Armenia
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo
Bangkok: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Périgord, France: The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker
Books, Movies and Beyond: Brussels
Naples: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Books, Movies and Beyond: Rio de Janeiro
Tajikistan: Hurramabad by Andrei Volos
New-York: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Israel and Palestine: To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Books, Movies and Beyond: Bavaria and Southern Germany
Cape Town: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
Books, Movies and Beyond: India
Blue Ridge Mountains: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Books, Movies and Beyond: Algeria
Austrian Alps: A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) by Robert Seethaler
Books, Movies and Beyond: Africans in America
Zimbabwe: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
Books, Movies and Beyond: Colombia
Belgian Ardennes: The All Saints’ Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Côte d’Ivoire: Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Japan: Haruki Murakami and Amélie Nothomb
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Rope and The Denial of Saint Peter by Charles Baudelaire
Books, Movies and Beyond: Cairo
Vancouver: What is Remembered by Alice Munro
Ghent (Belgium): War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
Haiti: An Aroma of Coffee and Dining with the Dictator by Dany Laferrière and The Comedians by Graham Greene
Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
Siena and Tuscany : Il Palio delle contrade morte by Fruttero & Lucentini and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
China : Wild Swans. Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
Former Soviet Union: The Unwomanly Face of War  by Svetlana Alexievich
Provence: The Horseman on the Roof by Jean Giono, La charrette bleue by René Barjavel, Madame de Sévigné and Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp
Moscow: The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère
Books, Movies and Beyond: Vietnam
Books, Movies and Beyond: The Wars in Vietnam

Austrian Alps: A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) by Robert Seethaler

A whole and very simple life. And almost entirely lived in a valley in the Austrian Alps. That’s Andreas Egger’s story told by Robert Seethaler, Austrian writer and actor in the spare and powerful 150 pages of « A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) ».  Conceived in sin, the four years old Andreas arrives from the city in 1902 and lands in a farm ruled by his mother’s brother-in-law. He becomes the farmer’s scapegoat and is constantly beaten without reason. At some point, the farmer breaks his leg, leaving him with a limp.



A man of few words and without much of an education, but a force of nature, he leaves the farm at 18 and starts working for the company setting-up the cable-car’s towers in the valley. One evening, his colleagues help him light up torches on the mountain’s slope to form in the dark the letters of “For you, Marie”. This is how he declared his love to his wife with whom he would go live in a modest chalet high in the mountain pastures. One night, while he had gone out, an avalanche takes over his house, his wife and the child she was expecting.


The war comes in. Despite his limp and his age, he ends up conscripted in the Wehrmacht and sent to the East Front. Seethaler only devotes a few pages to this long interval of two months of combat followed by six years in a P.O.W. camp in Russia. One episode struck me. During one night, as Egger had been posted a lone sentinel at the forefront, he is awaken by some noise, ventures out of his tent and sits down on a stone. He feels someone is there. With the day’s first lights, he starts perceiving the mute presence of a Russian soldier, thirty meters in front of him, on the other side of the ravine. The Russian holds his rifle on a strap over his shoulder, hand on the stock. In the morning’s silence, they make eye contact. Egger stands up, the Russian turns back and disappears between the rocks.


When he gets back to his valley, everything has changed. He is not needed anymore at the cable car construction company. The little alpine villages open up to winter and summer tourism. Andreas Egger becomes a hiking guide. He would never leave his village again, except once when, already fairly old, he stepped on a bus, and got down at the final stop without knowing where to go further. The friendly bus driver brought him back to the village.


I read this short novel, a small jewel devoid of sentimentalism, during one week of holidays with a group of friends around the Grundlsee. Since many years, we get back together in this region to share walks around the lakes and hikes over the mountains and stop for lunch or a beer in an « alm », a small mountain restaurant. Some evening, we travel down to Salzburg for a concert. We started these holidays before getting married, continued with the babies. The kids grew up, became teenagers and soon adults.


Our lives appear less simple, and certainly less rustic than Andreas Egger’s. But for one week, the beauty of the Austrian lakes and mountains, music’s pull and the tranquil strength of friendships give us a parenthesis as deep and whole as Robert Seethaler’s wonderful book, filled with wisdom and poetry.


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