23.4.2015 - arno camenisch

The ‘Read & Meet @ Passa Porta’ reading club offers you the opportunity to share your reading experiences, not only with other readers, but also with the writers themselves. These encounters often lead to new insights into the book, sometimes on the part of the author too.

Passa Porta does not necessarily go for the author’s latest book, but rather for one that has been widely translated. This means you can read it in the language of your choice. The conversation with the author is in a common language such as English or French.

For this new Read & Meet @ Passa Porta gathering on Thursday 23 April 2015, we will be discussing the novella Sez Ner by the Swiss writer Arno Camenisch, in the presence of the author. Sez Ner is a humourous take on peasant life in a Swiss  mountain valley.

In his Sez Ner trilogy, Arno Camenisch describes rural life in Switzerland. The first book, The Alp, takes place in the summer, on a farm in a remote Alpine valley. The four main characters are a dairyman, his farmhand, a cowherd and a swineherd, who work together closely. Camenisch writes about many other interesting characters as well, but also about the wind, the rain, and the pigs, dogs and chickens that inhabit the farmyard.

Because the Sez Ner trilogy is virtually plotless, reviewers have tended to focus on the author’s style and narrative techniques. The short novel The Alp is made up of vignettes, loosely connected scenes of one paragraph or sometimes even a single sentence. Camenisch shows no interest in psychology and hardly uses metaphor, yet readers feel as if they know the characters personally.

During the Read & Meet with Arno Camenisch, we will focus on a few themes from his work. These themes are briefly introduced below, so that you can think about them as you read the book and prepare for the event.

Power and powerlessness
The main characters are subject to the whims of nature and bound to the rhythms of tradition. Arno Camenisch has said that power and powerlessness are the most important themes of the trilogy. We will discuss these themes by looking at examples from the book, so keep your pencil handy as you read.

Identity and community
The four main characters remain nameless, and the relationships between them are unclear at first. Do they form a united, indivisible community, or is it possible to identify distinct personalities?

Arno Camenisch actually grew up in an Alpine village, and in an interview he explained why he left: "Because of the tall mountains, there’s no sunlight for three or four months a year. I couldn’t live there. I need air and the life of a city. There’s a kind of sadness in the village that makes everyone leave eventually. I think that’s why I also try to describe the humour. That’s the best way to approach sad places." Which passages struck you as humorous, and why? How would you describe Camenisch’s sense of humour?

Rhythm and language
Arno Camenisch wrote the first book of the trilogy in Sursilvan, a Rhaeto-Romance dialect, and translated it into German himself. Sez Ner has now been translated into more than twenty languages, and the book reviews make it clear that, remarkably, Camenisch’s rhythms and linguistic style have remained intact in every translation. Camenisch gives enthusiastic and spellbinding public readings and regards musicality as a crucial element of his work. How can a novel that is so fragmentary and imagistic nevertheless stand out for its rhythm and language?


The author's website: http://www.arnocamenisch.ch

Fanzine review (ENG): http://thefanzine.com/a-paradise-lost-a-review-of-camenischs-the-alp

PEN interview (ENG): http://www.englishpen.org/pen-atlas/pen-atlas-qa-arno-camenisch-author-of-the-alp

The Alp, Dalkey Archive Press, translated by Donal McLaughlin