Published by Peirene Press
Publication date 1 February 2017
Source – review copy
Translated by Jamie Bullock
“Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. To counter student unrest, the governor of St Petersburg closes the state university. Soon afterwards he arrives at his summer residence with his family and receives a death threat. His worried wife employs a young bodyguard, Lju, to protect her husband. Little does she know that Lju sides with the students – and the students are plotting an assassination”
Yegor van Rasimkara, the governor of St Petersburg closes the university and imprisons some radical students. He receives death threats and as a result his wife Lusinya hires a bodyguard, Lyu to protect him whilst his family vacation at their summer home. But little does she realise that Lyu sides with the students. Has she invited the viper into the nest?
Peirene books are novellas from around the world, often previously unknown to the English Language market and they are the ideal length to be consumed in a couple of hours.
The story is told in a series of letters which is a very effective narrative. The reader gets to see inside the home of the von Rasimkara family, gaining an understanding of the political stand point of them all and also building up a relationship which each family member. Whilst the reader knows that the author of each letter has their own viewpoint, prejudiced or otherwise, the story told through the letters creates shades and nuances to allow the reader to build up a fuller picture of the tale. The story is threaded with sadness as the reader knows the true intent of Lyu from the outset and all that can be done is to sit and wait for the inevitable, all the while, forming a relationship with the intended victim and his family.
We can see that Lusinya truly loves Yegor, the professor, longing forward to the time she can be alone with him. Whilst the children may not necessarily agree with their father’s political views, and indeed are more revolutionary than their parents may realise, they obviously care for him. As for Lyu, whilst he intent on his mission the longer he spends with the family the more he grows to feel for them. His letters become tinged with something akin to regret as the story progresses.
Whilst written in 1910 the story has not aged in that time and is still relevant today. Yes it is set around the time of the Russian Revolution but it’s political commentary could be applied in equal measure to the present. It shows that both the repressors were real people with feelings and families and that the revolutionaries didn’t always take pride in their work and felt the hardship of it. It must have been seen as enlightened and possibly scandalous at the time of it’s original publication.
The translation works extremely well. I forgot I was reading a translation, convinced I was reading the original. Always a sign of a great translation.
My favourite of the Peirene books I’ve read so far. Topical, even for today, well written, insightful and at times moving. Recommended.
About the author:
Ricarda Huch (1864 –1947) was a ground-breaking German historian, novelist and philosopher. As one of the first women to study at the University of Zurich, she received her doctorate in Philosophy and History in 1892. She authored numerous works on European history. She also wrote novels, poems, and a play. Der Letzte Sommer (The Last Summer) was first published in 1910. In 1926 she was the first female writer to be admitted to the Prussian Academy of Arts. She won from Thomas Mann the title: ‘The First Lady of Germany’ – and even had an asteroid named in her honour.
About the translator:
Jamie Bulloch is a historian and has worked as a professional translator from German since 2001. After studying Modern Languages, he obtained an MA in Central European History and followed up with a PhD in interwar Austrian history. His translations include books by Paulus Hochgatterer, Alissa Walser and Timur Vermes. He is the translator of five Peirene titles: Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius, Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe, The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, winner of the 2015 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for German Translation, The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift and The Last Summer by Ricarda Huch. He is also the author of A Short History of Tuscany and Karl Renner: Austria.
This is book two in my #20BooksofSummer challenge.