Sunday, May 13, 2012

Book review: "guilt: Stories" by Ferdinand von Schirach

guilt: Stories review
Author: Ferdinand von Schirach
Translator: Carol Brown Janeway
5 out of 5 stars

Book Info: Genre: True Crime Reading Level: Adult

Disclosure: I received a free Uncorrected Proof/Advance Reader’s copy from the Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: On a sweltering day in August, a small town drunkenly celebrates its six-hundredth anniversary with a funfair when an anonymous tip leads police to find a young woman brutally beaten, raped, and thrown under the floorboards of the very stage on which her attackers had just played a polka. An eight-member brass band composed of respectable family men with respectable day jobs is charged with the crime. A neophyte defense lawyer, still wet behind the ears and breaking in his attaché case, takes on the trial, only to lose his innocence in the process.

So begins Guilt, Ferdinand von Schirach’s tense, riveting collection of stories based on real crimes he has known. In these brief, succinct tales, von Schirach calls into question the nature of guilt and the toll it takes—or fails to take—on ordinary people. In “The Illuminati,” the popular mean crowd at an all-boys’ boarding school wages a vicious attack against an outsider schoolmate, and ends up accidentally killing the boy’s beloved teacher. Attempting to hurdle through a midlife crisis, a housewife begins to steal trivial things no one will miss, an act that gives her a rush and staves off depression in “Desire.” And in “Snow,” an old man whose home is used as a way station for a heroin ring agrees to protect the identity of the lead drug runner, who receives his comeuppance in due course.

Compassionate and seen with the same cool, controlled eye that propelled Ferdinand von Schirach’s debut collection, Crime, onto best-seller lists,Guilt is a stunning follow-up from one of Germany’s finest new writers.

My Thoughts: I started reading this late on a Sunday because it was short and comprised of short stories, thinking I’d probably end up carrying it into my editing week - I didn't, because I sat and read it straight through as fast as I could. I hadn’t remembered exactly what it was about and was shocked by the monumental brutality of the first story. Make no mistake, these stories are shocking, often brutal, and absolutely mesmerizing to read – like a beautiful train wreck. They all flow smoothly and are like reading velvet over knives – you never know when the knife will slip through the velvet and cut you. However, among all this sharpness, there were two stories – The Key and Secrets – that made me laugh, so it’s not all darkness. But it is all about guilt – who has it, who should have it, who gets away without ever experiencing it. A very odd but interesting set of stories. Highly recommended.

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