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THE BELLS IN THEIR SILENCE:
Travels through Germany

Author: Michael Gorra

Nobody writes travelogs about Germany. The country spurs many anxious volumes of investigative reporting--books that worry away at the "German problem," World War II, the legacy of the Holocaust, the Wall, reunification, and the connections between them. But not travel books, not the free-ranging and impressionistic works of literary nonfiction we associate with V. S. Naipaul and Bruce Chatwin. What is it about Germany and the travel book that puts them seemingly at odds? With one foot in the library and one on the street, Gorra offers both an answer to this question and his own traveller's tale of Germany.

Gorra uses Goethe's account of his Italian journey as a model for testing the traveller's response to Germany today, and he subjects the shopping arcades of contemporary German cities to the terms of Benjamin's Arcades project. He reads post-Wende Berlin through the novels of Theodor Fontane, examines the role of figurative language, and enlists W. G. Sebald as a guide to the place of fragments and digressions in travel writing.

Replete with the flaneur's chance discoveries--and rich in the delights of the enduring and the ephemeral, of architecture and flood--The Bells in Their Silence offers that rare traveller's tale of Germany while testing the very limits of the travel narrative as a literary form.

From Booklist
Gorra's introspective, impressionistic account of his travels through Germany is shaped--perhaps even haunted--by figures from the past: historical, literary, personal. His musings on Weimar, for example, are shaded by both Goethe's oak and the nearby woods, Buchenwald, and the way in which their mutual presence mediates the visitor's experience. Lubeck and the Hanseatic north are untangled with the help of, among copious others, Thomas Mann, Walter Benjamin, Italo Calvino, and W. G. Sebald. Few travelogues are as literary, and even fewer as self-conscious about the aspirations and failures of travelogues in general. Yet for all his erudition, Gorra enters the deep waters of German cultural memory a humble, inquisitive novice, weaving personal and literary experiences, always uber-aware of Germany as the foreign, the cultural Other, no stranger to malevolence. Seasoned Germanophiles may well raise their eyebrows, but by journey's end, they will likely also be reminded of what they found so fascinating about Germany in the first place. A captivating, unique work of synthesis, this selection will draw readers back to the library, bibliography in hand. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association.
$24.95 (hardcover)
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