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Lipmann's Body , by Johannes Bobrowski

Lipmanns Leib - Johannes Bobrowski, Wilhelm Dehn

Ah, Johannes, how you are neglected here in Booklikes (and not only here)... You had a few years of renown in the 60's; one of your novels was translated into 5 languages after being serialized in the leading newspaper in Germany; and then a perforated appendix killed you so early... When I lived in Germany in the 80's you were already beginning to be forgotten. But, fortunately, I was still able to buy almost all of your books, including those published after your death. And I still read and enjoy them very much.


A brief overview of your hard life can be easily found on the web. But the lives of many people have been hard, particularly those who lived where you were born and grew to manhood - East Prussia and the Baltic states - a region two huge armies full of hate rolled over again and again in their struggle to the death; a region which was emptied by that struggle, and when it was re-filled later, it was filled with other people and other cultures. And it wasn't for the first time - that region had been fought over for centuries by Germans, Slavs, Balts and Scandinavians and was, in addition, inhabited by peoples of yet other, less bellicose cultures.


This struggle through centuries, the cruelties and death, but also the times of the many cultures living together in peace, where they intermingled and bore new cultural fruit - this was your topic (as it was one of Czeslaw Milosz), and a fascinating one it is (at least to me). But as a gifted poet, even when you were writing prose, you presented this from the specific, the concrete, the small, beautifully evoked with a profound empathy.


Lipmanns Leib is a small collection of short stories, somewhat uneven in style and quality. But there are real gems in here, such as "Der Mahner" - a quiet, sometimes ironic evocation of Koenigsberg and some of her inhabitants, ending with the dawning threat which would lead to her destruction; and "Lipmanns Leib" - a calm and indirect description of thoughtless and repeated cruelty; and "Mäusefest" - a deeply poetic encounter between an old Jewish shopkeeper, a young German soldier, a band of hungry mice and a rather loquacious moon.


Though book readers are as inclined to follow the crowd as much as everyone else (the crowds they follow are just different from the crowds most people follow), I hope that some of the millions of Goodreads and Booklikes members will discover your work and respond to it as I have.


A selection of Bobrowski's short stories has been translated into English under the title Darkness and a Little Light, published by New Directions.