f o r e i g n p a r t s
Oltermann stayed on to become a true Anglophile, even marrying an English girl; he writes as a man who feels at ease in both cultures and who wants to explore what – if anything – can be learned from the unlikely connections that he describes.
Oltermann kicks off with politics, an unfortunate meeting at a tavern between the ultra-sensitive Heinrich Heine and the famously outspoken William Cobbett (Heine, horrified by Cobbett’s red face and obscene language, made an early departure). He then moves on to sex. A brisk meditation on The Blue Angel and a prudish Marlene Dietrich results in the observation that ‘This particular German angel wasn’t blue at all’ and leads – somewhat tangentially – to the notion that gender confusion might be blamed upon the grammar of a language that grants more sex to a turnip than to a young girl. Did America, Oltermann next wonders, once offer special appeal to the sexually repressed, and might this have contributed to that country’s attraction for Marlene herself, and also for Christopher Isherwood? (By this athletic leap of Alice logic, Isherwood is squeezed
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in at the tail end of a chapter appealingly headed: ‘Christopher Isherwood listens to Marlene Dietrich’.)
Oltermann does a good line in catchy chapter titles: ‘Theodor Adorno Doesn’t Do the Jitterbug with A J Ayer’ shifts the focus to academia. Here, in one of the book’s best sections, Adorno’s remarkable 1937 definitions of the word ‘ragtime’ as a tearing of the flesh and of the ‘jitterbug’ (more curiously still) as evidence of the deprivation of autonomous will, are compared to the off-duty antics of that friskiest of logical positivists, A J Ayer.
Such frothily elegant analogies make for light reading and good mental fun; the fact that Adorno and Ayer were both briefly tutored by Gilbert Ryle justifies (just about) the link. Less happy, however, is Oltermann’s off-piste departure, in the same chapter, to discuss The Verve and Britpop; to reveal the unsurprising axiom that Germans take pride in academic status; and to offer news of his own graduate excellence (‘I had one of the top marks in my class’). While doubtless true (Oltermann airily compares the experience of reading Ayer to that of chewing on bubblegum), a bit of English reticence might have sweetened the information.
Bright, breezy and a little more confident than he is wise to show, Oltermann loses the reader’s faith in his judgement when he reaches the dread, familiar subject of the Mitfords. Surely, Oltermann suggests, we can’t believe that a girl who called Hitler the ‘poor sweet Fuhrer’ was serious about politics; surely Unity, as an English girl of her class, always saw events in Germany, just like her sister Nancy, ‘through a thick film of irony’? Irony plays a big part in Oltermann’s entertaining work, but irony and Unity Mitford? I’d sooner credit a cow with the ability to read the Koran than find irony in the mind of a young woman obsessed enough to put a bullet in her brain.
Enjoy Oltermann’s book for its lively cameos, for its brio and some nicely chosen counterpointing (Kurt Schwitters at Grasmere; Kevin Keegan running past Berti Vogts) – but readers might also be well advised to keep a salt-spoon handy. To order this book for £10.39, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 9
P R I Z E C R O S S W O R D ACROSS 1 Open with Anne (5)
6 Advantage to pass on agreement (8) 7 Kind nature (4) 9 Students back paper (3) 10 Little support for male swarm (4) 12 The Spanish step by old Texas city (2,4) 13 One deserting during period of mistakes (6) 15 Vehicle let out in rush (6) 17 Plant juice on chart brought back from treeless plain (6) 18 Invest as knight without a smear (4) 20 Block lawyers (3) 21 Info on European unit that can be passed on (4) 22 As dirt is dished by book-keepers? (8) 23 Little woman points to Bridget (5)
This month, Atlantic Books are sponsoring the crossword with five copies of TheTraveller’sDaybook:ATouroftheWorldin366Quotations by Fergus Fleming. The book is an invitation to cross ocean, desert, mountain and ice-cap in the company of the world’s greatest explorers.
Send your entries to 44 Lexington Street, London, W1F 0LW by 16 April. Last month’s winners, who will each receive a copy of Anna Keay’s TheCrownJewels, are: Mrs Judy Aitken from Lancaster, Mr P Boswell of Hampshire, C J Ellis of Rochester, Anna Somers Cocks in Torino, and Tom Uren in Hastings. SolutiontotheMarchpuzzle: ACROSS: 1 Patois , 4 Ar i e l , 9 Neptune, 10 Noise, 11 E l aborate, 12 Lu t e , 13 Ti t he , 16 Spat, 19 Pronounce, 21 Draco, 22 Echelon, 23 Noyes, 24 Edi t o r. DOWN: 1 Pencil , 2 Typis t , 3 I nure 5 Ransome, 6 E l i j ah , 7 Legal t ender, 8 Betel , 13 Twosome, 14 Spode, 15 Monaco, 17 Pal l e t , 18 Tenner, 20 Ephod.
DOWN 1 Protect from hardship with bath and feeder perhaps (10) 2 Indicate agreement for English junction (4) 3 20 strap-hanging fellows (12) 4 Charles has poor grasp of Lawrence (6) 5 Spy on Adrian (4) 6 Father, Mick and Keith meeting with defeat over the hill (4,4,4) 8 Samuel provides energy for disheartened William Butler (5) 11 Masses involved with nett financial investigations (5,5) 14 A quiet entreaty finally failing to bear fruit (5) 16 Small amount needed to cover 20’s jerkin (6) 19 Drivers cross state for a song (4) 21 Serving American men up for benefits cheque (4)
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