Sunday, November 29, 2009

Define Happiness

“Too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story, the novella is generally unrecognized by academics and publishers.” Melville House Publishers is celebrating the novella by publishing many novellas that have never been published before. “The Happy Man”, written Hansjorg Schertenleib and translated from German by David Dollenmayer, is the first work of this well known Swiss writer that has been translated to English.

This short, amazing story is about an average man who just so happens to be a genuinely happy man. The hero of this story is This Studer (at first it is difficult to read sentences about a man named This). This is (see what I mean) a jazz musician, married to the love of his life and the father of a somewhat abrasive teenage girl. Both This’ wife and his daughter find his complacent nature irritating. But they both suffer from problems that This finds endearing.

The story takes place in Amsterdam where This has gone for a week to play in a club with a group formed by his old friend Henk. The story progresses as This and his wife explore Amsterdam. The author's descriptions of the streets, restaurants and people of Amsterdam are vivid. But the story itself meanders along as the reader waits to see what is going to happen to our “happy man”. In the hands of a less skilled writer this could be a dull story, but Hansjorg Schertenleib is a wonderful writer. His prose is lyrical and his dialogue is quirky and interesting. His hopeful man is a very intriguing character. But the best part of this story is the stunning, unexpected ending.

Mr. Schertenleib has written two collections of short stories, poetry and seven novels yet this is the only one translated to date. He has been living in Ireland for the last thirteen years so maybe we will see more of this very talented author’s work translated to English.

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