Elias Canetti · Paperback Auto Da Fé is the story of Peter Kien, a distinguished, reclusive sinologist living in Germany between the wars. Auto-da-Fé, novel by Elias Canetti, published in in German as Die Blendung (“The Deception”). It was also published in English as The Tower of Babel. Complete summary of Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé. eNotes plot summaries cover all the significant action of Auto-da-Fé.
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A more literal translation would be, I believe, The Blinding. I first read this book about twenty years ago and have been meaning to re-read it for years; GLM4 has given me a good excuse to do so. The book is split into three parts: The first part introduces us to the main character, Peter Kien, who lives his bookish life largely inside his own head.
He has his own personal library of 25, volumes, mostly on his specialist subject of Chinese Literature, and he even carries around a small portion of it in a suitcase wherever he goes.
Unusually for Kien he takes an interest in a small boy who seems to share his interest in Chinese literature, maybe because this boy reminds him of himself as a child. He lives frugally except when it comes to acquiring books. One day he believes that Therese is taking an interest in his books and he offers to lend her one. Throughout the novel Kien and the other characters make decisions through torturous logic which they usually regret, so it is very often difficult for us, the reader, to understand their thought processes.
Impressed by her devotion to books and taking advice from an imaginary conversation with Confucius Kien rashly decides to marry Therese; this is the beginning of his downfall. Therese becomes increasingly avaricious so that by the end of Part One she refuses to cook him any food and virtually has him imprisoned in his room and just wants him to hand over his bankbook.
Kien takes the only route open to him and impersonates a stone statue. Therese grabbed him by the legs of his chair and shoved him heavily to one side.
She let go of the chair, went over to the writing desk and pulled out a drawer. She searched through the drawer, found nothing, and made for the next one.
In the third, fourth and fifth she still could not find what she wanted. She was not looking for anything; what could she be looking for? The manuscripts would all be alike to her, she had found papers in the very first drawer.
She was working on his curiosity. He was to ask, what was she doing there. If he spoke he would be stone no longer, and she would strike him dead. She was tempting him out of his stone. She tore and wrenched at the desk. But he kept his blood cold and uttered not a breath. By the end of Part One Therese throws Kien out of the flat — but he at least has the bankbook.
There are so many crazy characters in this novel, but one character who appears throughout the whole book is the brutish caretaker of the building. This man is an ex-policeman who just loves using his fists. Strangely enough Kien had befriended him over the years by paying him a monthly stipend to keep the building free of xuto, beggars and other undesirables. This man, Benedikt Pfaff, bullied both his wife and daughter, rlias made their lives unbearable.
Women ought to be beaten to death. The whole lot of them. Twenty-three years I was a married man. Almost half my life. Married to the same old woman. I know all about it.
When a man tries anything on with me, I smash his face in so he has something to remember me by, you sh—, I say, you dirty little sh—, how dare you? And so, with Part Two it gets even more weird. Kien ends up getting eilas with a hunchbacked dwarf called Fischerle who is also intent on relieving Kien of his money which he has withdrawn from his bank account. Kien is so distressed by this that he stands watch on the stairs and pays people to take their books away from the hog.
We can never be too sure. This scene highlights how none of the characters ever understand what any of the other characters are thinking, feeling or what motivates them. Pfaff is virtually living with Therese and is spending most of his time there as well. Er, almost, but not quite! Filed under Canetti, EliasFiction.
Oddly I can relate pretty directly to parts of my own life history from the life of the central character. I was saved partially by a very good woman. A lot of German literature contains references to hunchbacks, curious. It was, and happily still is, one of my favourite novels.
Admittedly, he and the others, did this by preying on the weak, i. Maybe the time to take it off the shelves and read it again is near. Yes, it was twenty years or more since I first read it. I loved your description of the first part of the book — I would like to read the book for that alone.
I hope to read them all eventually. I think the first part of the book is probably the best. I virtually have no knowledge of Chinese or Japanese culture and literature; I keep meaning to read some history books but keep putting it off.
Auto-da-Fé | work by Canetti |
The book is a favorite of mine and every time I read it, I discover new details. The character of Fischerle is unforgettable. To name this dwarf Siegfried is also very revealing, as is his pretended anti-semitism at the time of the publication, Siegfried was probably the most popular male first name of German assimilated Jews, who had usually caanetti admiration for the music of the ferocious anti-semite Richard Wagner.
The eliaa that Fischerle wants to become chess world champion and another anti-semitic Jew with the same name fulfilled this dream decades later is an almost uncanny coincidence. And did I mention that the book was written intwo years before the Nazi Auto-da-fe of books? Canetti was living in a flat in Vienna with a view to Steinhof, the huge mental asylum of Vienna which also proved an inspiration for this book.
He even had a plan of a Comedie humaine in the line of Balzac, with the small difference that all heroes should be mentally ill.
Like Liked by 1 person. What do you make of the last chapter? The chapter before it ends reasonably happily and then the last chapter just obliterates it; it was almost as if Canetti had a change of heart with the ending. I was fascinated by this book too see http: I agree that the first part is more accessible, after that it seems to descend into madness just as Kien does. I did read some of the volumes of his autobiography but I think I got rid of them, except for the first volume which I still have here.
From reading just this one novel, I think he must have been an interesting man, and an original thinker…. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Twitter account.
Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti
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This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. Book reviews, reading projects and general reflections: Intermittencies of the Mind. If you enjoy Kafka or Beckett then you should enjoy this novel. November 24, at November 25, at November 26, at November 27, at December 24, at From reading just this one novel, I think he must have been an interesting man, and an original thinker… Like Like.
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