Sommer wie Winter [Summer Like Winter] (Judith W. Taschler)

Sommer wie Winter is a novel by Judith W. Taschler [German].
Finished on: 6.6.2016

Plot:
Something has happened to the Winter family. An accident, yes. But also something so awful, that they’re now all in psychological treatment, more or less voluntarily, with the main focus on Alexander Sommer, the family’s foster son. When the Winters took him in as a little child after his mother’s death, it soon became obvious that mother Monika was less than taken with the boy and that tension has remained even until now that Alexander is a young man. But what really lies behind the tension?

Sommer wie Winter is a quick, gripping read, but I do have my squabbles with the format Taschler chose for her story – transcripts of the therapy sessions with the various family members. Nevertheless it’s smart and enjoyable.

My family and I are rather experienced with foster children and adoption, and I thought that Taschler treats that topic with careful respect and empathy. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if we got a story every once in a while where it ultimately works out without too much heartbreak, but it is a difficult thing where much can go wrong, especially if people don’t talk about stuff and aren’t honest about it – and that lack of communication is what ultimately screws (with) the Winters and Alexander.

Seeing as tabooization and a general refusal to communicate clearly are central themes of the book, it’s an interesting choice that the novel consists of transcripts of therapy sessions where all of that communication happens, but remains one sided – we never hear the therapist(s?), and the family still doesn’t talk to each other. I can’t decide if that is particularly clever or stupid.  In any case, that format sometimes gets really very clunky. More than once a transcript starts with the person repeating the question of the therapist – since we never get to read from them directly. And that was just so artificial that it really bothered me.

Also closely connected to that is the fact that we are reading transcripts of people who grew up and live in a small village in the mountains in Tirol, but there is no trace of any dialect. And I know that writing in dialect is difficult and there’s no saying that the book would have been better for it if Taschler had decided to go that way, but I just didn’t feel like she made enough concessions to the supposedly oral format of the transcripts.

Despite those things, I did enjoy reading Sommer wie Winter. It helps that it doesn’t take too long to read through it, but the story is definitely interesting and well thought out, if maybe a little more dramatic than strictly necessary. But if you don’t take it all that seriously, it’s definitely smart enough and gripping enough to draw you in.

Summarizing: excellent choice for a summer read.

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