Wie kommt das Salz ins Meer? [Why Is There Salt in the Sea?] (Brigitte Schwaiger)

Wie kommt das Salz ins Meer? is the first novel by Brigitte Schwaiger.
Finished on: 1.12.2022

Content Note: abortion

The narrator is a young woman from a bourgeois family. She isn’t particularly happy with her life or the expectations put to her. Both lead her straight to a marriage with Rolf, but that marriage doesn’t liberate her from the tight corset of her family’s expectations, but just brings her to a new cage. A cage she is ever more desperate to be free from.

Wie kommt das Salz ins Meer? was a big hit when it was first published at the end of the 70s, and then the novel and Schwaiger were pretty much forgotten – as is so often the case with female authors. It’s a damn shame. The novel is absolutely brilliant and still feels as timely as it must have at the time.

The book cover showing a young woman standing behind a tree. We can see her only her face.

Again and again I am surprised by how many fantastic female authors history seems to have forgotten. How many female authors had a successful debut but were never able to build on that success. I promise you, this is not a coincidence, nor is it because the women just aren’t good enough. It’s a systemic issue where men have proved themselves with their first book, whereas women have to prove themselves over and over again. It’s frustrating as fuck.

But it’s a good thing that there are people out there who will still print the works of these women, so you at least have a chance to read their work if you happen to stumble upon it. That was the case for me and Schwaiger’s novel. And I am absolutely blown away by it. It is such a powerful piece of literature, it gave me goosebumps.

Schwaiger’s prose is beautiful, expressing so many things in only a few words. There is a sense of humor to a lot of this, with some biting remarks about the bourgeois and about Austria, but this is not a particularly funny book, for that the subject matter is simply too harsh. At the same time, it is not a hopeless book – in the end, despite all the bad things that happen to our narrator, there is a more or less happy end. That being said, there was more than one moment where I teared up while reading.

It’s a short novel, but it packs quite a punch, dissecting the misogyny and psychological abuse that the narrator has to endure with a clear eye. Unfortunately, these topics are still too present even today. They may look a little different now than they did almost fifty years ago, but the mechanics are still the same. That critical perspective, coupled with the strong character of the narrator and finally the ending that finally tastes of a little freedom are what makes the book still relevant. Time for me to find the other things Schwaiger has written.

Summarizing: read it!

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