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Peter Stamm | Alone through the world

23.05.2016 – RUTH VON GUNTEN

“Thomas and Astrid had put the children to bed and were sitting on the wooden bench in front of their house with a glass of wine…” Everything appears to be absolutely normal in this family living in German-speaking Switzerland who have just returned from a holiday by the sea. But Thomas suddenly stands up, walks through the garden gate and simply disappears. When Astrid realises the next day that her husband is probably not coming back, she is left with no choice but to carry on and continue looking after their two children.

In his latest novel “Weit über das Land”, Peter Stamm writes about leaving and being left. These two perspectives – conveyed by the two main characters, Thomas and Astrid – are skilfully interwoven. The crisp and pithy sentences typical of Stamm characterise the plot lines, which are enhanced by hypothetical possibilities through the imaginary worlds of the two characters. Thomas continues to wander onwards without questioning the reason for his departure. Astrid remains in the village in their shared home and soon has to abandon the search for her husband. He is restless and in continual motion, yet he remains trapped within the landscape and his isolation. The area he passes through is described very matter-of-factly, and sweeping landscapes emerge where nature becomes a metaphor for freedom. Astrid focuses on day-to-day life and her growing children, remaining in the same place.

We all sometimes feel the urge to escape and question our own lives. This novel does not provide answers nor does it pose moral questions or judge human behaviour. It sheds light on the relationship (of love) between man and woman – the further the two move apart in terms of geographical distance, the greater their inner bond becomes. Tension builds that is only dissipated after many years. We will leave the how to the reader to discover.

Peter Stamm, born in 1963, studied English, psychology and psychopathology for several semesters after a commercial apprenticeship. After long periods spent in Paris, New York, Berlin and London, he today lives in Winterthur. Since 1990 he has written several radio plays, theatre plays, short stories and novels as a freelance author. His first novel “Agnes” (1998) was translated into many different languages. He is one of Switzerland’s most significant contemporary authors.

Peter Stamm: “Weit über das Land”, S. Fischer Verlag, 2015. 222 pages, CHF 28.90, around EUR 20.