Another busy month, another singular book added to the Read Shelf. I really don’t know what I’ve been doing with all my time to be honest.
The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler
A stunning cover. Slightly less so otherwise.
This book felt weirdly familiar in in tone, reminding me of the troublesome The Reader on the 6.27. There were echoes of an oppressor, the wizened, bitter old man minus a limb or two who must be avenged, the thread of an odd love story tacked on for good measure. I was sorry that this beautifully designed book didn’t quite live up to expectations.
It did however, capture one of those lesser known narratives which never fail to amaze and inspire me – the real human lives (however fictionalised) that were affected by world events as horrific and inhuman as the rule of the Third Reich and Nazi Germany. Those fictional stories told, perhaps on behalf, of those who did not live to tell their own, always grip me more so than historical texts or reference books based purely on known facts and figures.
After all, it is not from facts or figures that we will learn to recognise the warning signs of such possible, unimaginable futures but from the stories of those who lived it. It is impossible to read The Tobacconist and disregard recent news stories as irrelevant, not to feel the chill of deja vu.
In that sense, Franz’s story is inspiring as the smallest act of defiance always is in the face of tyranny. But it is also perhaps the most frustrating element of this story, and probably what makes it so true to life, that there wasn’t more heroism, that the narrative felt a little damp or addled. I think Seethaler tried to capture too much of real life when much bigger things needed consideration.
“There are as many kinds of sadness as there are hours of life. And probably a few more. It does not matter if you know where this or that sadness comes from. That is part of our life.”
Robert Seethaler, The Tobacconist