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12 Swiss Books – 2015

Simeli Mountain




Awarded the 2014 Kelag Prize at the Ingeborg Bachmann Competition






Portrait_FehrMICHAEL FEHR was born in Bern in 1982. He studied at the Swiss Institute for Literature and the Bern University of the Arts, where he graduated with a Masters degree in Contemporary Arts Practice. He is the Swiss curator for the Babelsprech Project for the promotion of young German-language poetry. Simeliberg is his second prose work. His readings are often accompanied by music.
PHOTO © Affolter/Savolainen

An old man is brought before the Social Welfare Board. He’s suspected of murdering his wife. Furthermore, he has a store-room full of weapons, a box full of gold and a head full of mad ideas. Seven young men will become his victims. He’s already abducted the young people of the village, to transport them to Mars. And right in the middle of all this is the Chairman of the Council, Griese, who means no harm to anyone and just wants to get on with his job.
There’s so much to say about both the plot and the language of Simeli Mountain: the plot is “a Kafkaesque parable from the backwoods”; the language “sparse, sharp-edged, sculpted”. This story of a local council leader, who innocently becomes guilty, unfolds inexorably in the telegrammatic text. Terse sentences, totally shorn of punctuation, laid out like song-lyrics, evoke eerily powerful images, images of a Switzerland that Fehr has wiped clean of its idyllic features. Black, white and grey are its dominant colours; secrets, mistrust and madness its driving forces.
Form and content make a powerful combination in this second book from Michael Fehr. It has all the characteristics of a police report – nothing but the essential details, presented with all the immediacy of reported speech – nevertheless it reads as thrillingly as a crime novel and as rhythmically as a poem.

TITLE Simeliberg
PUBLISHER Der gesunde Menschenversand, Lucerne
ISBN 978-3-03853-003-9
TRANSLATION RIGHTS Matthias Burki, info(at)menschenversand.ch


German original (p. 5-6), English translation below
Erstes Kapitel

ein Schweizer Wetter
ziemlich ab vom Schuss
nur über einen pflotschigen Karrweg von oben
herab zu erreichen
in einem Krachen ein wüstes
tristes Bauernhaus mit ungestümem Dach
ein zerklüfteter Haufen aus grauen und schwarzen
unter dem ein Haufen blinder Fenster leer in die
Öde starrt
in der wenig heiteren Stube hocket der Landmann
mit dem Rücken zur Fensterzeile
nach der drückenden Stille
mit der das Gebälk lastet und den Raum niedrig hält
der einzige Mann und Mensch im Haus
draussen motort es schwankend von oben herab
zum Haus heran

Zweites Kapitel

Nachdem er eine Weile bei abgeschaltetem Motor
und allmählich erkaltendem Wagenschlag
geradeaus aufs Haus starrend sitzen geblieben ist
steigt aus dem Landrover
der untenherum verkotet ist
eigentlich aber grau wäre
wie man der Dachpartie ansieht
als solcher wegen der hiesigen Abgelegenheit
betraut mit allen möglichen behördlichen
die örtlich anfallen
auch als eine Art Abgeordneter obrigkeitlicher
kantonaler Fürsorge für den ganzen Flecken
zunächst einmal zuständig für alle
denen der Sinn zur Selbstverwaltung aus blossem
aus Verwahrlosung
Krankheit oder sonstigem Irrsinn zu sehr abgeht
als dass man sie auf sich beruhen lassen könnte
in dreckigen Gummistiefeln
sonst anständig
trägt Schnauz
der seine Widerstandsfähigkeit als jemand mit dem
Vornamen Anatol
der ihn sofort als einen
der aus dem grossen Kanton zugewandert ist
und ergo nicht Hiesigen markiert
klatscht die vordere Wagentür ins Schloss
öffnet die hintere
nimmt vom Sitz einen frechen Jägerhut und mit
Sympathie für Auswanderer vom Boden ein
dessen Ladung er gewissenhaft überprüft


Excerpt translated by Tess Lewis
First Chapter

Swiss weather
some way off the beaten path
only way to it a soggy cart track
down from up top
a run-down farmhouse in the ravine
bleak with a roof gone wild
a raggedy heap of blotches
black and grey
and a heap of blind windows
staring out underneath blankly into the void
farmer sits hunched in a room no one’d call cheerful
his back to the window
under the rafters’ heavy silence
weighing down on the room holding it down
only man and human in the house
car outside lurches and sways down from up top
and up to the house

Second Chapter

He sits a while the engine off
the car’s interior cooling bit by bit
stares straight at the house
then gets out of the Land Rover
bottom half coated with crap
though actually grey
you can tell from the roof
community administrator
charged as such because of the remote locale
with all kinds of administrative
that come with the territory
but also a kind of representative for official
cantonal welfare in these sticks
in charge for a start of all
those whose minds for self-government veer too far off
out of a simple lack of education
out of waywardness
illness or this madness or that,
for them to be left to their own devices
wearing muddy rubber boots
but otherwise respectable
with a moustache
that expands his talent for holding his own
with a name like Anatol
name marks him straight off
as someone come from the big canton
ergo no local
claps the front car door shut
opens the door to the back seat
grabs a sassy hunting cap and with
sympathy for those come from other parts picks up a
and carefully checks it’s loaded

“Books sometimes come along, of which one can with justification claim that it would be salutary for the readers of any country to spend some time mulling over. Simeli Mountain is one such.”