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the Complete Review
the complete review - biography

Der alte König in seinem Exil

Arno Geiger

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To purchase Der alte König in seinem Exil

Title: Der alte König in seinem Exil
Author: Arno Geiger
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2011
Length: 189 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Der alte König in seinem Exil - Deutschland
  • Der alte König in seinem Exil has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine, personal account of coming to terms with a father and his decline into dementia

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A+ 4/2/2011 Felicitas von Lovenberg
NZZ A+ 9/2/2011 Franz Haas
Die Welt A+ 13/2/2011 Elmar Krekeler
Die Zeit . 18/2/2011 Ulrich Stock

  From the Reviews:
  • "Arno Geiger hat mit seinem Buch Der alte König in seinem Exil viel mehr geschrieben als das Porträt seines Vaters, eines Mannes, der seine Außergewöhnlichkeit erst spät, am Rande der Dämmerung, zu erkennen gab. Und doch ist es leichter, auf Anhieb zu sagen, was dieses Buch alles nicht ist: Es ist kein Buch über Demenz, es ist keine Familienaufstellung und erst recht, anders als die meisten anderen Sohnesbücher über Väter, ist es keine Abrechnung. Stattdessen ist Der alte König in seinem Exil eine tiefgründige, charaktervolle und zeitlos gültige Auseinandersetzung mit dem, was jeden angeht: Alter und Krankheit, Heimat und Familie." - Felicitas von Lovenberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(E)in taktvolles, filigranes und fabelhaft einfaches Buch, ein Monument für einen Lebenden. Es steht in einer Linie mit so bedeutenden Abschiedsbüchern der deutschsprachigen Literatur wie Peter Weiss' Abschied von den Eltern (1961) und Peter Handkes Wunschloses Unglück (1972), die jedoch Totenehrungen sind. (...) Der alte König in seinem Exil ist nicht nur ein berührendes Buch über die geistige Zerrüttung des Vater, es ist auch eine glänzende Zwischenbilanz des Autors und manches mehr" - Franz Haas, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Es ist schlicht im Ton, nüchtern bis ins Mark und kunstvoll nicht nur in seiner Pathosverweigerung. Und es ist so sehr viel mehr als bloß ein Demenzbericht -- Biografie, Gegenwartsspiegel und Kulturgeschichte, das Buch einer Annäherung an eine verloren gegangene Lebensweise, einen verlorenen Charakter, eine verlorene Beziehung." - Elmar Krekeler, Die Welt

  • "Das ruft nach Beifall, hat aber den Schönheitsfehler, dass Alzheimer eine Krankheit der Ältesten ist. Die guten, alten Zeiten waren so gut, dass kaum jemand alt wurde -- und folglich auch nicht dement. In diesem Punkt zeigt das belletristische Sachbuch Schwäche. Für einen Roman reicht die Erfindungshöhe nicht, aber als ein in seiner Gegenwartskritik recht idyllisches Pamphlet mag es durchgehen." - Ulrich Stock, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Der alte König in seinem Exil ('The Old King in his Exile') is Arno Geiger's account of his father's years suffering from dementia (Alzheimer's). August Geiger, born in 1926, started showing signs of mental decline in the mid-1990s, but the progression of the disease was relatively slow; at the conclusion of the book, some fifteen years later, he moves to a nursing home, after years of being cared for at home, but is still physically relatively fit. (The life expectancy of Alzheimer's patients after the onset of symptoms is generally much shorter.)
       August was part of a large family, and though he started his own relatively late (only marrying at age thirty-seven) he also had several children. Almost his entire life was spent in the small town in the Austrian province of Voralberg, Wolfurt, but as his disease progresses even the familiar environment and family no longer offer a sufficient hold for him, as his loss of memory robs him of almost all foundations; the title of the book comes from Geiger's description: "Da irrt der Vater rat- und rastlos umher wie ein alter König in seinem Exil" ("There the father wanders about, perplexed and restless like an old king in his exile"). While his marriage was an ill-conceived one, its end in divorce was one of the things that seemed to set him adrift; nevertheless, a supportive family, including his children and the estranged wife, at least offered a strong safety net in trying to support him in these difficult times.
       Most of Der alte König in seinem Exil is an account of author Arno Geiger's interaction with his father over these years. It is only very roughly chronological: Geiger is less concerned with describing the clinical details of the progression of the disease, than in presenting the larger picture of its effects both on the afflicted person and on those around him.
       Geiger presents many of the exchanges he has with his unmoored father, fascinated by his father's careful, hedged, and often eloquent expression, the man uncertain of so much and yet still able to process a great deal, and expressing himself in often unexpected and creative ways. His father's decline also leads Geiger to reflect on the man's life and the man he had been, as well as their father-son relationship, and he can see the disease as symptomatic of our times, in which we are so easily overwhelmed by the complexity and uncertainty of the world around us: "Von Alzheimer reden heißt, von der Krankheit des Jahrhunderts reden" ("To speak of Alzheimer's is to speak of the disease of our century"), he suggests.
       For Geiger, writing about this is his way of dealing with the situation (some of his relatives react completely differently); he can also see much of this through his novelist-eyes -- and notes that eventually, "Der tägliche Umgang mit ihm glich jetzt immer öfter einem Leben in der Fiktion" ("increasingly frequently, everyday interaction with him came to resemble life in a work of fiction").
       Der alte König in seinem Exil is as much a family-story -- focused on the figure of the father, from his healthy youth to his lost old age, as well as the son who writes this account -- as chronicle of a disease, and Geiger strikes the right tone throughout the narrative, largely avoiding pity (self- or otherwise) and managing to present a warm and ultimately understanding portrait of his father. Despite the absurdity of the idea of any 'best', given the situation, Geiger does make (and take) the best of these difficult circumstances.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 March 2011

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Der alte König in seinem Exil: Reviews: Arno Geiger: Other books by Arno Geiger under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Arno Geiger was born in 1968.

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© 2011 the complete review

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