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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Den Teuren Toten

Durs Grünbein

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To purchase Den Teuren Toten

Title: Den Teuren Toten
Author: Durs Grünbein
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1994
Length: 48 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Den Teuren Toten - Deutschland
  • 33 Epitaphe
  • Den Teuren Toten has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B+ : amusing and clever little book

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 4/10/1994 Heinrich Detering
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 19/11/1994 Ulrike Draesner
Der Tagesspiegel . 31/12/1994 Dorothea von Törne

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The complete review's Review:

       Den Teuren Toten -- "for the dearly departed" -- is a collection of 33 epitaphs, along with a postscript attributing these poems and poem-fragments to a "Pseudonymus No. 13".
       The poems themselves focus on deaths, describing thirty-three variations on the familiar theme. There are three sections, each opening with a general, introductory poem followed by ten epitaphs.
       There are the banal everyday deaths: the movie critic, for example, who dies at a screening. There are the spectacular, unnecessary deaths: the swimmer who ventures out too far (the last image: "nurmehr ein Punkt" ("only a dot") around which a circle of fins whirl), or the speeding driver, carried out of the curve. Finally, there are those that verge on the absurd: a hunter accidentally shot by his dog, a "millionaire from Oklahoma" whose parachute didn't open, a child whose heart fails in the face of the terrors on a amusement park fun house ride.
       Grünbein presents these deaths with easy command. There is poignance as well as humour, and a touch of drama in his epitaphs. He manages also to offer thirty-three quite different poems, about thirty-three different individuals (and their deaths) -- a variety that isn't quite as easy to achieve as it sounds.
       Pieces are inspired, including the possible reasons behind a suicide (among them: "tödliche Grammatik" ("deadly grammar")), and there are a number of other neat images throughout the poems.
       Grünbein himself chooses to undermine the work in his tongue-in-cheek postscript, describing the epitaphs as:

Auffällig schmucklos, betont dürftig in der Öde ihrer faktischen Details, sind es vor allem Armutszeugnisse, trist wie die Pappschilder an den Füßen mancher Leichen in Schauhaus, selten Gedichte.

(Conspicuously unadorned, emphatically paltry in the barrenness of their factual details, they above all else reveal their own inadequacy, triste like the cardboard signs at the feet of some corpses at the mortuary, rarely poems.)
       His description is accurate, and yet the epitaphs are no less for being this way. They work -- and there is a richness, and depth to them -- because of Grünbein's approach. And also his handling of language: a natural poet, he rarely goes wrong in his expression.
       In one of the poems he sums up:
Leben ist ein Nullsummenspiel. Zuletzt
Bleibt im Gedächtnis nicht einmal dein eigner Tod.

(Life is a zero-sum game. In the end
Your memory won't even hold you own death.
       A small, clever book, Den Teuren Toten isn't a major collection, but it is a good and entertaining one -- a major poet at play. Recommended.

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Durs Grünbein: Other books by Durs Grünbein under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Durs Grünbein was born in Dresden in 1962. He has won many literary prizes, including the 1995 Georg Büchner Prize.

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