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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Am I a Redundant
Human Being ?

Mela Hartwig

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To purchase Am I a Redundant Human Being ?

Title: Am I a Redundant Human Being ?
Author: Mela Hartwig
Genre: Novel
Written: (1931) (Eng. 2010)
Length: 151 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Am I a Redundant Human Being ? - US
Am I a Redundant Human Being ? - UK
Am I a Redundant Human Being ? - Canada
Am I a Redundant Human Being ? - India
Suis-je un être superflu ? - France
Bin ich ein überflüssiger Mensch ? - Deutschland
  • German title: Bin ich ein überflüssiger Mensch ?
  • Written around 1931, Bin ich ein überflüssiger Mensch ? was first published in 2001
  • Translated by Kerri A. Pierce

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-written harsh self-portrait by a character who doesn't think very much of herself

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 2/1/2002 Hannelore Schlaffer
NZZ . 29/11/2001 Bernhard Fetz
Publishers Weekly . 11/10/2010 .
Die Zeit . 21/3/2002 Dorothea Dieckmann

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Autorin nutzt die Darstellung eines unerbittlichen moralischen Größenwahns, um alle Überbleibsel an idealistischem Kitsch aus dem Frauenroman auszukehren. Das autobiographisch angelegte Werk ist gegen einen romantischen Traum geschrieben, gegen die Wollust eines weiblichen Märtyrertums, das seit der Mitte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts nicht nur weibliche Gemüter, sondern auch manche Männerphantasie beflügelte" - Hannelore Schlaffer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(E)ine späte Wiedergutmachung und eine wirkliche Entdeckung. Der Roman hat nichts von seiner Schärfe eingebüsst. (...) Mit fliegendem Stift und fieberndem Herzen folgt das Fräulein dem Diktat des eiskalten Chefs, den sie liebt, wie sie sich selbst nie wird lieben können. «Ich hatte mich zeitlebens nach meiner eigenen Wärme gesehnt», ist das niederschmetternde Fazit dieses überzeugenden Romans." - Bernhard Fetz, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Hartwig (1893-1967) delineates her narrator's masochism with a devastatingly understated finesse, proving herself an accomplished novelist." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       Am I a Redundant Human Being ? is narrated by Aloisia Schmidt. She begins her account by listing some of her qualities and accomplishments, explaining: "I just want to show that I amount to something", but she doesn't really believe that. She claims to have ambition, at least, but acknowledges: "I have reason enough to be humble". She hasn't amounted to much yet -- she's a secretary -- and she doesn't think she'll amount to much more: "I'm just not very bright, and I don't have the sort of initiative that leads to getting promoted." She is thirty when she begins her account, now dredging up her unhappy past to describe how she got to this point.
       Without too much obvious self-pity -- but consistently harshly self-critical and belittling -- Luise (as she's called) describes a life that hasn't gone quite right, constantly undermined by her own lack of any belief in herself (and a few very poor choices). Born right at the end of the nineteenth century, with her father going off to fight in the First World War when she is still a teen, Luise (slowly) enters adulthood in difficult, unsettled times. Yet Am I a Redundant Human Being ? is surprisingly removed from its times: the collapse of (the Austro-Hungarian) Empire and the economic hardships of the times figure only peripherally throughout. Self-centered, Luise barely notes what's happening in the larger world around her; even when at one point she melts "into the giant body called the Mob", carried along in the city to some huge political rally she has no idea what is behind it or what is going on; presumably there were grand, inciting speeches, but: "I couldn't hear a word". (She is still a teen at that time, and the rally is one during the First World War.)
       Self-doubt about her own worth is suggested in the title, and on practically every page of her account. Luise never seems to have been happy, occasionally striving for more -- buckling down at her studies to please a teacher, for example -- but unable to see anything through to true success. Surprisingly, she never has much difficulty getting work, despite the fact that her secretarial skills are, at least during her first years of employment, very poor: "I was uselessness itself, incompetence incarnate". She works at it -- and apparently eventually gets a hang of things: "my shorthand is first rate", she boasts at the beginning of her account, though in most of the episodes she recounts it certainly wasn't -- but seems almost smugly satisfied with her mediocrity most of the time. Nothing much comes of a vague ambition to become an actress, though she remains an avid theater-goer.
       Luise latches on to a few people, occasionally making friends, but here too there is often an awkwardness to the social interaction. The fact that Luise does not feel worthy always complicates things; so too in her relationships with men. Several men latch onto her, too; she gets engaged, but sabotages that by giving herself to another man -- a creep who treats her exactly the way she believes she should be treated. In the present, there is a new man in her life -- "a zero just like me" -- whose marriage proposal she is mulling over; typically, however, she's uncertain about whether to accept it or not.
       Plain Luise is a surprisingly intriguing (if hardly ever sympathetic) character, and the way she recounts her depressing existence, in an almost chipper tone and with limited self-pity, makes for an odd but fascinating novel. The talented Hartwig -- championed by the great Alfred Döblin, among others -- apparently wrote the novel in 1931, but it was turned down for publication in 1933 and finally first published in German only in 2001. Unlike many novels of that period it is strikingly timeless, not only because Hartwig refers to so few historical specifics, but because in its personal focus it is a character-study that applies almost equally well in any (recent) age. Luise is an independent working woman with considerable freedoms, yet her own personality enslaves her and leaves her dissatisfied with all her lots.
       Am I a Redundant Human Being ? is not a pleasant novel, but it is an impressive one.

       [Note: While the 'redundancy' of the English title brings with it some workplace-related connotations, Bin ich ein überflüssiger Mensch ? is surely better translated as: Am I a Superfluous Human Being ? (as also the French title -- Suis-je un être superflu ? -- has it).]

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 May 2011

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Am I a Redundant Human Being ?: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Mela Hartwig lived 1893 to 1967.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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