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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Brummstein

Peter Adolphsen

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To purchase The Brummstein

Title: The Brummstein
Author: Peter Adolphsen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 68 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: The Brummstein - US
The Brummstein - UK
The Brummstein - Canada
Brummstein - France
Brummstein - Deutschland
La pietra che parla - Italia
  • Danish title: Brummstein
  • Translated by Charlotte Barslund

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing but laconic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 7/3/2006 Uwe Stolzmann
Die Welt . 29/10/2005 Franz Samson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Verschroben, verschroben. Doch Adolphsens Prosa, nun ja, brummt -- vor Spannung und aberwitzigen Einfällen." - Franz Samson, Die Welt

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:

       Brummstein is a century-spanning novella, though it begins with a geological exposition that hammers home the message that mankind has existed for what amounts to only an instant in the long history of the earth (making a whole century barely a blink of an eye). Among the examples cited is Mark Twain's suggestion that if the height of the Eiffel Tower represented the age of the earth, than mankind's existence corresponded to the top layer of the paint on knob atop it.
       The geological connexion does, however, also have more to do with the book, as the novel itself is the story of the 'Brummstein' of the title, a small rock-sample taken by one of the characters from a cave that gives off a sort of hum or buzz (as does the rock in the cave itself). From 1907 through the end of the 20th century, Brummstein follows how the rock goes from hand to hand. Recognised as something unusual, and with several of the owners noting as much on paper kept with the rock, it nevertheless is often forgotten or overlooked for years on end. It passes from one persons to the next more by happenstance than on purpose, but in this way offers glimpses of several chapters of mainly German 20th century life -- quite a journey in such a short book.
       The sample is originally found in 1907 by Josef Siedler, a man who -- obsessed by books such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race and convinced of a world within the earth's surface -- travelled to these caves in hopes of finding there the entrance to the underworld. Later, his anarchist nephew inherits the rock, and eventually it is picked from the lost and found of a train station during World War II. In the 1960s it is declared to be a work of art by a clever gallerist, and eventually the rock finds its way back home again.
       The focus is on the people who, for a while, are holders of the rock, but it is the rock itself -- humming very quietly, largely in the background -- that is central. Adolphsen relates the life-stories of the owners, but once the rock is out of their hands they're done with and he moves on. Nevertheless, he manages to capture bits of 20th century life with splendid precision in his laconic life-portraits, from pre-World War I ambitions to inter-war anarchism, World War II conditions, East Germany after the war, and then the (German) art scene in the 1960s. It's not the highpoints and most dramatic events of history he focusses on, rather it's the peripheral -- and often even isolated, as many of the characters are on the run or in some sort of hiding. These are small stories of largely insignificant but typical (even as they are atypical) lives.
       In the way he dispatches them -- quite a few lives come to very abrupt ends -- there's no real compassion; the book isn't cold, but it is very neutral. The tone works for the book: Adolphsen writes very well, and presents engaging little stories, the asides -- the history of the attempt to exploit the caves commercially, for example -- as effective as what appear to be the central stories.
       It's an odd and perhaps not entirely satisfying tale, the hum of the rock echoing on but not entirely satisfactorily explained (even as the book comes full-circle). Still, Adolphsen's command is striking enough to make the (very short) book worthwhile -- even as that makes it read almost like an exercise in writing, rather than a full-fledged book. But it is solid and haunting enough -- worth a look.

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The Brummstein: Reviews: Other books of by Peter Adolphsen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author Peter Adolphsen was born in 1972.

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