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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Alp

Arno Camenisch

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To purchase The Alp

Title: The Alp
Author: Arno Camenisch
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 82 pages
Original in: German and Romansh
Availability: The Alp - US
The Alp - UK
The Alp - Canada
The Alp - India
Sez Ner - France
Sez Ner - Deutschland
Sez Ner - Italia
Sez Ner - España
  • German/Romansh title: Sez Ner
  • Translated by Donal McLaughlin

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Our Assessment:

B : fine sliver of a book

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 11/6/2009 Angelika Overath

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mit Sez Ner, einer lockeren Szenenfolge vom Leben auf der Alp Stavonas am Fuss des Piz Sezner, hat der gebürtige Rätoromane Arno Camenisch, Jahrgang 1978, vielleicht das ungewöhnlichste Buch der Saison geschrieben. Eines der frischesten ist es sicherlich. (...) Sein intimer wie diskreter Blick in die Alpwirtschaft lässt Bilder unkommentiert für sich stehen als Augenblicke der Intensität, die der Leser selbst ausmalen kann (...) Ein kostbarer Reiz des Buches ist seine Zweisprachigkeit." - Angelika Overath, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

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:

       The Alp is set in the Swiss Alps, by the Sez Ner (so also the title of the original):

Sez Ner is the center of Surselva. A modest height, it has everything that makes a mountain a mountain. The steep slopes, the shadows, the ridges, the peak, the cairn, the cross. At the back of the mountain, the rock face to crash to your death from. Unassuming, it stands there, putting up with whatever goes on round about
       The novel focuses on the summer-season near the foot of the mountain, when the farmers bring up their cows to graze (and the story closes with cows being led down, back to the farms, at the end of the season).
       The Alp, presented in a few hundred short passages and scenes, describes events and episodes from the summer. Four central, recurring characters, on whom much of the story (to the extent it is a story ...) focuses remain unnamed, described only by their positions: dairyman, farmhand, cowherd, and swineherd -- though Camenisch identifies many other locals by name (and notes of the animals: "The cows have names, the pigs don't"). The four aren't simply representative types, either, defined solely by their duties, but their nominal anonymity is an effective way of having them stand out against some of the more incidental but named characters.
       The area is a popular tourist destination, and the locals are frequently confronted by groups of these largely clueless outsiders. There's other outside interference, too, from the priest, giving his blessings, to the agricultural inspectors, to the annoying guy who insists on coming in his Porsche. It's a life of contrasts, and while a more modern world intrudes, the basics remain unchanged -- repeatedly made clear, as also in a scene where the dairyman tries to listen to the "radio with the bent aerial", getting only static, the sounds around him instead:
The wheel on the wheelbarrow squeaks. The rooster's standing on the edge of the fountain, crowing.
       The novel is a sequence of events, (relatively) major and minor, but with little allowed to stand out: if one thing happens, it's quickly displaced by the next occurrence, and there's always something to keep them busy, preventing them from lingering over anything. Along with the more mundane: someone gets run over in the village, there's a fire, a cow has to be put down, another tears one of its horns off, a ram breaks its legs, "Georg has shot himself in the foot" (literally). But it's all part and parcel of life in the shadows of the Sez Ner.
       Occasionally, thoughts darken:
What would it be like to sink into the bog. Up to your knees. Up to your hips. Up to your neck, and then completely.
       While not expressed, that seems to be a feeling and concern shared by these characters, who could see themselves stuck in the bog that is their lives, and wondering how deeply they've been sucked in .....
       While there are reminders of just how harsh nature can be here -- some tourists nearly freeze to death on the mountain -- the summer is a time of relative comfortable ease. But it's a short season -- and, as one character suggests:
Morality is a frost, says Luis. And frost arrives early here, and stops late. The first frost burns any green shoots. It clears the hillside. What remains has always been there. You can depend on frost.
       If not interlopers to the extent of the tourists, the central characters and their animals are also only visitors on the hillside. By the end of the novel they are in retreat, preparing to take cover for the long months until the next summer; they can only take on nature for so long.
       It's a neat depiction of contemporary life in some of the darker reaches of the Swiss Alps. The original, presented in both German and Romansh (Rhaeto-Romanic -- the local Sursilvan dialect, to be exact) surely manages to convey the atmosphere even better, but even this essentially monolingual translation offers a rich, deep portrait of a certain kind of country-life.
       The Alp is a thin book -- less than eighty pages of text -- but still rewarding; the first in a trilogy (which Dalkey Archive Press will be publishing in its entirety), it will be interesting to see how Camenisch builds on this small but sturdy foundation.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 September 2014

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The Alp: Reviews: Arno Camenisch: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Arno Camenisch was born in 1978.

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