A WHOLE LIFE by Robert Seethaler


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In this quiet, serenely powerful novel, a man lives out his life in a remote mountain village as the bulk of the 20th century sweeps past.

Andreas Egger is a small boy, an orphan, when he's brought by horse cart to a small village in the mountains. It's 1902. The farmer who takes him in also beats him, and Andreas leaves when he turns 18. Then he goes about scraping together a living. Left with a bad limp—a vestige of a particularly bad beating—Andreas still wrests his living from the earth through hard physical labor. Decades pass. What else happens? It’s hard to say. This slim novel relies less on the engine of a plot than on the lyricism of its own poetry. Andreas does fall in love, marry, and lose his wife to a devastating avalanche that wrecks their home. The snow sweeps Andreas along in its flow. Similarly, Andreas is swept along by the major moments of the 20th century. Modernity arrives in the form of the cable cars that Andreas helps to erect on the side of the mountain. Later, television and tourists arrive, too, as Andreas looks on. Before that, though, there is the second world war to contend with. Andreas spends two months as a soldier and eight years as a prisoner of war in Russia. But this experience takes up little more than 10 pages, and then Andreas returns home. The novel seems to skim through all of these struggles, small and large, personal and historical. Seethaler, a Vienna-born writer and actor, writes with quiet serenity, elegance, and grace. But there's something almost too smooth about all of this. Lyrical as the work is, in the end it is also somehow slippery and ungraspable. Andreas is born, lives his life, and dies. So do we all. But there must be something more to say about it.

An elegant, understated book about a simple man still leaves something wanting.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-374-28986-7
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2016


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