The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena and Jamie Bulloch (Translator)

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The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena and Jamie Bulloch (Translator)

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A gentle look at how we're formed by our memories and those of others, this is lyrical, ponderous and well worth a read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2013
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-0857890986

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Iris Berger isn't a stranger to loss. Her cousin died at 15 and her grandmother has just passed away leaving Iris her house. It all echoes with memories, for instance the wardrobe full of her mother and aunts' childhood dresses, the beautiful garden and the apple tree that played such a large part in the family history. While wandering outside, Iris bumps into Carsten Lexow, family friend and garden caretaker. Over lunch he tells her of a family secret. There's a reason why, on a certain June night a lifetime ago, a certain apple tree bloomed twice. Although significant, Iris discovers more secrets as she settles in, and not only secrets concerning others.

German author Katharina Hagena already has my respect by writing a dissertation on (and therefore having read) James Joyce's Ulysses. Luckily for us, The Taste of Apple Seeds, her first adult novel, is definitely more accessible than Joyce's masterpiece.

It's written in Iris's voice as a pot pouri of memories, until we jump to the present at the end. The order is random, as memories would be, provoked by the things she sees around her or thoughts at the time. We only have Iris's version to believe but she seems credible, the complexion of her memories changing sometimes in line with her discoveries rather than any desire to mislead. Actually it reminded me of Cider with Rosie covering Iris's coming of age and the effect that her family's past had on it.

Again, like Laurie Lee's book, the tone is relaxed and poetic, a tribute to translator Jamie Bulloch as much as the author. There are some wonderful passages in both language and insight, e.g. thoughts on how the meaning of a gathering's words can be interpreted by the timbre if they become indistinguishable and, if it made the edit from my review copy, watch out for a lovely simile based on harvesting fruit from a bush.

Longer memories mingle with the flashes of recollection and, for me, the longer ones work better than the shorter. It's as if the shorter passages were being rushed past our minds' eyes whereas we have time to luxuriate in the more detailed stories. Both are good, but the truncated moments felt like having a shower when you fancy a soak.

Iris's family are a fascinating mix. A great aunt is revealed to have been a bit of a game lass while Aunt Harriet joins a sect, reinventing herself after tragedy. All hold a certain interest but, for me, when Max Ohmstedt appears, the sun comes out. The wimpish old school friend whom Iris reencounters brings humour in his wake and is easily the character from the book that I'd most like to be stuck in a lift with. Maybe it's because he's a breath of fresh air in a cast that hasn't had a lot to laugh about or is it that our affection for him reflects Iris's?

If you enjoy crash, dash and a flurry of excitement in a novel, this probably isn't for you, although it does include some gentle cliff hanger hints to encourage us on. Apple Seeds provides a meander of a journey rather than a sprint but the scenery was such that it's worth taking the time.

If you've enjoyed this, the chances are that you'll also enjoy Nothing But Fear by Knud Romer and John Mason (translator) as another child looks back over a quirky family and memories of an untraditional childhood.

Buy The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena and Jamie Bulloch (Translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena and Jamie Bulloch (Translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena and Jamie Bulloch (Translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena and Jamie Bulloch (Translator) at Amazon.com.


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