A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler was one of my favourite reads of last year. A joy to read and proof that short novella’s can be as affecting to read as their full length cousins. Seethaler gifted us an exquisite tale of whole life of a simple, gentle and brave man.
In The Tobacconist he again tells the tale of ordinary lives that are profoundly affected by events on the world stage. We have 17 year old Franz, apprenticed to the tobacconist Otto Trsnyek and friend to Professor Freud. Its a simple tale of bravery, friendship, darkness and the evil nature of those who succumbed to the influence of the Third Reich.
It’s deeply moving and painful to read on times. Not just because of the events that rage in the background of the story, but because the simplicity of the writing seeps deep into your soul. You’d think that reading graphic descriptions of the evil’s of the Natzi party would affect you more, but Seethaler by taking us into the heart of the people affected, makes them all too real, and when they grieve or suffer, your in the moment with them. He shows us that there are always those who will fight to protect those they love, that hero’s don’t always wear uniforms. The Third Reich may have been monumental and hateful, but against the compassion and courage of young men like Franz, they are ultimately impodent.
The writer has gifted us a tale that although set in a time of great evil, is radiant with the power of the human spirit at its best. It manages to be devastatingly complex, but simple in its delivery. Seethaler has an intimate understanding that wars and politics are grand events, but it is the simple lives that become tangled in them, when told with his wise observation, that make a far more powerful story.
Robert Seethaler was born in Vienna in 1966 and is the author of several novels including A Whole Life and The Tobacconist. A Whole Life was a top ten-bestseller in Germany, and has garnered huge acclaim.