"You can buy a man's hours off him, you can steal his days from him, or you can rob him of his whole life, but no-one can take away from any man so much as a single moment"
A Whole Life (Ein Ganzes Lieben) by Robert Seethaler was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize a few years back but I didn't discover it myself until the release of follow up novel The Tobacconist. I saw Robert Seethaler read from both books at an event organised by the Austrian Cultural Council a few months back and picked up a copy a couple of days later.
A Whole Life is a short novel at only 162 pages but at the end you'll remember a far longer work so rich, though succinct, is the prose and so epic the storytelling. The life in question is that of Andreas Egger, a man of very few words but boundless love and respect for the mountain on which he lives. His whole life is literally played out in this Alpine setting from childhood to an early career constructing cable cars through to war, internment by the Russians and beyond.
Seethaler writes poetically and poignantly about love, loss and tragedy but Andreas Egger is remarkable not so much for what he endures but for the way he copes with the hand he's dealt. Egger simply gets on with life, rolls with the punches and lets the mountain determine his destiny.
As an older man Egger takes on the role of mountain guide; "If you like the mountains, I'm your man" reads his local ad. Escorting small groups along the mountain trails Egger makes sense of everything that he's experienced over the years. An Ordnance Survey map of the heart.
A Whole Life is a beautiful book that needs to be read. The least I can do is pass my copy over the wall with a little note from me; "You've just found your next read"
I read this novel mostly on the train into Marylebone.