Read The Snake Tree by Uwe Timm Free Online
Book Title: The Snake Tree|
The size of the: 362 KB
Edition: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Date of issue: April 1st 1990
The author of the book: Uwe Timm
Format files: PDF
ISBN 13: 9780811211017
Read full description of the books The Snake Tree:The author of The Snake Tree, Uwe Timm, is a distinguished figure in Germany and at least one of his books, The Invention of Curried Sausage, has been widely read abroad. This one hasn’t, and I first read it after finding the English edition remaindered for £1.00 in a London bookshop a year or two after it was published in 1988. I liked it, and on rereading it 25 years later, I like it even more. It is a dark, gripping little thriller. But it is also a very subversive book, asking questions that are even more urgent now.
The setting is an unnamed subtropical South American country, almost certainly the far north of Argentina during that country's infamous dirty war (Timm doesn’t name the country but it is fairly clear). A German civil engineer, Wagner, arrives to put a delayed construction project - a paper mill - back on schedule. He lands in the humid heat after a long flight from Frankfurt. As the car takes him north toward his destination, Wagner argues with the driver, convinced that they are going south; he has forgotten he has changed hemispheres. The car takes him to a colony of villas on a hill, ringed round its base with concrete and barbed wire. He learns that his predecessor was kidnapped and that the work, a new paper mill, is way behind. Then, driving to work on the first day, he runs over a sacred snake; for the Bolivian workforce this is a very bad omen.
From the beginning, Wagner will impose his technocratic standards in an attempt to get the project back on track. But he soon finds himself involved in a web of corruption and political violence that makes a mockery of everything he tries to do. Meanwhile his attempts to maintain his own values will put others in danger, sparking a strike that brings the workforce to the attention of the army. There are arrests. To make things worse, he begins an affair with his language teacher, a lovely young woman who may have contacts with left-wing guerrillas. Then she disappears. Wagner tries to find out why. But what were her own intentions towards him? Was he to be kidnapped too?
Reading The Snake Tree is like walking through a minefield of metaphors, and I am still not sure I stepped on them all. But a few clearly went off. The trees are being cut down around the paper mill, says one cynic, so that Europeans can wipe their arses on the rainforest. The result is a bare muddy plain that floods as the wet season comes, carrying away earth and the road to the city; the gated hill is thus besieged by both man and nature. Later parts of the book have an apocalyptic feel that is nicely underlined by Wagner’s housekeeper, an elderly, staring evangelical who is looking forward to the end of the world and mutters about “whoremongers and idolaters” as she serves him his supper.
But the clearest theme running through this book, for me, was the imposition of one set of cultural standards on another in the name of development. Timm comes quite close to saying this openly when he has Wagner visit Hartmann, a German colleague who has resigned. Why is he leaving, asks Wagner; because of the oppression? No, says Hartmann. “One can’t force an alien logic on things, and on people even less. Or you rape them. Then they’re broken, things as well.”
I don’t know why this very intelligent thriller did not have more impact in Britain. Sloppy production won’t have helped; although the translation is mostly excellent, there are some garbled sentences that the British publisher (Pan) really should have caught. It may also be that Timm wasn’t well-enough known outside Germany. But I also wonder if the critique of technocratic development, and its relationship with the environment, went over people’s heads. It wouldn’t now; it would be very fashionable. Perhaps this book was just plain ahead of its time.
Read information about the authorUwe Timm was the youngest son in his family. His brother, 16 years his senior, was a soldier in the Waffen SS and died in Ukraine in 1943. Decades later, Uwe Timm approached his relationship with his father and brother in the critically acclaimed novel In my brother's shadow.
After working as a furrier, Timm studied Philosophy and German in Munich and Paris, achieving a PhD in German literature in 1971 with his thesis: The Problem of Absurdity in the Works of Albert Camus. During his studies, Timm was engaged in leftist activities of the 1960s. He became a member of the Socialist German Student Union and was associated with Benno Ohnesorg. From 1973 to 1981 he was a member of the German Communist Party. Three times Timm has been called as a writer-in-residence to several universities in English-speaking countries: in 1981 to the University of Warwick, in 1994 to Swansea and in 1997 to the Washington University in St. Louis. He has also been a lecturer at universities in Paderborn, Darmstadt, Lüneburg and Frankfurt.
Timm started publishing in the early 1970s and became known to a larger audience in Germany after one of his children's books, Rennschwein Rudi Rüssel, was turned into a movie. Today he is one of the most successful contemporary authors in Germany. His books Die Entdeckung der Currywurst (The Invention of Curried Sausage) and Am Beispiels meines Bruders (In my brother's shadow) can both be found on the syllabi of German schools. His readers usually appreciate Timm's writing style, which he himself calls "die Ästhetik des Alltags" ("the aesthetics of everyday life"). Timm imitates everyday storytelling by using everyday vocabulary and simple sentences and generally tries to imitate the way stories are orally told. His works often indirectly link with each other by taking up minor characters from one story and making this character the main character of another work. For example, a minor character like Frau Brücker from Johannisnacht is taken up as a main character in his book Die Entdeckung der Currywurst. Timm's works also tend to have autobiographical features and often deal with the German past or are set in the German past.
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