Publisher: Other Press
Translated from German by Michael Hofmann
Pub date: 8 March 2011
Source: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley
Seven Years is not an easy book to describe or review. Spanning over a decade (from before the fall of the Berlin Wall to after 9/11) it deals with the universal themes of life, love and self-discovery.
Alex is torn between two very different women. Throughout his life, he has gone back and forth between them, but can’t make up his mind about who he wants or maybe even what he wants from life.
Sonia is beautiful, intelligent and talented, whereas Ivonna is drab, conservative and taciturn. Even after Alex and Sonia get married and work side by side to build their business (they are architects) he is drawn back to Ivona for reasons that he can never fathom. When Ivonna becomes pregnant, things become a lot more complicated and their lives change.
After Fountainhead, this is the first story I’m reading which uses architecture to discuss philosophy, life and personalities. It made me miss my idealistic school and college years. To be able to spend days and weeks just thinking over ideas and dreaming about the future! Set in Munich and Marseilles, we get to see buildings in these cities through the eyes of these idealistic young architects.
As the title suggests, the story examines the seven-year itch in this marriage.
On the one hand, the story deals with the destruction of a man and a family. Over the years, the weight of responsibilities become too much and life stops making sense. There is always something more to achieve, another rung to climb on the ladder. Both Alex and Sonia have lost sight of what truly makes them happy and why they got together. Maybe they both never knew why they wanted to get together.
On the other, questions of fidelity, marriage, children, ambition, obsession are also discussed… It also deals with existential quandaries – the artistic types seem to be more prone to doubts and blurred morals.
I felt for Alex, even when I disapproved the choices he made and the way he treated people. He seems so lost and unable to find himself and be happy. Sonia is a cold, unemotional character, but I couldn’t help but sympathise with her as well. All the characters are well drawn and as a reader, you do get involved in their lives.
The story goes back and forth between their student days and the present – when they are successful architects with a child. We see how they have changed as people and as a couple in subtle ways and we also notice that in some ways they don’t change at all. The tone is matter-of-fact and there is no judgment – and the sense that life is not black and white.
A couple of small quibbles:
- At some points, it was a little confusing to differentiate past from present. I would have appreciated some kind of chapter markers. Maybe that got fixed in the final version.
- Another thing that bothered me was the lack of quotation marks or separate paras for direct speech. I find that hard to read and I’m not happy when I have to stop to check who said what.
This is a well-written and nicely translated novel that sensitively explores human relationships, love and quest for happiness. Getting what you want is not the ultimate goal, especially when it doesn’t bring happiness. It makes you face those uncomfortable questions about marriage and fidelity and wonder what makes some relationships work and another fall to pieces. It left me feeling a little sad and thoughtful. Recommended read.
Find out more about the author Peter Stamm.
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I received the ARC from Publisher via NetGalley.
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