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Philip Oltermann reviews Ashes for Breakfast by Durs Grünbein (translated by the wonderful Michael Hofmann; the Faber version reviewed here only has the English translations, the FSG edition comes, more satisfyingly, with the German originals on facing pages and is much the better for it). Oltermann has mixed-feelings about the collection, but seems just about generally positive:


In English, Grünbein in public-intellectual-mode is as much of a mouthful as in the German - but the more colloquial passages never quite seem to get off their teutonic stilts. At times, Hofmann's phrases ring with the triumphalism of the accomplished bilinguist rather than with their proper music ... This is not to say that Ashes for Breakfast isn't an overall success. When the teeth of Hofmann's vocabulary grip into the material of Grünbein's ideas, these poems can develop an irresistible emotional pull. Greetings from Oblivion City has the popular appeal of a Radiohead lyric, Portrait of the Artist works as a riveting, veiled historical epic and In the Provinces is a stoically comic cycle of five poems about different species of roadkill.

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