The Mussel FeastBirgit Vanderbeke
The modern German classic that has shaped an entire generation.
A mother and her two teenage children sit at the dinner table. In the middle stands a large pot of cooked mussels. Why has the father not returned home? As the evening wears on, we glimpse the issues that are tearing this family apart.
‘I wrote this book in August 1989, just before the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I wanted to understand how revolutions start. It seemed logical to use the figure of a tyrannical father and turn the story into a German family saga.’ Birgit Vanderbeke
SHORTLISTED FOR THE INDEPENDENT FOREIGN FICTION PRIZE 2014
SCHLEGEL-TIECK PRIZE FOR GERMAN TRANSLATION 2014
FOYLES BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2013
Why Peirene chose to publish this book:
I love this monologue. It’s the first Peirene book which made me laugh out loud with tears in my eyes. The author lays bare the contradictory logic of an inflexible mind. This is a poignant yet hilarious narrative with a brilliant ending.
Written by Birgit Vanderbeke.
Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch.
Turning Point series
112pp, paperback with flaps, £10.00
Birgit Vanderbeke, born in 1956, is one of Germany’s most successful literary authors. She has written 17 novels. The Mussel Feast – Das Muschelessen – was her first publication and won the most prestigious German language literature award, The Ingeborg Bachmann Prize. The book was published in 1990 and has never been out of print since. It has been translated into all major European languages, including French, Spanish and Italian.
Jamie Bulloch is a historian and has worked as a professional translator from German since 2001. After studying Modern Languages, he obtained an MA in Central European History and followed up with a PhD in interwar Austrian history. His translations include books by Paulus Hochgatterer, Alissa Walser and Timur Vermes. He is the translator of five Peirene titles: Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius, Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe, The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke, winner of the 2015 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for German Translation, The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift and The Last Summer by Ricarda Huch. He is also the author of A Short History of Tuscany and Karl Renner: Austria.
‘We are playing catch-up here with something of a contemporary European classic.’ David Mills, The Sunday Times
‘The novella brilliantly renders both the power of the revolutionary moment and the uncertainty of the future it unleashes.’ Jane Yager, Times Literary Supplement
‘This is one of those books that doesn’t tell us what to think, but sets us off thinking… Who writes this kind of nuanced work in Britain?’ Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
‘Sinister, funny and heartening, this taut novella reflects, within the microcosm of the family, the dissolution of the East German state, with an insight, economy and controlled fury that have made it a modern German classic.’ Chris Schuler, The Independent
‘An extraordinary book, the story unspooled with masterful restraint, and written with simplicity and precision. Vanderbeke is able to animate her characters with just a few quick, clear strokes, and yet the reader cannot help but feel with them — their terror; their fear; their tiny, burgeoning hope.’ Francesca Segal, Standpoint
For Reading Groups
Some inspiration for your reading group discussions:
1 Do you think ‘kitchen sink drama’ is an appropriate description for this story?
2 A central idea of this book is revolution; in which way does The Mussel Feast mimic an actual revolution?
3 How do you feel about the mother? In which way is she complicit in the father’s dominance?
4 What age is the narrator?
5 At which point in the story does the mother start to support the children’s ‘insubordination’?
6 Considering that this book was written a month before the fall of the Berlin Wall, how does the story relate to the historical events?
7 Are there any aspects of the father’s behaviour that you recognise from your own life, or could relate to?
8 The mussels are present on the table throughout the story; what symbolic role do they play?
9 What will the family do next?
10 What do you think has actually happened to the father?
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