Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Earthquake in Chile

My german literature program continues. The latest acquaintance is the eighteenth century German writer Heinrich von Kleist. The Earthquake in Chile is only a (very) short story, of just ten or so pages, but it packs so many events and the narrative is so condensed and the story told in such great haste that one feels one has read a longer and fuller narrative. And you can't but finish a story once you have started which starts like this:

In Santiago, the capital of the kingdom of Chile, at the very moment of the great earthquake of the year 1647, in which many thousands of people perished, a young Spaniard accused of a crime, Jeronimo Rugera by name, was standing by a pillar of the prison in which he had been confined and was about to hang himself.

The Wikipedia has more details about the story. Frankly it is hardly a realistic story and it reads rather like a tall tale but it is written in a remarkably breathless style and I was surprised by how violent it was. I read somewhere that Kafka claimed Kleist as one of his influences too.

Kleist himself died in a violent and strange manner, in a suicide pact with a woman who was suffering from a terminal disease. This article has more details and looks very interesting but most of it went over my head.


Antonia said...

oh dear oh dear, we read this at school, I remember very vividly...Kleist, Alok, what next? had a look just now in the internet, but could not find these:he has written some short essay-like pieces,they are at any rate not at Gutenberg, they go sometimes as philosophical writings and there is one about 'the slowly establishing of thought via speaking' - madethis translation up, but must be something like that and this is a very lovely little essay.
This earthquake had quite an impact, a lot of people referred to it in their writings, it must have been quite bad.

Alok said...

Actually my neighbourhood library only has his plays, The Prince of Homburg and others. I found this story in a german short story anthology which I found in a used books sale. It contains stories by Hauptmann, ETA Hoffman and Brentano none of whom i have read before. also short pieces by rilke, schnitzler and of course mann and kafka. I had read only the last two -- the death in venice and in the penal colony before.

I want to read more by Kleist. Will look for some collected writings collections.