In German, we have a word (Waldeinsamkeit) that roughly translates to “the feeling of woodland solitude, of being alone in the woods and contemplating one’s existence”. Replace “woodland” with “mountains” (Bergeinsamkeit, I guess) and that is what Robert Seethaler’s exquisite novel A Whole Life captures.
Andreas Egger lives almost his whole life in the Austrian Alps, where he arrives as a young boy taken in by a farming family. He is a man of very few words and so, when he falls in love with Marie, he doesn’t ask for her hand in marriage, but instead has some of his friends light her name at dusk across the mountain. When Marie dies in an avalanche, pregnant with their first child, Andreas’ heart is broken. He leaves his valley just once more, to fight in WWII – where he is taken prisoner in the Caucasus – and returns to find that modernity has reached his remote haven…
After his return, the days pass slowly, but they are not filled with sadness as one might expect. Rather, Andreas is filled with an appreciation for the world around him – the beauty of the mountains, the gift of waking up each morning and falling into a deep sleep at the end of the day, the sense of having a purpose, even if it is not quite clear. He believes sharing his love of nature might be his purpose, and so he begins to act as a guide for tourists, and for a time, he is content.
It feels as though each word in this book (it’s more of a novella, really) was chosen with great care, but there is nothing pretentious about the writing. There is joy and sadness, but it is expressed quietly, softly – as an appreciation for the smallest kindness or a muted sense of loneliness. Like John Williams’ Stoner or Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, A Whole Life is a tender book about finding dignity and beauty in solitude. Simply gorgeous. Please read it.
Have you read A Whole Life? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Thanks for stopping by.