A Whole Life — Robert Seethaler

I asked on Facebook for short books where nothing really happens. And Adam Smith recommended this. And I read it. And it was good.

Man creates life with the strength of his loins, and takes life with the strength of his arms. Man is flesh and he is earth and he is a farmer and his name is Hubert Kranzstocker. When it pleases him so to do he digs his field, grabs a full-grown sow and hoists it onto his shoulders, begets a child or hangs another over the yoke of the plough, for he is the man, the word and the deed. ‘Lordhavemercy,’ said Kranzstocker, and brought the rod whistling down. ‘Lordhavemercy.

Beautifully blunt prose:

Then he said something that, although he didn’t understand it at the time, Egger was to remember all his life: ‘You can buy a man’s hours off him, you can steal his days from him, or you can rob him of his whole life, but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment. That’s the way it is. Now leave me in peace!’

Oddly profound:

While the other men headed down to the village with Gustl Grollerer, now an ex-lumberjack, Egger and Thomas Mattl stayed behind at the scene of the accident to bury the arm. The leaves and earth it lay on were dark with blood and its fingers felt waxen and cold as they prised them from the handle of the axe. A little jet-black long-horned beetle was sitting on the tip of the index finger. Mattl held the stiff arm out in front of him and examined it with narrowed eyes. ‘It’s strange,’ he said. ‘A moment ago this was still part of Grollerer. Now it’s dead and worth not much more than a rotten branch. What do you reckon – is Grollerer still Grollerer now?’ Egger shrugged his shoulders. ‘Why not? He’s Grollerer, with only one arm.’ ‘What if the tree had ripped off both arms?’ ‘Then too. He’d still be Grollerer.’ ‘And say it had ripped away both arms, both legs, and half his head?’ Egger considered. ‘He’d probably still be Grollerer, even then . . . somehow.’ Suddenly he was no longer quite so sure.