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A Whole Life

A gentle lesson in living

An absolutely perfect little story about Austrian ‘mountain goat’ Andreas Egger, a salt-of-the-earth type of character whose quiet, lonely alpine village life turns out surprisingly satisfactory. His contentedness is of the old-fashioned kind, derived from a closeness to nature, work and acceptance of one’s destiny. A lesson in living and a heart-warming (but far from syrupy!) read which fans of John Williams’ Stoner will love.

Born at the beginning of the 20th century, Andreas is raised by a brutal adoptive father. He lives to see the transformation of his alpine home village from a rural farming hamlet to ski resort, gets caught up in the war (being an Austrian, on the wrong side) and falls in love (watch out for the most romantic proposal ever!) Through it all, Andreas lives a life in perfect harmony with nature.

Sometimes, on mild summer nights, he would spread a blanket somewhere on the freshly mown meadow, lie on this back and look up at the starry sky. Then he would think about his future, which extended infinitely before him, precisely because he expected nothing of it. And sometimes, if he lay there long enough, he had the impression that beneath his back the earth was softly rising and falling, and in moments like these he knew that the mountains breathed.

He’s is a man of few words, uneducated but intelligent, and there are superb passages where this salt-of-the-earth character says a lot without talking. ‘When someone opens their mouth they close their ears’, is Andreas’ motto.

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It’s the lack of sentimentality that makes this novel so moving (yes, I did shed a tear), the stoic straightforwardness of Andreas, his down-to-earth attitude and the dazzling descriptions of nature. Highly recommended!

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler is published by Picador and translated by Charlotte Collins, 149 pages.