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Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.
Andreas lives 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 . . .
Like John Williams' Stoner or Denis Johnson's Train Dreams, A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler is a tender book about finding dignity and beauty in solitude. An exquisite novel about a simple life, it has already demonstrated its power to move thousands of readers with a message of solace and truth. It looks at the moments, big and small, that make us what we are.
The life chronicled in Seethaler's poignant novel is, at first glance, unremarkable: Andreas Egger begins and ends his life in an Alpine valley village, where he arrives after his mother's death in 1902, and to which he returns in 1951, after years as a POW in Russia. Egger, however, contains multitudes: subjected to childhood beatings that leave him with a permanent limp, he stands up to his abusive uncle and goes on to become an expert cable-car company employee, as well as a devoted husband and father. But the mountainous land he loves and through which, in his middle age, he leads groups of hiking tourists is far from serene. The titanic forces of nature and politics determine Egger's arduous course through the 20th century. Not always successfully, Seethaler seeks to avoid sentimentality. Readers will discover in his contained prose a vehicle for keen insight and observation: Egger, touched for the first time by his future wife, experiences "a very subtle pain... more profound than any had encountered," and later, watching the Moon landing with his neighbors in their new parish hall, he feels "mysteriously close and connected to the villagers down here on the darkened Earth." Nearing his end, Egger "couldn't remember where he had come from, and ultimately he didn't know where he would go. But he could look back without regret... with a full-throated laugh and utter amazement."