What we’re reading this week: PFAUENINSEL by Thomas Hettche (Kiepenheuer & Witsch)

I’m currently about halfway through Thomas Hettche’s wonderful novel Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island), which was published in German last year. Set in the early nineteenth century on the eponymous royal island getaway, the novel follows the life of Marie, a person of small stature who was taken to the island to be a lady-in-waiting to Queen Luise. While her brother and childhood playmates—including Gustav, with whom she falls in love—leave the island, Marie remains. She witnesses the introduction of new horticultural fashions by Peter Joseph Lenné on the orders of Friedrich Wilhelm III, and the transformation of the island into a menagerie of exotic creatures from around the world.


I’ll write a full review when I’ve finished the novel, but for now I’ll leave you with Hettche’s beautiful description of the island’s peacocks in spring:

Alle Pfauen der Insel schienen sich an diesem Tag hier in der Frühlingssonne versammelt zu haben, die langen Schwanzfedern streiften über die bloße, nasse Erde, und so zogen die Hähne weiche, fächernde Spuren hinter sich her […] Das Blau der Männchen hatte im hellen Licht einen deutlich goldenen und grünen Schimmer, jede Feder kupfern gerändert und muschelartig gezeichnet, auf der Rückenmitte waren die Tiere tiefblau, auf der Unterseite schwarz, und die grüne Schleppe mit ihren prächtigen Augenflecken war mehr als einen Meter lang.

[On this day, all the peacocks on the island seemed to have gathered in the spring sun. Their long tail feathers brushed over the bare, wet earth, and the peacocks left soft, fanning traces in their wake […] The peacocks’ blue had a definite gold and green lustre in the bright light, every feather was edged in copper and shell-shaped, the animals’ backs were deep blue, their undersides black, and the green train with its majestic eyes was more than a metre long.]


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