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FIRST AND LAST WORDS

Memoir & Stories by Stuart Friebert

First and Last Words entwines memoir and stories, shifting seamlessly between first and last person, as memoir in 1949, an American exchange student shipping to Allies-occupied Germany,

 

“Moonily in love, I was largely oblivious to most of what had happened as a result of Nazi crimes, not to mention the German I was taking in with every breath, trying to navigate its foreign waters.”

 

A year abroad in Europe changes his life.

 

“Of course, my year in Germany did bring forces and facts gradually to bear on my cloistered mind, living as I did in a dorm among ‘the walking dead,’ as fellow German students referred to themselves. Many had lost body parts, so watching the men wash in the communal bathroom brought on fits of flinching.”

 

His memoir becomes back stories in third person, as he remembers his ancestors: Eddie and his spunky fiance, Gertie, who prepare for their adult lives in Milwaukee, on November 11, 1918, almost out of high school, when Germany signs the Armistice agreement after World War I. Into stories of campus life and fishing,

 

“The next morning, at the office, David said they cooked the crappie too long, turned it to mush. But the pickerel, in spite of all its bones, that strong gamey odor, the fish almost no one bothers with, was wonderful.”

 

In Czechoslovakia shortly after The Prague Spring of 1968, Russian tanks invaded Czechoslovakia in a show of force against anyone who wanted to democratize. Stuart is there not long after, working on a book of translations by the Czech poet, Miroslav Holub. The times are repressive but, thanks to folks like Stuart, the literature secure. Stuart’s book echoes the early James Joyce and reminds us that war and intelligence continue.

Born in Wisconsin, STUART FRIEBERT spent an undergraduate year in Germany as one of the first U.S. exchange students after WW II, after which he finished a B.A. at Wisconsin State College/Milwaukee and took an M.A. and a Ph.D. at U. Wisconsin-Madison in German Language & Literature. He began teaching at Mt. Holyoke College, then at Harvard, and finally settled at Oberlin College, where he taught German and founded and directed Oberlin’s Creative Writing Program until retiring in 1997. Along the way, he co-founded Field Magazine, the Field Translation Series, and Oberlin College Press.

Friebert has published fifteen books of poems (including volumes in German), thirteen volumes of translations, anthologies, and more recently prose (stories, memoir pieces, and critical essays). He has held an N.E.A. Fellowship in poetry and received numerous awards for poems and translations, including the Four Way Book Award for Funeral Pie and the Ohioana Book Award for Floating Heart.

$18.00

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Praise for The Language of the Enemy,
to which this book is a companion collection, visiting similar themes, situations, and characters:

“These tightly wrapped and generous stories are reminiscent of Nabokov’s short stories for the author’s ability to allow subtle metaphors and sometimes seemingly ordinary details to accumulate … toward some resonant and powerful insights about who we really are behind our masks of social convention. Wide-ranging in their attempts to make sense of our lives, held together … by a richly thoughtful cross-referencing of characters and their extended circle of family and friends. A sheer joy to read, and to watch these lives unfold before us.”
—Bruce Weigl, author of The Circle of Hanh

“Stuart Friebert gives us something precious: a detailed view of the past that is wondrously free of sentimentality. Friebert’s stories are simply told, but each has a bite. They illuminate—over and over—how cultural, natural, and historical forces can threaten an individual or community. The people pick their way through a landscape filled with small joys and big dangers. Friebert imbues his characters with a beautiful dignity. I love this book.”
—Martha Moody, author of Best Friends

“An interwoven group of German-Jewish characters, carried from the first world war through the second—with comedy, sadness, and vivid nostalgia. The reader gets the sense of fate and lives and families crisscrossing and unfolding through time. Poet and translator Stuart Friebert beautifully captures the intimacies of his characters’ thoughts against the backdrop and relentless progression of the twentieth century. This is a wonderful, thought-provoking collection.”
—Julie Schumacher, author of The Body of Water

Floating Heart (2014) Poems: 6"x9" paperback, 114 pages, ISBN: 978-1-936671-23-6, $16.00.

ALSO BY STUART FRIEBERT
Floating Heart