Published: 28/06/2015
ISBN: 9781784622992
eISBN: 9781784625634
Format: Paperback/eBook

‘How earthy ... is the old man’s behaviour, are his repartees and the monologues which Erhard von Büren has picked up with a sure touch and converted into authentic spoken language.’ Neue Zürcher Zeitung more

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Epitaph for a Working Man
by Erhard von Büren

This is a vivid, unsentimental yet intensely moving portrayal of an old man who, in spite of his failing health, stubbornly continues to actively enjoy life – going to the pub, smoking and drinking, doing stonemason’s jobs, observing and commenting on the people around him. His environment and social relationships – as well as those of his son, the narrator – are portrayed with great attention to detail, providing us with an unfamiliar, realistic and sometimes humorous picture of run-of-the-mill everyday life in a provincial part of Switzerland in the 1980s.

In Epitaph for a Working Man, Erhard von Büren’s laconic account, written from the son’s viewpoint, is dispassionate and occasionally harsh, but it becomes a loving homage to the father. The old man’s life is encapsulated in his final year: his toughness and his weakness, his dedication, his roughness and his gentleness.

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4.0 out of 5 stars
Compelling portrait
By Stephanie Jane on 9 Nov. 2016
Wasp Days is an unusual book which I wasn't sure whether I would like or not. It took me a while to get into von Buren's previous novel, Epitaph For A Working Man, and I experienced the same adjustment time with Wasp Days. The first chapter is an older man reminiscing about women who had been his lovers in his youth and its sets our narrator up in a particularly unlikeable light, or so I thought anyway! Essentially a perpetual small-scale academic, he sees himself as something of a catch despite relying on his wife, Eva, to whom he is unfaithful, to organise anything practical and to finance their family through her career. Eva is the dynamo of the partnership bringing up their daughters, arranging their house moves and providing their social face, while our narrator potters and hides away in libraries.

I did rather envy him his library-closeted life and, as we get to know him better, I could see what initially seemed chauvinistic arrogance actually as sheer bravado. He might have been daring in a small way in his younger days, but now he is dusty and fading, paranoid about his health and almost afraid to step outside of his clearly defined comfort zones. I never felt sorry for him, but found this novel compelling reading as more was revealed. My wanderlust was sparked by reading Wasp Days too. A late voyage to China is briefly described in fascinating detail and I was entranced by Paris scenes. Wasp Days certainly won't be a book for everyone and it meandering pace is sometimes too slow. I liked it though and enjoyed reading this careful portrait of a man of a certain age.


The Bookbinder's Daughter

Swiss Review



Books Monthly

That's Books

Stephanie Jane


A great book to read and discuss for Book Clubs groups

This book lends itself to interesting discussion. The theme encompasses the development of a renewed friendship between a middle-aged son and his dying father, an accomplished stone mason who is now resident in a nursing home. This book is well written, the characters making difficult choices and dealing with life issues that readers can readily identify with.

by Heidi Inman

I had read the original in German, but have found the English version very well translated and it catches the pathos of the crotchety old timer with kindly affection.

by Tony Raeber

An oddly touching novella with a sense of elegaic loss, defeat and inevitability. Yet this book is not depressing. It has a sadness, or perhaps a classic European ennui found in the works of Camus, Kundera and Mercier. The protagonist is unemployed, his wife is having an affair and his father is dying. With a certain inertia, the younger man connects with his ebullient father less as a relative, more as a member of the audience. It's touching and truthful and thought-provoking. There are so many layers here - the father's stonemasonry, the son's typesetting. The individual and the collective, the military and the Swiss culture all play their role in this short yet powerful rendition of a relationship. Well worth a read.

by leekmuncher

I was favorably impressed, first of all, by the wonderfully spare prose style. It was oddly refreshing. Although the plot of the novel is fairly straightforward--a son helps his cancer-stricken father through the last year of his life. The novel is narrated by the son. What made the novel hard to put down is not the plot but the son's constant questioning of what the meaning of it all is. And it is not just his father and his father's cancer but also the changing nature of work, his unemployment, the slow dissolution of his marriage, national service, news and the meaning of his life. This is balanced with a matter of fact descriptive tone.

I was particularly intrigued by the younger Haller--his disconnect with his father, the community around him, his wife and the world generally. Yes, he listens to the news but it seems to have no impact on him. The sense of futile abeyance that emanates from him reminded me of certain characters from writers like Camus and Kafka. He seems to spend his life waiting for something but what that may be remains elusive. That his craft, he was a typesetter, has been destroyed by the thoughtless march of modernity also resonated with me.

This is a novel to get you thinking.

by Amazon customer

What a touching story. Makes you really take a look at people and their lives. I won it in a contest and it was a very good read!

by Melanie (Goodreads)


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