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Helfer, Monika

Oskar und Lilli (Oskar and Lilli)

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Deuticke Verlag, July 2011, 256 pp.
ISBN: 978 3 552 06168 2
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Oskar and Lilli is a book about children, told with the simplicity of a children’s book; but it is not a book for children. Told from the point of view of Oskar (seven) and Lilli (nine), Helfer’s novel poignantly addresses the uglier aspects of the adult world to which brother and sister are exposed without either explanation or protection.
 
The day the children wake up to find their mother asleep on the kitchen table with a strange man (they have never known their father), Lilli persuades Oskar to leave home with her. Social services arrange foster homes. Lilli is sent to the dull but nice Rut; Oskar ends up in a vegetarian, anti-television, energy-saving household consisting of two teachers, a baby and a grandmother, Erika. Bored by the teachers and their baby, Oskar spends more and more time with Erika; he helps her as she grows steadily more ill (she has Parkinson’s), and when she dies, she leaves him all her money. When a second baby is on the way, Oskar is sent to a new foster home, a guesthouse called the Dove, where he is looked after by the landlady, the waitress, Puppa, and the lorry driver, Bruno. Lilli, meanwhile, finds it hard to settle down in school, and takes refuge in a kind of friendship with Betti, the fattest girl in her class, and Betti’s heroinaddict sister. Towards the end, Oskar and Lilli go together to visit their mother, who is now in psychiatric care. Later Rut confides in Oskar’s ex-foster-mother that she is getting married and can no longer cope with Lilli. Brother and sister leave the party and set off into the night with Bruno in his lorry. The novel had begun with the children’s faces lit up by a policeman’s torch; it ends with their faces lit up by the moon.
 
Throughout Oskar and Lilli, fairytale-like elements coexist with the unattractive and often grotesque details of everyday life. Helfer pictures events through the children’s innocent eyes; the discrepancy between what they see and what the reader knows makes for a certain humour, but also serves to heighten the sordid details. This is a subtle, understated book written in simple, short sentences – cleverly crafted and well-written. The references to fairy-tale motifs scattered throughout the novel show that Helfer knows exactly what she is doing, and the near timelessness of the subject matter makes it suitable for readers anywhere.
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Author

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Monika Helfer was born in 1947 in Vorarlberg, Austria, where she still works and lives with her family. She has written novels, short stories and children’s books. Her many awards include the Robert Musil Grant (1996) and the Austrian Prize for Literature (1997).

Previous works include:
Wenn der Bräutigam kommt (‘When the bridegroom comes’, 1998), Bestien im Frühling (‘Beasts in Spring’, 1999), Mein Mörder (‘My Murderer’, 1999); Bevor ich schlafen kann (‘Before I can sleep’, 2010)
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Rights

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Application for assistance with translation costs – Austria

Translation rights available from:
Deuticke Verlag
Prinz-Eugen-Straße 30
A-1040 Wien, Austria
Tel: +43 1 505 766112
Contact: Annette Lechner
www.zsolnay.at

Deuticke Verlag, along with Paul Zsolnay Verlag, has been part of Carl Hanser Verlag in Munich since 2004. Deuticke was founded in 1878 in Vienna. Initially the firm focused on non-fiction (including Sigmund Freud’s book on dreams in 1900 and much later, in 2001, the international bestseller Blackbook on Brand Companies). In recent years Deuticke has established itself as a publisher of fiction by internationally renowned and contemporary authors, among them Iris Murdoch and Lily Brett, and Austrian writers such as Paulus Hochgatterer, Daniel Glattauer and Michael Köhlmeier.
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