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Literature / Suleyken

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Or, to give it its full original title, So zärtlich war Suleyken - "So Tender Was Suleyken". A collection of twenty funny short stories by the German author Siegfried Lenz (1926-2014), set in the time before and after World War I.

The stories' setting is the eponymous village (of a few hundred people) in East Prussia - or, strictly speaking, Masuria, a rural area which had influences from Germany, Poland, Lithuania, (Byelo-)Russia and Old Prussia, being close to the border.



  • Alliterative Name: "Pani pronz" (Mister Pride), as the villagers call their alpha deer.
  • Badass Bookworm: Hamilkar Schass, who drives away general Wawrila just because he firmly insists on reading even when he's threatened with death, and once captured two smugglers.
  • Big Eater: Many people, incl. the narrator
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Hamilkar Schass among the Kulkaker Füsiliere. Not being accustomed to military rules, he simply does whatever he likes. But at the end of the day, he catches two smugglers, while the Füsiliere had had daily (and often, nightly) smuggler alarms for years but never managed to catch one.
  • Close-Knit Community: The village Suleyken. How close? When one of them wants to go to the nearest city to buy a kilogram of nails, all the people in the village join him on the trip.
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  • Comically Missing the Point: When the circus comes to the village, the town's people are shocked to see a man throwing knives at a woman - but fortunately, he missed each time.
  • David vs. Goliath: Also in the circus, the strongman Bosniak challenges the people for a fight. Of all people, the tailor Karl Kuckuck accepts. Strangely, it works.
  • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: Commander Trunz lost one leg in the war (or, as he says, sacrificed it for the fatherland). When his men fall asleep during his lectures, he uses to take off his pegleg and hit them on the head with it.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: The people from Suleyken don't like it when Herr Kneck auf Knecken arrives with the plan to shoot their most impressing deer (a twenty-eight pointer!).
  • Faking the Dead: In the story of Alec Puch and his uncle Manoah. Alec has bought various foodstuff (on credit) to make an appropriate welcome meal for his uncle, telling the merchants that his uncle has returned to die and will leave Alec his ship. When the merchants see that the uncle's perfectly alive, they get suspicious. Then, Manoah suggests tricking the merchants and plays dead. The merchants seem to be fooled and leave. Then the trope gets subverted, because Manoah really died. As Alec admits, he wasn't prepared for such a trick.
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  • Food Porn: It's not fine cuisine, but you get a lot of it.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Masurian (a dialect group of Polish which absorbed many High and Low German, as well as some Old Prussian words).
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Commander Trunz of the Kulkaker Füsiliere. Quite appropriate since he is the equivalent of a Drill Sergeant Nasty. In Prussia, of all places. Do the math.
  • Location Theme Naming: The sons of Alec Puch. To be precise, he (nick)named them after the villages where they were born.
  • Ludd Was Right: "Appeal to Tradition" type. When a kleinbahn (light railway) is built to connect Suleyken with the rest of the world, the people are not pleased, and later use passive resistance (like blocking the rail with a herd of sheep) to make it clear the train is not welcome.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Stanislaus Skrrbik, the brother-in-law of the chinless innkeeper, who always stays in the bath. When aunt Arafa wants to take a bath, they have to throw out the geezer with the bathwater.
  • Of Corpse She's Alive: When aunt Arafa died during a coach trip. While one custom official gets suspicious, the cousins Urmoneit manage to "prove" she's not dead by insisting she's just sleeping. And afterwards, the carriage incl. her dead body is stolen. Seems this Urban Legend is Older Than Television.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: After Ludwig Karnickel asked an old woman named Elsbeth Zwiebulla for the future, she predicted among other things that a thin man on the coming fair may be shot through the shoulder, some drunken shooters may end up in a cesspit, and a woman may be thrown into water, all of these happen. (Saying "they become true" is redundant since she explicitly added the maybes.) For strange coincidence, Ludwig Karnickel is always involved. Later he states that "sometimes you have to make sure that everything happens", which hints at Self-Fulfilling Prophecy - although he only is responsible about the guys in his cesspit.
  • The Quiet One: The woodcutter Gritzan. If he speaks two full sentences, that's a lot for him. His idea of wooing a woman consists in offering her a bit of liqourice and showing her his baptismal certificate. Strangely, it works.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: What the "troops" of (probably self-styled) general Wawrila from the Rokitno marches want to do. Everyone in the village (even the animals) is afraid - except Hamilkar Schass.
  • Reincarnation: A man in the village claims that his soul will go to his favorite apple tree when he's dead. It sounds crazy, but when his young widow decides to have the tree cut, all the men whom she hires end up with injuries on their first try.
  • The Rival: The village of Schissomir for Suleyken
  • Satan: After Hamilkar Schass learned how to read, he gets so addicted to it that he claims he was the servant of "Zatangä Zitai" - the Satan of reading.
  • Serious Business: Hamilkar Schass won't even stop reading if there's a guy threatening to shoot him.
    • Also, when Stanislaw Griegull and Kukielka meet on a narrow road during winter driving their horsesleds. Neither is willing to move back to allow the other guy to pass. (The fact that Griegull won money from Kukielka in a bet figures in.) And the people from both villages support them (with food and everything). This goes on for... an exact time isn't given, but since the narrator states they didn't move until the railroad was built, we may be talking about years.
  • The Trickster: Alec Puch and his three sons.
    • Also the innkeeper Ludwig Karnickel, who decides to fool the hunter Kneck auf Knecken - with two men using a cow's hide to impersonate the deer. Strangely, it works.
  • Two Men, One Dress: Two men from the village, playing a deer, to fool Kneck auf Knecken.
  • Verbal Tic: People often use the diminutive "-chen" suffix, even for some words which never shold use a suffix. This is a very well-known feature of the East Prussian dialects of German.
  • A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: A literal example (well, the second part) with Hamilkar Schass, using a sheep's hide when he's hunting for smugglers. As are the two liquor smugglers whom he catches.


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