Swiss novelist Peter Stamm not always in it for the long haul

Swiss author Peter Stamm
Swiss author Peter StammAnita_Affentranger

In his new novel, “The Sweet Indifference of the World,” Swiss author Peter Stamm twines the stories of two strangers who happen to meet and find their lives are uncannily alike. Stamm’s award-winning novels have been translated into more than 30 languages. He was short-listed for the Booker International Prize, which honors a writer’s entire body of work, in 2013 and in 2014. He lives in Switzerland. “The Sweet Indifference of the World” is out this week.

Q. What’s the last American book you read?

A. “Everyman” by Philip Roth. I had only read one of his books, “The Dying Animal,” which I didn’t like at all. I always thought I should give him a second chance. I quite liked this one but he’s still not one of my favorite writers. Don DeLillo is one my favorites. I like his short ones, “The Names,” “The Body Artist,” and his last one, “Zero K.” He’s more experimental than most young writers. What I like is that he’s not just telling stories, but finding new ways to tell them.

Q. Is there a European author like that for you?


A. Not really. I just read “T Singer” by Dag Solstad. He’s also doing crazy stuff. It’s the story of a librarian. Solstad spends 10 pages covering just one hour and then covers 10 years in one sentence. He’s playing with time. I read some of Karl Ove Knausgaard and didn’t like it so much because he was just telling a life story. This is much more concerned about the form, not so much about the content.

Q. How would you describe yourself as a reader?

A. I read mostly fiction, mostly contemporary. I like short texts. I’m a very slow reader. It takes me months to read 1,000 pages so I really try to avoid that. There are some books that have to be long but often when I read a long book I think it could have done in half the pages.


Q. What’s a long novel you have liked?

A. “Snow” by the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. I started it three times. When I finally got over the first 50 pages, I liked the length because it was like living in a different world.

Q. What’s a long book you gave up on?

A. It’s the same for everyone, Joyce’s “Ulysses.” I wanted to read it in English but that was too difficult for me. There’s a great German translation but I don’t like to read translations unless I have to because I feel like you can lose a lot.

Q. What languages do you read in?

A. Just three. German, French, and English. It is easiest for me to read in German, of course. Sometimes, even though I’ve read something in English, I will read it in German too to see how it sounds in German. For example, Hemingway is one of my great favorites. When I read “A Farewell to Arms” in German it was a completely different book. In German it sounds quite vulgar, but in English it doesn’t seem like that.

Q. What will make you put a book down?

A. If I have a feeling that the writer is showing off. I had that feeling when I read Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” and I got so pissed off. I like his journalism much better.


Q. Which European authors do you wish were better known in the United States?

A. Markus Werner was the greatest Swiss living author until he died a few years ago. He wrote small books, which probably were not thick enough for an American market. Generally, in German-speaking countries we read 60 percent in translation. I think in America it’s only 3 percent. We essentially read the world, including authors from China or Latin America. Latin America is such an interesting place for literature right now. My favorite is Tomás González, a Colombian author.

Q. Do you own a book that might surprise someone?

A. I was collecting strange books for fun so I have a book about how to water-ski and books about ponies and horses. I found a book on flutes you play with your nose. In winter it would be hard to do that.

Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.