Reading like a meditation on life, Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life chronicles the journey of Andreas Eggers, from the time he is delivered as a four year old orphan to the small mountain farm until his death at seventy-nine. Although his life is ordinary, Eggers daily approach to enduring, one day at a time, is inspirational and heroic. Translated from German, A Whole Life is a short book of less than one hundred sixty pages, yet Andreas Eggers’ quiet life resounds with a calm philosophy.
Andreas lives his whole life in the Austrian Alps, a quiet man of very few words. When he falls in love with Marie, he lights her name at dusk across the mountain with bags of paraffin to ask her to marry him. After she dies in an avalanche, pregnant with their first child, a heart-broken Andreas leaves his valley and later joins the German Army to fight in WWII. After many years as a prisoner in Russia, he returns to find that his remote village has been modernized.
As he reinvents himself, from cable car laborer to soldier to mountain tour guide, Andreas finds an appreciation for his simple and solitary life. Although other people’s actions may confuse him, Andreas remains true to himself – always the calm, thoughtful, introspective man – with a limp from a childhood beating.
“You can buy a man’s hours off him, you can steal his days from him…but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment. That’s the way it is…”
Through ordinary moments in the life of a man who ” thought slowly and walked slowly; yet every thought, every word and every step left a mark precisely where…such marks were supposed to be,” Seethaler demonstrates how each life matters, and how – sometimes without realizing – we influence and are influenced by the examples of ourselves and others.
Although A Whole Life was published in 2014, I eagerly awaited the translation into English and its availability last month. Pre-ordering the book to my iPhone, I let it rest there – until I was not in the mood to read anything. The ideas of this short contemplative story seem to have jogged my reading inertia. The character of Andreas Eggers is memorable and soothing in his simplicity. We all do what we do to get through the days – some better, some worse, but mostly ordinary.