[Saturday Reads] Fleeing One’s Destiny Only To Run Smack Into It in German Play “Leonce and Lena” by Georg Büchner illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

SaturdayReads

Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.


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I found this book by accident while I was searching our libraries for books that would fit into our reading theme. Seeing that it was from Germany, I grabbed it from our shelves (not to mention the fact that Zwerger was the illustrator). Having spent two months in Munich, I can not help but miss the city. And so here is a little taste of the place with this amusing award-winning play by Georg Büchner.

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Leonce and Lena

Written by: Georg Büchner Illustrations by: Lisbeth Zwerger Retold by: Jürg Amann
Published byNorth South, 2013 ISBN: 0735841411 (ISBN13: 9780735841413)
Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library Library. Book photos taken by me. 

Based on Georg Büchner’s critically-acclaimed play of the same title, Jürg Amann retold this amusingly-exaggerated tale to make it more accessible to young readers. Lisbeth Zwerger’s luminous art has rendered it a fairy-tale vibe which is just about perfect given the star-crossed nature of the story with a prince and a princess attempting to escape their destiny.

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As can be seen in the image above, Zwerger has remained true to its theatrical nature with a story-within-a-story packaging to the narrative. The stage, the audience, the props all add to the amusingly-clever word play and philosophical meanderings, especially as revealed by King Peter of Popo, my favourite character in this play.

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King Peter’s son, Prince Leonce is about to get married to a Princess he has not met before. And King Peter has decreed that everyone should be happy during this fateful occasion, and he would make absolutely certain that this is what happens, because it is his decree, after all. Prince Leonce, however, is unhappy about this. And so he ran away. Unbeknownst to him, his bride-to-be, Princess Lena, is also as miserable as he is with the arrangement, and has likewise decided to run away.

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It is perhaps a cruel twist of fate that Leonce and Lena, who are running away from each other, happened to meet in the same inn where they sought refuge, to escape their destiny.

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The story is termed as “a comedy of protest” – as was clarified in the Afterword:

On the surface it would seem that George Büchner is following the Shakespearian tradition of the comedy of mistaken identities. However, in Büchner’s play the identity problem goes a step further, because its central theme is dissatisfaction with the self and its restrictions. This is apparent at all times, even at the very beginning, when Leonce sighs: “Oh, if only we could just be someone else for a change!”

We are confronted here with a modern form of alienation. In a virtuoso display of finely tuned irony, Büchner is protesting against preconditioned and restrictive concepts of both individual and social life.

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While perhaps some of the allusions may be lost to young readers, I assure you that it makes for a hugely entertaining read, and one that parents would enjoy reading to their children: in various voices, of course.

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