The Saturday Read ‘A Whole Life’ by Robert Seethaler

Too often we seek advice and counsel from the plethora of self-help books that line the shelves of bookstores. What we miss are the life lessons divulged under the guise of fiction.

The Saturday Read this week takes us to the Austrian Alps in 1933 to observe ‘A Whole Life’, the best selling German novel by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins.

The story is Andreas Egger’s, an everyman’s narrative of life, work, tragedy and values. It’s short, the perfect read for a plane trip or a couple of days commute. In this case brevity doesn’t diminish the tale. The simple, beautiful language reveals a literary character that will stay with you long after the story ends.

Throughout the book, the author stores small gems of wisdom, life lessons. In one scene, Andreas approaches the general manager of a construction site to negotiate a raise. Upon reaching agreement on a salary increase, Andreas promises to work even harder. The manager replies:

“You can buy a man’s hours off him, you can steal his days from him, or you can rob him of his whole life, but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment.”

After years in construction, and more years as a prisoner of war, Andreas returns to his village and eventually finds work as a hiking guide.

“Egger didn’t usually speak on his walks. ‘When someone opens their mouth they close their ears,’ Thomas Mattl had always said, and Egger was of the same opinion. Instead of talking, he preferred to listen to these people, whose breathless chatter revealed to him the secrets of other fates and opinions. People were evidently looking for something in the mountains that they believed they lost a long time ago. He never worked out what exactly this was, but over the years he became more and more certain that the tourists were stumbling not so much after him, but after some obscure, insatiable longing. 

In the closing pages, we observe Andreas in retirement, at the end of his ‘whole life’.

“Once a week he went down to the village to get matches and paint, or bread, onions, butter. He had realized long ago that people there speculated about him. When he set off for home…he would see them out of the corner of his eye, putting their heads together and starting to whisper behind his back. Then he would turn around and give them the blackest look of which he was capable. Yet in truth he didn’t much care about the villager’s opinions or their outrage. To them he was just an old man who lived in a dugout, talked to himself, and crouched in a mountain stream to wash every morning. As far as he was concerned, though, he had done all right, and thus had every reason to be content… In his life he too, like all people had harboured ideas and dreams. Some he had fulfilled for himself; some had been granted to him. Many things had remained out of reach, or barely had he reached them than they were torn from his hands again. But he was still here. And in the mornings after the first snowmelt, when he walked across the dew-soaked meadow outside his hut and lay down on one of the flat rocks scattered there, the cool stone on his back and the first warm rays of sun on his face, he felt that many things had not gone so badly after all.”

Reviewers have noted the book’s unique appeal as an understated novel in a publishing world sustained by hype and celebrity. Eileen Battersby concluded her analysis for the Irish Times with “No praise is too high for A Whole Life. Its daunting beauty lingers. This is a profound, wise and humane novel that no reader will forget.”

I agree.

The book, published in 2015 and shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize will be published in the U.S. in September.


The week@work – It’s in the stars: Hollywood stories, #YearInSpace & 18,300 applications

The stories behind the headlines this week@work originate in Hollywood, Geneva, Washington D.C., and on the International Space Station.

The careers of a U.S. deputy trade ambassador and an executive editor for the Washington Post converge in Hollywood, astronaut Scott Kelly captures the final week of his #YearInSpace in photos, and 18,300 applicants aspire to take his place.


Would you get up at 4:30 AM every day to pursue your dream? Alexandra Alter reported on a ‘behind the scenes’ Hollywood story about working beyond your ‘day job’.

One of the most successful global trade negotiators added a few hours to his work day 17 years ago to write a novel about fur trader Hugh Glass. His book, ‘The Revenant’ was published in 2002 and sold 15,000 copies. Last year publisher Picador reissued the novel, selling over half a million copies.


Michael Punke, the deputy United States Trade Representative and the United States ambassador to the World Trade Organization and author, has become a rock star among colleagues in global trade.

“We all think it’s quite cool,” said Keith Rockwell, a spokesman for the W.T.O., who added that colleagues occasionally tease Mr. Punke by asking him how his buddy Leo is doing. “The W.T.O. isn’t normally known for having a Hollywood connection.”

Some of his colleagues marvel that he has such a successful side career, while steering the country’s international trade policy from his post in Geneva.

“The guy is so talented, you read his bio, and it’s like he has two lives,” said Christopher Wenk, the executive director for international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”

Joining Ambassador Punke at the Dolby Theater on Oscar night is current Washington Post executive editor and former Boston Globe editor Martin Baron.

In November, Esquire Magazine ran a career profile asking ‘Is Martin Baron the Best News Editor of All Time?’. In the Oscar nominated film, ‘Spotlight’, actor Liev Schreiber’s performance channels the editor who led the Pulitzer Prize winning team investigating the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.


This week, Mr. Baron used his time in the Oscar ‘spotlight’ to reflect on the long term rewards of the film and journalism today, ‘I’m in ‘Spotlight’, but it’s not really about me. It’s about the power of journalism.’

“Aside from the acclaim of critics, “Spotlight” already has delivered one gratifying result. In emails, tweets and Facebook posts, journalists have declared themselves inspired, buoyed and affirmed. That is no small matter in this badly bruised profession. We have felt the traumatizing financial effect of the Internet and been berated by just about everyone, especially politicians in a campaign season that has seen us cynically labeled “scum.”

One journalist wrote me that “the story that inspired the movie serves as a wonderful, wonderful reminder why so many of us got into this business in the first place and why so many stayed despite all the gloom and doom and all the left hooks that landed squarely on our chins along the way.”

The article is required reading for all who earn a living pursuing a journalism career. It should be framed on the walls of journalism schools and be the first google search result on the world ‘journalism’.

Two additional stories about work in Hollywood this week addressed the ongoing conversation on inclusion:

‘From C-Suite to Characters on Screen: How inclusive is the entertainment industry?’ USC Annenberg professor Stacy L. Smith authored the MDSC Initiative’s first report on diversity in the entertainment industry.

Melena Ryzik profiled 27 industry professionals in ‘What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood*  (*If you’re not a straight white man.)’

Before leaving the week@work, let’s travel to the International Space Station where astronaut Scott Kelly is completing his 240 day mission in space.


“10,944 sunrises and sunsets

“The International Space Station zips around Earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour, or once every 90 minutes. That means over the course of Mr. Kelly’s stay, the space station will have made 5,440 orbits, and the sun will have gone up and down 10,944 times from the perspective of the astronauts aboard. Of course, Mr. Kelly did not see all of them. He is not continuously looking out the window, and he sleeps, too.”

(Scott Kelly tweeted the photo above of sunrise on February 27 and ice earlier today)CcT9mfcW4AAZFvx.jpg

NASA announced this week that it had received 18,300 applications for 14 open spots in the new astronaut class. The recruiting effort which began in the fall demonstrates a rekindled interest in exploration and discovery.

“Now that NASA’s Feb. 18 deadline for applicants has passed, the agency’s 18-month winnowing process has begun.

NASA staff will look at 400 to 600 applicants who survive the initial purge and identify those who pass reference and background checks. Then 120 will be invited to the Johnson Space Center for interviews.

The final 14 will be announced in July 2017 and begin two years of extensive training on spacecraft systems, spacewalking skills, team building and Russian language. Those who complete the program will be assigned to NASA’s Orion deep space exploration ship, the International Space Station or one of two commercial vehicles in development.”

As @StationCDRKelley vacates his spot on the ISS, it’s good to know there are thousands who hope to fill his seat.

This week@work – it’s in the stars, and the dreams of those who aspire to be actors, film makers, journalists, writers, astronauts, and international trade negotiators.