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Book Review: "A Whole Life" by Robert Seethaler

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

5/5 stars

Perfect. Amazing. Stunning. Really made me think about life and what makes one happy. Seethaler's prose is simple yet powerful, and Andreas is a relatable, flesh-and-blood character who makes you feel for him. Immensely.

Andreas has always been alone. A bastard, he is taken in by a cruel man who forces him to do hard labour from an early age. The man also frequently hits him. Once, he hits him so hard that he breaks a bone. As a result, Andreas develops a permanent limp.

Once he reaches 18, however, Andreas fights back and leaves. He eventually becomes a labourer for different companies. Along the way, he meets different people, but no one really makes a large impact on his life except for his future wife, Marie, who works at a nearby inn.

She is one of the few people in the book who take an active interest in him. Similarly, she's one of the few people in his life who capture his heart. She inspires him to do things he's never done before, such as ask for a raise, since he wants to build a family with her.

Unfortunately, Marie soon dies, leaving Andreas to face the rest of his life alone. To give his life some semblance of meaning, he enrolls in the Second World War. Soon, he is caught by the Soviets and becomes a prisoner of war for the next eight years. He tries to make the best out of it, reasoning that he's just doing what he's always done - work, eat, and sleep.

After the war ends, Andreas is released. He goes back home, only to find that his former employer had shut down. He now needs a new career - and he manages to find one as a tour guide. He spends the next few decades of his life as a tour guide, observing tourists as they explore his mountain town but never quite getting close to anyone.

At the end of his life, Andreas wonders about his life. Was he satisfied? Although he has a limp and never had a loving family, he loved Marie. And he managed to survive WWII and become a tour guide. He concludes that he had a whole life, despite his rough start.

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