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8 December 2021updated 09 Dec 2021 1:40pm

Isabel Waidner: This random children’s book might have brought about my own non-traditional writing

The Sams series is built around a German linguistic constraint: to take the name of each weekday literally and see what that does for the narrative.

By Isabel Waidner

I had the sequel first: Am Samstag kam das Sams Zurück (1980). I was six, somewhere in the provincial south of – then – West Germany. It wasn’t a rare nor particularly literary book. No special book chosen especially for me. This was the big German children’s book that year, the follow-up to Eine Woche voller Samstage published seven years prior.

The Sams series of children’s books is built around a linguistic constraint that doesn’t translate. The idea is to take the name of each weekday literally and see what that does for the narrative: on Sunday (Sonntag), the sun shone for protagonist Taschenbier – an archetypically law-abiding, prissy German accountant. On Monday (Montag), our man receives a visitor, an old school friend called, of all things, Herr Mon who comes with a bunch of poppies (mohnblumen). On Tuesday (Dienstag, literally “workday”), Taschenbier goes to work. Unsurprisingly, Wednesday (Mittwoch, “midweek”) is the middle of the week. On Thursday (Donnerstag, “thunderday”), a storm draws up and, guess what, it thunders! On Friday (Freitag, “freeday”), Taschenbier is off work. Following the pedantic German logic the novel mobilises and arguably ridicules, everything pointing towards the fact that, on Saturday (Samstag being the only weekday without immediate denotation) a “Sams” would arrive: a small red-haired humanoid with a mobile trunk and blue spots on its face takes over Taschenbier’s life, only to disappear at the end of book one. The sequel focusses on Taschenbier’s project to recreate the conditions for the Sams to return. On Monday, he pesters Herr Mon to revisit – and don’t forget to bring mohn flowers please! On thunderday, Taschenbier bangs oven trays with a rolling pin to artificially produce thunder. He skips a day’s work on freeday, until, finally, on samsday, the Sams reappears.

I don’t want to over-interpret or over-emphasise individualised agency, but this random children’s book might have helped bring about my own tendency to pursue Fitzcarraldo-style projects, like making it thunder on a sunny day – or, in my case, writing novels as a thoroughly non-traditional writer.

Isabel Waidner’s novel “Sterling Karat Gold” (Peninsula Press) won the 2021 Goldsmiths Prize

Eine Woche voller Samstage by Paul Maar (1973)

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This article is part of our “The children’s books that shaped us” series. Read more reflections from our writers here.

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