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Seven Years Paperback – March 22, 2011

3.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Swiss author Stamm (Agnes) examines the complications of love and attraction in this captivating novel. Alex and his gorgeous and brilliant wife, Sonia, run an architecture firm and have a lovely daughter. It is the life he always thought he deserved, but during the fateful seventh year of marriage Alex scratches a familiar itch with Ivona, an old flame who is so tremendously plain and boring that Alex considers himself too good for her, and yet, for reasons inexplicable, his attraction to her runs hotter than it ever has for Sonia. His revulsion toward Ivona's fundamental underwhelmingness gets a lengthy—at times, tediously so—examination, as does the magnetism that pulls him to her and his own fiery self-hatred. Ego, passion, and deception run wild, but the novel's strength is found in the characters Stamm has created: powerfully imperfect, sometimes despicable, horribly conflicted, and always believable far beyond the archetypes that too often pop up in novels of marital ennui. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

Alex is trapped between two loves in this heartbreaking novel translated from the German. Living in Munich as an architecture student, he finds himself surprisingly ambivalent about his desires for the future and his goals in life. Just after graduation, he falls in love with two women. Sonia is gorgeous, prudent, and driven. His warm love of Sonia quickly turns into marriage and the start of their jointly owned architecture firm. Ivona, on the other hand, is ugly and taciturn, yet it is her boring air and puerile notions of love that set off a spark in Alex. He begins a long, tormented affair with Ivona that eventually leaves her pregnant. When Sonia, infertile but desperately wanting children, agrees to raise Ivona�s baby with Alex as their own, Alex believes he can end the affair and rectify his marriage. But tensions escalate, and financial hardship, along with long-endured emotional estrangement, threatens to collapse their world. This touching novel is a tour of what makes love work and what tears love apart in the modern world. --Julie Hunt

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; Tra edition (March 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590513940
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590513941
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,444,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
Peter Stamm's Seven Years focuses on a German architect named Alex and, to a significantly lesser extent, on his wife (Sonia) and his paramour (Ivona). Told in the first person from the perspective of Alex, Seven Years chronicles Alex's relationship with Ivona from the time he meets her (before he starts dating Sonia) through the seventh year of his marriage. It is in essence a character study rather than a plot-driven novel.

When Alex first meets Ivona (a Polish Catholic who lives in a dorm and works in a book store) he isn't attracted to her. He thinks she's dumpy and boring, but as he walks her home he begins to feel an intense desire for her. Ivona is instantly in love with Alex but won't permit their relationship to become intimate until much later. Alex sees Ivona again during his engagement to Sonia and again after they marry. The lives of Alex, Sonia, and Ivona become complicated in another respect, but I don't want to provide any further details for fear of giving away the story.

While Seven Years held my interest, I failed to form an emotional or intellectual connection to the story or characters. The puzzle in Seven Years is Alex's seemingly uncontrollable desire for Ivona, a woman who in many ways repulses him. Since Sonia shows little passion for Alex it might be understandable if he turned to Ivona to meet that need, but Ivona displays even less passion than Sonia. What Ivona provides is unconditional devotion. Alex derives a feeling "of freedom and protectedness" from Ivona; she expects nothing from him, relieving him of the pressure to meet another person's needs. His life with her is an alternate reality, one that he can visit or leave as he chooses.
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Format: Paperback
The description on the back cover suggests a familiar story of adultery: husband, getting bored after seven years of marriage, looks for a younger and prettier woman elsewhere. And indeed there is something of this. But Swiss author Peter Stamm goes out of his way to minimize any normal comparisons between the women. Alexander, the first-person narrator, is married to Sonia, a fellow architect, but more brilliant, more determined than he is, from a wealthier family, beautiful, and self-assured. The other woman, Ivona, is actually an earlier acquaintance, an undocumented Polish worker, dowdy, inarticulate, religious, not at all attractive, yet familiar: "I had known her body in all its details, the heavy, pendulous breasts, the rolls of fat at her neck, her navel, the stray black hairs on her back, and her many moles. I knew how she smelled and tasted, how her body responded to touch. I knew its repertoire of familiar and less familiar movements."

The story does not even focus on that particular seven-year mark, but is a series of reminiscences, each about seven years apart, stretching back for 21 years in all, to around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Most of its action takes place in Munich, where Alexander and Sonia meet as students. An old friend who had been partly responsible for bringing the two of them together asks Alexander how they are doing. His answers over the next day or so take up most of the book, as he confesses his dithering between Sonia and Ivona before his engagement and his comparatively rare encounters after that time. Much of his story is not about Ivona at all, but concerns their marriage and the growth of their architectural firm, which at its height had over twenty employees. It is a world I happen to know, and Stamm captures it well.
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Format: Paperback
Alex is caught between two women: one, Sonja, highly desirable, intelligent and independent, and Iwona, drab, quiet, uneducated and totally dedicated. Sonja makes him feel inadequate and constrained, with Iwona he feels confident and free. He is married to one, but cannot let go of the other ... In his recent novel, SEVEN YEARS, Swiss author Peter Stamm explores the complications of intimate human emotions and relationships, seen primarily from the perspective of the man in the middle. Summing up the novel's gist at this overview level, it doesn't sound like much of a new or even appealing story. However, Stamm's writing is in an unexpected way catching; his ability to reflect, through the mind of his character Alex, on deeper layers of the human psyche, is meaningful and thought provoking beyond the actual story. Being both subject and object of his frequent musings, Alex's detached self-analyses are intriguing: they expose his shifting views of guilt and regret, his dithering between recognition of betrayal and hurt and assertion of breaking free and resolving the conundrums of his situation...

When the novel begins, Alexander has become a reasonably successful architect, especially since he teamed up in life and work with Sonja, his brilliant and ambitious friend from student days. Born into a modest family background, he lacks the confidence of some of his friends, who come from well-to-do families and exude self-assurance and behave accordingly. Sonja's family tends to look down on Alex, making him feel inferior and inadequate, despite his efforts to please and fit in.
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