Joachim Fest


Joachim Fest's "Contre-jour"

the big head

[note: I’ve been reading the German original]

The story: in the early 1980s, Joachim Fest is considered one of Germany’s finest intellectuals. He is best known for writing a biography on Adolf Hitler (and for being super cozy with Hitler’s “only friend” Albert Speer). However, at this time, not many people have recognized him as a travel writer.

Joachim Fest’s unhappiness

This book is about a series of trips Joachim Fest takes to Italy. And it is a heavy read. Fest is upset that there are too many tourists around (what is he himself if not a tourist?). He is upset that monuments and museums are not being taken good care of. He constantly quotes the classics, and he makes a lot of socio-political references. And sometimes he sits in a café and enjoys it.


Another thing that makes this read a rather slow one is Fest’s love for nominal sentences. A lot of slow writing in his book. Some distance between the reader and the narrator. Italian journeys without storylines. Deep stuff from a great mind.

To be fair, though: when he’s at his best, Fest writes in a pleasantly poetic style. And he knows his stuff, be it classical literature, history, or the “highbrow” parts of contemporary culture.

who might want to read this

Fest’s feat of traveling around Italy is nothing. His storytelling is okayish, but his writing style can be pretty good at times. He does, however, provide a ton of insights and observations.

If you’re into the intellectual side of tourism in Italy, read this book.

Also read: Patrick Leigh Fermor, for an educated travelogue that’s less annoying.