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Home Uncategorized The Swiss Laid Bare

The Swiss Laid Bare

Fergal Lenehan
The Naked Swiss: A Nation behind 10 Myths, by Clare O’Dea, Bergli Books, 194 pp, CHF 23.80, ISBN: 978-3905252903 Like many parents, my day’s end usually comprises slinking away from the sleeping children, followed by the pouring of a glass of red wine, the location of a comfortable place on the sofa, and, simply and wonderfully, watching some television. The televisual aspect of this humble evening pleasure is now laden with dread, however, as the Trump presidency dominates news cycles. I read Clare O’Dea’s concisely written and highly readable overview of the Swiss people and culture in the week of Trump’s inauguration. It now appears almost old-fashioned in this time of “alternative facts” and selective accusations of “fake news”. O’Dea’s approach is guided by the idea of objective truth, her writing “driven by a desire to get the facts straight, and for those facts to be fair and accurate”. A dedication to truth remains a reassuringly stable methodology in the present global context, even if many may have a problem with the author’s contention that she has got to know “the real Swiss” (is it possible to get to know the “real” anything?) O’Dea is a Dublin-born writer, journalist and translator, who has lived in Switzerland for the past thirteen years. With this book she also becomes the Irish counterpart of Basel-born Gabrielle Alioth, a writer, journalist and long-term resident of Ireland who has depicted her adopted country in a number of German-language works. O’Dea’s factual approach consists of three distinct but intertwined layers. The first is based upon extensive research in the historical, sociological and political literature on Switzerland (in English, German and French) from which she provides detailed but concise overviews of the various subjects tackled. The author also reads Russian and interesting Swiss-Russian vignettes are sprinkled throughout the text. The second layer is based upon interviews with disparate people, from a former president, to a Dutch-born athlete who represented Switzerland at the Olympics, to a literary-minded Fribourg street-sweeper. The author is unafraid of taking a position and personal pronouncements are aired, while impressions and images drawn from her daily working and personal life provide the occasionally poetic third layer of the text. O’Dea places ten stereotypes about Switzerland and the Swiss – she calls them at various times “assumptions”, “myths” and “clichés” – at the centre of her text, with the aim of testing “those clichés by…

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