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Christoph Simon. Zbinden's Progress.

Christoph Simon. Zbinden's Progress. Trans. Donal McLaughlin. And Other Stories, 2012. 172 pp. Paper: 10.00 [pounds sterling].

Thoreau's philosophical musings about walking are underdeveloped compared to those of Lukas Zbinden, the narrator of this short, life-affirming novel. Its style is so engaging that even the most jaded of readers who wants nothing to do with a novel about walking, the plot of which is nothing more than a walks slow progress, will be won over. In fact, "jadedness" is what Zbinden is crusading against. As an octogenarian in a Swiss nursing home, he has witnessed plenty of grumpiness and complaining. His firm belief is that a walk is the antidote for dreary minds. A retired schoolteacher, Zbinden agrees to lead a course on walking in his nursing home; he tells his aged students, "there's nothing worse than a jaded life ... walking is the way out." Ironically, a couple of his colleagues walk out on him at this point, but, characteristically, he is undaunted. Zbinden is a rare character: a rambling old man who commands the attention of his audience. He is narrating his story to the home's new worker, Kazim, who leads him very slowly downstairs. During their stroll, Zbinden expounds his philosophy on the joys of walking, but also knits together the touching and compelling story of his life, especially his love for his deceased wife Emilie and his difficulties with his son Markus. He and Emilie were both walkers, but in different ways: he loves the city, she loved the country. Markus loves cars, and scorns his parents' quaint pastime. Journeys nest within journeys within this book, but the primary one may be in pursuit of a means of reconciling individual differences to make a family whole. Like Kazim, most readers will find it easy to be patient as we listen to Zbinden, and most will be convinced that he's got it all figured out. [D. Quentin Miller]
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Author:Miller, D. Quentin
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2013
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