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Die Wuste Lop Nor.

Raoul Schrott. Die Wuste Lop Nor. Munich. Hanser. 2000. 123 pages. DM 28. ISBN 3-446-29922-7.

RAOUL SCHROTT HAS MADE a name for himself as a poet, a translator of poetry from many languages, and an anthologist. With Die Wuste Lop Nor he presents another prose work, following the novel finis terrae, which appeared in 1995. He calls his most recent publication a novella. It is a novella in postmodern fashion: we do not have a plot that develops up to a certain point where the outcome, favorable or unfavorable, is decided. Instead, we have 101 installments -- "chapters" would be too pretentious a term, since some are no longer than two-and-a-half lines (though still allotted an entire page).

We do have a protagonist, however: Raoul Louper, who was born on a French island near Toulon and now lives alone in Egypt, in a fishing village near Cairo. Once a week he visits a Hungarian professor in the city who shares his interest in sand dunes. During these evenings, Louper tells him episodes from his life that center on his pursuit of dunes and on the three women who once shared his life. Louper had left the first two, Francesca and Arlette, for extended periods of time when he traveled to distant places in search of yet more dunes. Eventually, those women in turn opted to leave him. The third, Elif, joined him on an arduous expedition to China, where they visited the "cave of a thousand Buddhas" in the desert of Lop Nor. The relationship did not survive the trip.

Schrott's predilection for locating his texts in as many different places as possible was evident in Tropen, a 1998 collection of poems and commentaries (see WLT 74:1, p. 150), as it is obvious here. The short episodes take the reader from Japan to France, Egypt, Canada, California, Argentina, Peru, and back to Egypt and Japan. They are not told in coherent sequences; instead, they are constantly interrupted by descriptions of natural phenomena, which have always captured Schrott's imagination.

In Tropen these phenomena were light and colors; in Die Wuste Lop Nor they are sand and dunes. The colors of sand, the shapes of the dunes, even the sounds around and beneath them, all fascinate Raoul. Legends and fairy tales of monasteries buried in the sands of the Sinai, or of unfortunate lovers who are remembered as lying beneath the sands and the lake of Lop Nor, are integrated into the text. The latter is a tale Louper tells Arlette and, in a slight variation, Elif, who wanted to hear a story that would later become reality. It is this account that inspires her to travel with Louper to China.

Scientific terms and exotic names of people and places abound. As if to give proof that the locations really exist, three maps are appended to the text. The novella's characters take second place to the geography. We learn next to nothing about the women except that they are attractive. When Louper is mentioned for the first time, he is identified as half-Jewish, a statement that is left undeveloped and thus rendered irrelevant.
Sigrid Bauschinger
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Bauschinger, Sigrid
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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