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Die groBe Beleidigung: Vier Erzahlungen. (Fiction).

Wolf Wondratschek. Die groBe Beleidigung: Vier Erzahlungen Munich. Hanser. 2001. 143 pages DM 28. ISBN 3-446-20026-6

HANSER HAS PUBLISHED four other books by Wolf Wondratschek, all of them appearing between 1969 and 1972, including poetry, radio plays, and prose. The slim collection Die groBe Beleidigung contains four character studies, titled "Giotto," "Auf dem Graben," "Die Erfindung eines glucklichen Menschen," and "Die groge Beleidigung." They focus on three men -- a director, a writer, a failed violinist -- and a mature Viennese woman.

The narrative technique is fluid, somewhat quirky, and unfamiliar throughout. A reader cannot be sure from whose perspective details are supplied; the chronology is often not clear, and there is no clearly conventional denouement. It is a tribute to Wondratschek's artistry that the reader cares very much about the fate of each protagonist.

All the stories include the notion that a person with a strong identity, whether conventionally likable or not, will create an idiosyncratic brand of reality, minimally shared by other people. All the protagonists cope with failure, loneliness, aging, and the creative process. Their worlds are apolitical and divorced from creature concerns. While they must all reconcile their past experiences with their present situations, they succeed at investing their lives with certain minimal satisfactions. Some of them may be perverse or unusual, but they are achieved.

The stories are also illustrative of the deep disjunctures of our time. The violinist is appallingly haunted by stage fright and fear of professional mediocrity. The director is sententious, pompous, isolated, physically weak, and passe. The anonymous woman whose leitmotiv and entree to past memories are the silk stockings in the window of a shop considers suicide, rejecting it only for shockingly superficial reasons. She copes with situations caused by the subordinate position of women. Finally, she concludes that the gentleman who has made himself her occasional companion has died, but only because he fails to appear at their weekly talk. Attending his funeral, she marks the end of her connection to any other human being as well as the end of a life so sensitive and selfless that the reader is not even sure the gentleman actually existed. Perhaps he did not.

The grim situation of Europeans or any people, cultured and cultivated, talented and artistic though they may be, who allow themselves only one acquaintance or who resolutely cut themselves off from all social intercourse is revealed with horrible clarity. Even the young author in "Die Erfindung eines glucklichen Menschen," caring for his young son while composing his fiction, sets the direction of future isolation for himself and his child by actions which could form the basis of a future story similar to "Giotto" for him and "Auf dem Graben" for his son.

Although there are four separate stories here, each creates pictures of frightening egotism and imbalance, even madness. A precarious status quo is achieved by each character, and each is certainly possessed of a creative mind. But each is also an abyss. Descending into any of them is a dizzying experience.
Erlis Wickersham
Rosemont College
COPYRIGHT 2001 University of Oklahoma
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wickersham, Erlis
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2001
Words:507
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