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Hartmut Lange. Der Wanderer.

Hartmut Lange. Der Wanderer. Zurich. Diogenes. 2005. 117 pages. 17.90 [euro]. ISBN 3-257-06480-2

MATTHIAS BAMBERG, the protagonist of Hartmut Lange's brief story Der Wanderer, is undergoing something of a crisis. He is suffering not from writer's block but rather from an obsession with the minutiae of daily life, an obsession that, frustratingly, he is not able to exploit: he watches the smoke emitting from a neighboring chimney, fascinated by the way it changes color from snow-white to sulphur-yellow; he listens to the nocturnal goings-on directly above his Berlin apartment, where someone is walking back and forth and furniture is being moved around; and his wife has developed an irritating habit of clearing her throat. Bamberg's compulsive and wordy attempts to put all this to paper fail, and his editor advises him to sit down at his desk and find his old form again.

Bamberg's obsession is actually a heightened perspicacity for his environment, but he is more or less blind to the problems in his own home. His wife, for whom he shows little affection, is a translator, and somewhat envious of the recognition her husband receives in contrast to her humble billing. Bamberg suggests a short holiday, arranging to meet up with his wife at Paris's Orly airport and to travel on to Brittany. She never arrives, however, and Bamberg spends a dismal time in his hotel, where his mobile phone, despite a perilously flat battery, allows him a long conversation with his wife, from which the reader is excluded. (This highly effective technique of withholding information from the reader is typical for "Der Wanderer.") When he returns to Berlin, she has left him, leaving behind only a pair of leather pants. Bamberg's attempts to put together the various pieces of the puzzle confronting him lead him to look for his wife and her supposed lover in Cape Town. The particular charm of the story is that we are not certain that a puzzle even exists.

A literary allusion underlines Bamberg's writerly ambitions: his apparently aimless new style--up to the very end he tries to come to terms with his predicament by writing--goes hand in hand with a fascination for Heimito von Doderer's Die Strudelhofstiege. Bamberg even makes a pilgrimage to the famous Viennese staircase to recite the melancholy poem that prefaces Doderer's novel. But what are we to make of this? Surely Lange's novelle, ending as it does with the disappearance if not death of the protagonist in the African wilderness, is the exact opposite of Doderer's expansive, all-encompassing novel, with its equally detailed pre- and sequels? The answer lies in the Unbegreiflichkeiten, the "incomprehensibilities," impinging on Bamberg's life: here he takes his cue directly from Doderer.

Anyone who reads Der Wanderer and who has a penchant for incomprehensibilities will almost certainly want to read more by Hartmut Lange. Der Wanderer is an enticing story, which leaves much room for thought and poses questions for which there are no certain answers.

Andrew Williams

Bad Endorf, Germany
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Author:Williams, Andrew
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Words:499
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