Printer Friendly



Jurg Amann. Ikarus. Zurich. Arche. 1998. 144 pages, ill. DM 34. ISBN 3- 71602-244-6.

Ikarus immediately calls to mind the mythical tale of the genius inventor/artist and his sun-addicted son whose flight with attached wings from Minoan captivity ends in catastrophe. The myth provides a wide range of archetypes and has been interpreted in many varieties: as a symbol for the dangers of technological progress, as a warning of juvenile overestimation, as a parable for utopian thought and for the daring of crossing border lines.

Jurg Amann retells this myth once again, but this time disguised as a partly tragic, partly grotesquely funny novel rich in imagery about an unmotorized human attempt to take to the skies. In Ikarus father and son live in a historically undefined, so to speak timeless epoch on a remote farm in Switzerland, where they observe birds, collect feathers, and fly kites. What starts as a way of passing the time grows into an obsession that finds its climax in mile-high flights with self- constructed hot-air balloons.

Although the father-unlike the hero's father in Greek mythology-dies during the first flight with the balloon, he and the other characters of Amann's novel can be regarded as well-developed protagonists who are surrounded by an aura of immortality. Both father and son survive flight attempts others would consider suicidal: they break their arms and legs, sprain their hands and ankles, squash their ribs and coccyx. It is sheer luck that they do not break their necks: "Das wir mit einem blauen Auge davonkamen, war, wenn wir einen Blick auf die Wracks unserer Flug-Zeuge taten, ein Wunder." Here Amann subtly but very effectively supplies Ikarus with drastic comic elements-this the more when he repeatedly involves the astonished and disturbed neighborhood in the small tour de force of his heroes' ascents and crash landings.

The first passages of Ikarus can be irritating because of the author's obsessive use of details with regard to ornithological observations, basics of physics, and technical instructions on how to build various flying objects (known ones, not unknown). But in the course of the novel one comes to realize that Amann tries to set a cold language free from its technical implications and rewrite it with the help of a butterfly on a wheel. As a result, the lines between scientific and poetic language become blurred, mix, and vanish. The precise, laconic, and sometimes slightly absurd wit of those parts proves the fact that Amann has the awareness and the ability to release a language from the burden of its technical ballast the more his protagonists reach the skies' unlimited heights.

Although he won the Ingeborg Bachmann Award at the beginning of the 1980s, the Swiss Jurg Amann remained a quiet yet sympathetic and persistent figure in a loud literature business. Ikarus once again underlines his stylistic precision which results in a most agreeable, unsensational literary beauty.

Harald Leusmann

Anderson University

Alois Brandstetter. Gros in Fahrt. Salzburg. Residenz. 1998. 192 pages. DM 38/S 278. ISBN 3-7017-1112-7.

Friedrich Schlegel remarks in one of the better known of his so-called Critical Fragments that some novelists keep writing the same novel over and over again, that, despite appearances and publishers' disclaimers to the contrary, they are actually writing a single novel in several volumes or installments. This observation certainly holds true of the novels (or of the novel, rather) of Alois Brandstetter, in terms of both their/its characteristic subject matter and approach. From his first appearance as a novelist in Zu Lasten der Brieftrager (Postmen's Charges) some twenty-five years ago to his most recent appearance (here), the primary subject of his fiction has always been the manifold foibles of humanity (especially the foibles of Homo austriacus) as narrated, usually in a series of loosely associated digressions in lieu of plot, by a persona sharing many (though by no means all) of the generally conservative views expressed in Brandstetter's more explicitly discursive prose.

Not that one would ever wish Brandstetter's novel(s) to have fewer chapters (they never have any) or shorter ones, for he is unquestionably the finest comic novelist writing in German today and one of the greatest satirists writing anywhere. (Unfortunately only one of his novels, The Abbey, is so far available in English translation.) This is not to say that he merely lashes-or, in the case of Vienna, bashes-his victims with immense gusto; he also often includes himself in the ironic fun, as he does in this novel too when he has his narrator, a retired Greek teacher and maniacal monologist from Carinthia, presenting himself as a man of few words while at the same time accusing his brother Franz of incurable logorrhea. Sometimes, however, Brandstetter also manages to make his personae (and himself) mildly heroic, though usually that heroism is so unprepossessing as to be hardly noticeable. So, for example, the point of a remark near the beginning of the novel about the link between Saint Aloysius (i.e., Alois in German, also Brandstetter's Christian name) and purity becomes fully intelligible only toward the very end of the book when we are told of another brother's unsuccessful attempt to start a dry-cleaning business. In German, the word Reinigung is used for both cleaning and purification. To cleanse, indeed, is not only brother Karl's but also the narrator's mission in life (and behind him Alois's), but it is to cleanse the mind and the soul rather than mere clothes; it is purification or moral catharsis. That is why he is so obsessed with words and their origins, for, as with Heidegger, his purpose is to reveal the truth hidden in and behind words, a purpose for which Heidegger uses an appropriately Greek word-significantly, also the same word from which the name Aloysius is derived-aletheia. (Heidegger, however, is never mentioned in the novel by name.)

That is also why the Greek word anecdote plays so prominent a role in this novel, in terms of both its structure and its meaning. For, as the narrator is careful to point out, the root meaning of anecdote refers literally to "unpublished things," or, as he goes on to elaborate, to "background information," to the often suppressed and unpleasant truths behind pretentious or seemingly innocuous facades. The fact that the book consists largely of a series of "anecdotes" relating to Franz Gros's (the narrator's brother's) change of jobs from chauffeuring Viennese politicos to driving an ambulance in the provinces is clearly meant to make public "unpublished things" (i.e., the truth) about how political VIP's (and, by extension, bigwigs of all sorts) really behave and why. (In ferreting out phonies, one might note in passing, Brandstetter's characters often possess noses that rival Holden Caulfield's). But it is not only Heidegger who comes to mind; it is also Plato, for Franz's "anecdotes" are usually made "public" to his siblings in occasional meetings that are only half-humorously referred to as "symposia." And as in the Symposium, truth is no mere abstraction. From the recognition (publication?) of truth there follows the inevitable demand to do something about it. From anekdota a necessary next step (or leap) must be made, as the narrator puts it, to metanoia, to an alteration of one's life. That is why Franz's career is paradigmatic for this novel: he has changed his life. He has responded to Rilke's demand, also specifically cited in the novel, "Du must dein Leben andern" (You must change your life). And, finally, that is also why Gros in Fahrt bears its multivalent title, because the Viennese fat cats need to be ferried about in limousines; because (Franz) Gros is "on the move," to another job, to a greater truth, to (in the end) another world; because gros is also (in German) "great," for Franz has the courage to seek the truth and to act upon it; and because, as always, Alois Brandstetter the novelist has once again shown himself to be in top form-or gros in Fahrt.

Peter Firchow

University of Minnesota

Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Wo warst du, Robert? Munich. Hanser. 1998. 279 pages, ill. DM 34. ISBN 3-446-19447-9.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger is an admirable example of the writer as consistent critic of his times at the highest analytic level, and even those (and I confess to being one of them) who, over the years, have viewed his irritating, chameleonlike about-faces with suspicion- Norwegian solitude and sugar harvesting in Cuba, snobbism and socialism, poet and doomsayer of all poetry, sometimes highly original and sometimes naive editor, et cetera-have always had to admire his intellectual brilliance and his astute sense of the topical. Have these qualities failed the author this time?

Fifteen-year-old Robert, bored by his suburban family and life, develops the ability to move backward in time when he rubs his eyes, and so he sets out on a time-trip which, in seven journeys, leads him "in den Schacht der Zeiten," all the while keeping his modern consciousness: Novosibirsk 1956 (the misery of communism and the sinister business of the KGB-this from Enzensberger!), the Australian outback 1946 (child actors and Jewish German migrants), Munich 1930 (the political tensions of the Weimar Republic and a visit to his long- dead great-grandparents), Norway 1860 (foundling among the strictly Christian bourgeoisie-touches of Ibsen?), a tiny German principality 1701 (in love with a princess, assistant of a philosopher-touches of Leibniz?), the Alsace 1638 (robber among robbers), Amsterdam 1621 (apprentice to a painter). The book is lovingly illustrated with visual material from the respective historical periods.

As always, Enzensberger is a first-class stylist, though in this instance he sounds a little old-fashioned perhaps (as the brief quote above attests to). I found the switches from scene to scene the cleverest parts of the story: Robert looks at a TV program, a film, a picture, et cetera, and by becoming part of it jumps into a new environment. There appear to be two central psychological insights in the book which are, however, not outright revolutionary at the end of the twentieth century: Robert's puzzlement that he can be so many characters in one ("Wer bin ich eigentlich, fragte sich Robert?"), and the disconcerting acknowledgment "das die Menschen zu allen Zeiten fahig waren, ganz gleich, welche Jahreszahl man schrieb-zu den schlimmsten Schweinereien ebenso wie zu den grosten Wundertaten."

The problem with the book may be selling it. It is difficult to see whom Enzensberger imagined as his potential readers when writing it. Adults are likely to find the stories a little naive and not particularly instructive, while teenagers accustomed to wilder, more exotic fare such as science fiction may find them insipid. And alas, it must be acknowledged: Erich Kastner (Der 35. Mai) was more original with a boy's dreamlike journey, and Mark Twain had much more fun being A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Christian Grawe

University of Melbourne

Manfred Peter Hein. Fluchtfahrte. Zurich. Ammann. 1999. 216 pages. DM 38. ISBN 3-250-10392-6.

Readers alert to twentieth-century history will relate to the substance, if not necessarily the style, of Manfred Peter Hein's autobiographical Erzahlung. Fluchtfahrte deals with one person's experience of the Nazi era, the war of 1939-45, and the consequences of both. For the book's first section and the epilogue the locale is East Prussia and, in a broader sense, northeastern Europe generally; the second section plays out in the heart of Germany.

Hein (b. 1931) begins his memoir as of 1938, taking us to the geographic source of the war at a time when he and his playmates were ardent members of the Hitler Youth and later the Napola, the special school for "promising" young Nazi partisans. Hein and his equally fanatical father envisioned a homestead in the conquered territories after the hoped-for defeat of the Red Army. Young Hein experiences the early victories and subsequent rout of the Wehrmacht and tells of the Russian campaign with all the passion of a youngster growing up near the border with the Slav peoples, stirred by the hype of the Polish irredenta, the frontier chauvinism, the jingoism of his peer group in the Napola, fear for his father's safety, and hatred of the Slav enemy. His family, belonging to the select Germans promised a future colonial settlement in the conquered lands, feels the debacle doubly hard. The chaotic and bitter trek back West is described in chilling detail.

In many ways the book's second section, dealing with the family in Hessen, is the best part. Its unflinching prose and captivating memories make one overlook the spate of names and places with which the reading public can have little association. In the epilogue we see Hein, now twenty-seven years old, returning to the Baltic corner of Europe and discovering the truth of the saying "You can't go home again." Rethinking his checkered childhood and adolescence, he sees the madness of adhering to the Hitler cult and begins to turn toward new and better axiological directions. A fresh deal all around is in the offing for his young life. If ever an author has written a book to find peace through catharsis, Hein is that author. It is clear that the title has a dual meaning: the flight of the Hein family to escape from the Russians; and the author's personal, moral flight from his past adulation of the Nazi perversion into a healthier mental state.

It seems that memoirs are "in" at the moment, not only on the American literary scene but in Germany as well. Not all readers, however, will be completely happy with Hein's snappy, strapping, staccato style, particularly in the first section. But perhaps they will realize that an East Prussian cannot write a book about East Prussia in the manner of a gemutlich Bavarian sitcom. Still, the combination of Nazi jargon and Hohenzollern barracks German may turn off a number of readers, readers who may otherwise have had some positive feelings for young Hein, no matter how loyal an apostle of the Fuhrer he may have been at the age of twelve.

In an earlier review I wrote that a certain author had abandoned his illusions in order that he might better attain his ideals. That same feeling took hold of my thoughts here, only more so.

Robert Schwarz

Florida Atlantic University

Thomas Hurlimann. Der grose Kater. Zurich. Ammann. 1998. 236 pages. DM 38. ISBN 3-250-60025-3.

On 19 July 1979 the Spanish king and his wife are on a state visit to Switzerland. Their hosts are the Swiss president-usually called Kater (tomcat) by the narrator-and his wife Marie. The action of the novel takes place within a space of less than twenty-four hours, but the narration is interrupted by numerous flashbacks and is followed by a sort of coda extending over several years.

The plot, in its barest outline, is as follows: on the evening of 19 July there will be a reception and a state dinner, hosted by Kater and Marie. On the following morning the king and Kater are to witness some flying and bombing exercises by the Swiss air force, and the queen is to visit a children's hospital, accompanied by Marie. This "ladies' program" has been arranged by Pfiff , the head of the security police and Kater's lifelong rival. Pfiff knows that one of the patients in the children's hospital is Kater and Marie's seven-year-old son, who is incurably and mortally ill. When Marie hears on the evening news what role has been assigned to her for the next day, she refuses to attend the reception for the royal couple, but she eventually does show up for the state dinner. In the course of a long theological discussion with the papal nuncio, she first raises the fundamental question of why an omniscient and all-beneficent (allgutig) god permits innocent children to die a painful death. Later she charges that her husband is destroying his family by his actions. Finally, turning to the queen, she reveals that her dying child is lying in the very clinic which they are to visit the following morning. Marie's breach of etiquette and intrigues within the government bring about Kater's resignation, even though the remainder of the state visit proceeds smoothly.

The conflict throughout is between the perceived requirements of protocol and economic and political interests, on the one hand, and basic human needs on the other. In this sense the title "The Great Tomcat" can only be understood as irony. Kater is not great. He is fundamentally weak, unable to cut through the machinations of his rival and his subordinates to protect his child and his wife. Kater's weakness is explained and attenuated during the many flashbacks which recount his family background, his education in a Catholic boarding school (where intellect and creativity were suppressed and mediocrity and pliability were encouraged), and his rise to prominence in the Conservative Party.

The convoluted description of Kater's life from childhood to the fateful day in July 1979 is repeatedly interrupted by the fundamental question Unde malum? (Where does evil come from?). Whenever Kater asks this question, his premise is an "all-beneficient" god. He asks himself this question for the first time when he is a young boy, looking at a small cat which his father has brutally smashed against the ground and which is in great pain and seems to be dying. At that time he leaves the question unanswered, but he is able to nurse the cat back to life. Years later, as his own son lies mortally ill, Kater asks the question again, but does not or cannot shield the child from the prying eyes and cameras attendant upon a royal visit to the hospital.

Kater is an infuriating protagonist, but the questions raised in Thomas Hurlimann's fascinating novel will stay with the reader for a long time.

Franz P. Haberl

Cardigan, P.E.I., Canada

Angela Kraus. Sommer auf dem Eis. Frankfurt a.M. Suhrkamp. 1998. 104 pages. DM 28. ISBN 3-518-40993-X.

With fantastic precision, the narrator of Sommer auf dem Eis (Summer on the Ice) describes the process of wrenching beauty and meaning from a world where the external reality seems to mitigate against their possibility. Indeed, she identifies the necessity of this effort as the first truth she recognized in life ("Es ist das erste, was man versteht"). This process both informs and sustains her ongoing love affair with life, throughout all its seemingly insurmountable challenges.

The potential for disjuncture in this venture already emerges in the beetle's-eye view of the initial and recurrent backdrop; from a grassy space on the outskirts of the Bitterfeld industrial complex, one eye perceives the wasteland of factory buildings and waste ponds (Schlammteiche) harboring poisonous industrial effluent; the other spies the narrator reclined on a blanket as she meditates on her sleeping lover. But as the surroundings evoke reflection, scenes from the past superimpose themselves upon the moment so compellingly, as she says, that memories and present visions spread out horizontally before her in one time plane. Their contemplation engenders an esthetic and ethical coherence that is the key to sustaining her life energy.

Without trying to summarize the complex stream of images, I would like to lift out two particularly vivid ones that articulate this mental landscape, which encompasses scenes of childhood in East Germany as well as assaults on self-identity posed by the social and economic aftermath of 1989. The first image, alluded to in the story's title, emerges from childhood experiences of ice-skating: the narrator reflects on the power of the curve to hold in balance the centripetal and the centrifugal forces, just as a dynamic center of gravity emerges in the curve of self-awareness as one moves through the stages of life. The presence of a skating partner and mentor introduces new possibilities for intersection with other lives.

The narrator's affirmation of life against entropy, however, is sorely tried by the forces of social and economic disruption in post-1989. Just when the realities of unemployment and breakdown of communication bring the narrator to the abyss, she has a vision of a cruise ship on the waste-water pond. Finding herself a part of the picture before her, the narrator has a surreal encounter with the ship's passengers that suggests a prototype of community-building; the love which opens the narrator to heartfelt exchanges of life stories builds a dynamic of understanding, reminiscent of the power of skating; the narrator meets among the passengers the man who now sleeps on the blanket beside her.

Throughout the venture, Kraus's striking and effective prose, which was recognized with the Berlin Prize for Literature, also evokes the dangers to equilibrium that always lurk beneath the surface, in the mysterious tones under the ice that will give way to spring thaw, or in the mounting pressure that will explode in a factory on a hot summer day. Yet the narrator has accepted the risks as part of the search for beauty and meaning; the humorous elements and the dancelike lightness of the composition also prevent a self-absorbed preoccupation with self by insisting on the wider dimensions in which the narrator's-and the author's?-search is embedded.

Julie Klassen

Carleton College

Judith Kuckart. Der Bibliothekar. Frankfurt a.M. Eichborn. 1998. 254 pages. DM 39.80. ISBN 3-8218-0659-1.

Hans-Ullrich Kolbe, the librarian of the title, has been reading about the nude dance club Crazy Horse in Paris. It was said that the performances there liberated the imaginations of the men watching as well as of the women dancing. While he realizes that Berlin is not Paris, Kolbe goes to the best-known such local club, determined that the librarian is no longer going to read but to live.

He has actually led a pretty active life-married a couple of times, with three daughters-but is now by himself with nothing to show for twenty-one semesters of theology at Tubingen. He arrives at the local club in time for a performance by one particularly entrancing dancer, with whom he becomes immediately and completely obsessed. He succeeds in getting to know her, and in order to spend time with her he gives up his usual weekly meetings with his youngest and favorite daughter; she and her mother live in East Berlin, so now, in 1982, he still has the easy excuse of the Wall. One reason the dancer takes up with this fifty-three-year-old librarian, going so far ultimately as to take a trip to Venice and then share a room in a Berlin pension with him, is that she knows herself to be nearing the end of her career in this field and is not likely to share a room in the Kempinski with anyone.

Though we know this and a bit about her Polish-German background in the slums of Dortmund, she remains pretty elusive, and it is only after a couple of dinners out that Kolbe discovers why she always wears a glove while performing-and eating: she has a tattoo of a scorpion on the back of her hand. To solidify, as she says, their relationship permanently, she persuades him to have a similar tattoo put on his hand.

There's some truth to the notion that, like the male scorpion during procreation, Kolbe is consumed by his female partner. But there's more here, and that is to be found out in a narrative "flash-forward," when, some twelve years later and long after the demise of the Wall, the daughter Kolbe had neglected for the dancer decides she wants to know what happened to the father she never heard from again. With the excuse of coming to Berlin to try out for a ballet role, chiefly to prove to herself that she can do it after all her training, she has managed, in pursuit of her father, to settle into the same pension room he had stayed in (which, surely not coincidentally, is in the house of a former ballerina, who has kept her studio intact).

As in the case of the two dancers, there is a little too much of such connections. Kolbe has given up his promising young Sophie for the dubious allures of a Jelena, and the moment he stops visiting the former to devote himself fully to the latter, Sophie stops growing. Between this little growth thing, the interminable tacking back and forth between east and west, love and sex, value and money-never mind literature and life-and the foghorn signals of these Greek names (and Faustian echoes), the symbolic freight is enough to sink at least one literary tub, if not a thousand. I'll take Lolita.

Ulf Zimmermann

Kennesaw State University

Kemal Kurt. Ja, sagt Molly. Berlin. Hitit. 1998. 159 pages. ISBN 3- 924423-34-2.

Ja, sagt Molly by Berlin author Kemal Kurt is an ideal book to mark the turn of the millennium: it is timely, witty, erudite, entertaining-in a word, delightful. The work is the latest by this Turkish-German poet, photographer, journalist, and novelist, who is one of the primary minority writers from Turkey in the Federal Republic of Germany. (Kurt was one of the main subjects of my dissertation and subsequent book, Finding a Voice: German-Language Turkish Writers in the FRG to 1990.)

The title of Kurt's latest novel refers to one of the three subplots, in which one icon of modern literature, Kafka's insect-protagonist Gregor Samsa, goes about lovingly discovering the willing body of another, Molly Bloom from Joyce's Ulysses. The play on words taking place in this subplot becomes obvious in juxtaposition to the second subplot: readers find themselves (re)discovering a corpus of works from our century.

In the second subplot, the main thread of the story surfaces to make the novel's connection to the end of the twentieth century apparent: the fictitious Library of Babel is faced with the task of choosing one single book from the 1900s for its overcrowded shelves. Figures from international classic novels and dramas, fighting among themselves in a fascinating blend of time periods and places (not to mention various attitudes toward literature), populate the novel.

The third subplot is evident in the regularly appearing italicized sentences-headlines from the twentieth century-that give the book its historical underpinnings and sequential order. Kurt has managed a masterful mixture of chaos and order, of theory and narrative. He takes jabs at literary schools of thought, yet all the while conveys a love and reverence for the great works of literature the twentieth century has produced in a way that makes a bibliophile yearn to read them again but also whets the interest of the uninitiated. The ending pulls together the subplots in a surprising but gratifying manner.

The book is an important paean to the great works of literature in our century, but also a seminal novel by a vital figure in minority literature in Germany today. Ulrich Karger, literature critic for Berlin's renowned daily Der Tagesspiegel, called Molly a "disciplined tour de force" and a "satire on today's literature industry": "Whoever appreciates fine literature and does not merely put the paper friends up on a shelf will be delighted by Kemal Kurt's 'Ja, sagt Molly'."

In the last decade Kurt has turned repeatedly to the topic of literature, using the novel to examine his own experience as a reader and a receiver of literary devices and language as well as his role of creator and transmitter of language, thought, and meter. Though not his first novel (Was ist die Mehrzahl von Heimat appeared in 1995), Ja, sagt Molly is his first to step completely away from the topic of minorities and turn fully global in its choice of protagonists, taken from French, Latin American, (East and West) German, English, Irish, American, Russian, African, Spanish, Austrian, Italian, Chinese, Swedish, Greek, and Turkish literary classics.

Marilya Veteto-Conrad

Northern Arizona University

Grit Poppe. Andere Umstande. Berlin. Berlin Verlag. 1998. 302 pages. DM 36. ISBN 3-8270-0229-X.

The first-person narrator of Andere Umstande (Other Circumstances) is a young woman, Mila Rosin, now in a plane circling the Golden Gate Bridge on her first trip abroad. The presence of her infant daughter Alice in her arms is palpable evidence that she had fruitfully realized the ambition articulated in the title. We also learn of a certain Viktor who had dreamed of San Francisco but had not lived to see it-or the birth of his daughter.

Mila's image of America had been formed by American writers, and as she is about to land in Jack London's town she begins to reminisce about her English teacher, Herr Kraus. She was the best in his class because, at thirteen, she was in love with him. A girlfriend had further fueled her passion with one of those romance novels in which Mila read about a teacher who impregnates one of his students; the girl gives birth in secret and, in her shame, is about to throw herself and the infant into the ocean when, of course, the teacher rescues her. Thus does Mila begin fantasizing about having a child by Herr Kraus.

Like more than half of her fellow students, Mila is a child of divorce, but her father always comes by for Christmas to bring a present, the most significant of which is a pocket knife. During this holiday they are out with his new ladyfriend from West Berlin, shadowed by Stasi agents who rightly suspect he is trying to flee to the West. This of course infuriates him, and he tells his daughter always to make full use of the energy her anger gives her. It is during this little outing that Mila acquires her first volume of Jack London, and between the romance novel, the knife, a slightly skewed reading of London, and this advice on deploying her anger, her trajectory is set.

Herr Kraus clearly does not want to have anything to do with her; still, she pursues him, and he is subsequently found in a construction pit with a fatal knife wound. His turns out merely to be the first of numerous corpses which Mila, in her monomaniacal quest to become pregnant, now begins to pile up.

As we witness the crumbling of the Wall, Mila comments on the repressive nature of the regime under which she had grown up. If the personal is the political, then one might argue that Mila embarked on this murderous pursuit in order to possess something entirely and exclusively her own. In a state which in principle did not permit private ownership, a child could be a woman's sole option-and of course to have it truly all to herself, she needed to eliminate the concomitant constraints of a father figure. The forcing of the quest for personal fulfillment to such overheated proportions could certainly be blamed on the inescapable hothouse confinement of political life in a state like the former GDR. If that sounds too heavily allegorical, it should be noted that in this first novel Grit Poppe displays a talent for a wittily understated prose which renders murder most natural.

Ulf Zimmermann

Kennesaw State University

Erwin Strittmatter. Der Laden. 3 vols. Berlin. Aufbau. 1999. 536 pages + 4 plates; 496 pages + 4 plates; 464 pages + 4 plates. DM 49.90. ISBN 3-7466-5420-3 (5421-1; 5422-X; 5423-8).

In 1993, one year before his death, Erwin Strittmatter published the third and last volume of his epic, Der Laden (see WLT 58:3, p. 408, and 62:3, p. 451). His publisher Aufbau in Berlin has now released a commemorative three-volume edition of the best-selling novels to coincide with the premiere of a three-part television miniseries about the life and reflections of the protagonist, Esau Matt. Whereas volume 1 dealt with Esau as a young schoolchild in the years after the Great War and volume 2 with his formative years in the late 1920s, volume 3 skips the tumultuous Nazi epoch and begins with Esau's return home at the conclusion of World War II to his parents' house and small grocery store in the socially and geographically isolated town of Bossdom.

Esau narrates all three volumes as an older man who takes an unsentimental journey through his history and, as such, through the history of small-town Germany of the 1920s, occupied Germany, and the first years of the German Democratic Republic. Autobiographical and an excellent sociohistorical document, the novels capture the zeitgeist of the period, from the political insecurities, petty relationships, and love intrigues, to the struggle for a basic existence. The local color, especially the use of dialect, creates a realistic, indeed believable story, and also captures the audience's attention. Esau recognizes the problems memory may present with his narrative: "Mein alterndes Gedachtnis fangt an, Erinnerungen verweilen sanft zu verwischen. . . . Die Chronologie ist die Feindin der Kunst." The work transcends the narrative level and becomes Esau's attempt to come to terms with himself as an individual and outsider and with his responsibilities in life, including those to his family, wife, children, city, country, and even himself as an author. The novels become Esau's symbolic emancipation from the past, his errors, and his follies, while validating his existence as writer.

As in the other volumes, the locus of volume 3 is the Matts' small family store, which may be seen as a metaphor for the entire town and its inhabitants. The store serves as the town's pulse, where tired villagers come to purchase basic necessities, but more importantly to talk and to exchange news and gossip. Residents voice their fears about their personal and political future, about the Russian-dominated currency reform, collectivization, and missing sons and husbands. Esau readily judges his fellow villagers, many of whom he believes are egotistical, suspicious of cultural differences, and willing to ignore their responsibility during the 1930s: "die wenigsten Bossdomer zeigen sich schuldbewust." Strittmatter depicts poignantly the serious social, political, indeed existential problems facing many in the East.

Unlike his brothers, Esau has difficulty integrating himself into the community. He rejects the family store and seems unable or unwilling to conform to social expectations; instead he is concerned primarily with writing. He interpolates many stories and reflections about his life and events which had a profound effect on him and framed his view of society, such as his constant fighting with his archenemy, his sister- in-law Elvira, his escapades as a baker's apprentice, and gradual loss of control when he becomes increasingly involved, though against his will, in the Communist Party. After criticizing many who moved from one end of the political spectrum to the other, from National Socialism to communism, for personal gain, Esau allows himself to be drawn into the ever-widening web of communism because he believes he will have more time to write, and finally becomes a party member. His attempt to assert his subjective existence, establish control over his life, and create his own identity is met continually with outside resistance, ranging from the party's exploitation of his writing to his arrest by the Russians on suspicion of espionage.

The novel concludes with the financial collapse of the family store and with it the metaphoric demise of the Matt family and the village of Bossdom. When the state transforms the store into a Konsumgesellschaft, the town loses its point of orientation, and it becomes apparent that the rise of communism has succeeded in destroying the bonds that held the village together. Despite the effects of communism, the reader learns throughout the novel that the villagers and Esau himself survived and adapted to their new society. And what is most important, Esau achieved his goal of becoming a writer.

Gregory H. Wolf

Saint Louis University

Bernd Wagner. Paradies. Berlin. Ullstein. 1997 (released 1998). 440 pages. DM 48. ISBN 3-550-08244-4.

The title refers, ironically and seriously, to the "paradise" the chief narrator discovers upon leaving her drab existence in eastern Berlin. At forty-six, Judith had spent all her life in the East, and now, after the fall of the Wall, she has finally decided to venture west. Though she could have left as early as 1986, on "invalid" status, she felt it was unfair to those who could not and thus waited until it became possible for everyone.

The narrative is mediated by William, a friend since their student days in Erfurt. As he explains in his prologue, Judith is a great storyteller but no writer; so, as her favorite listener, he tapes her tales over seven Saturday evenings. He also suggests that life in the East had limited her mobility not only because one was not allowed to leave, but because it had promoted her rheumatoid arthritis, which had resulted in even more confinement in various clinics.

On her first still local and pedestrian excursion she discovers how diverse and colorful the neighborhoods of western Berlin are. Her appetite whetted, and abetted by a new lover, she buys herself a lavender van and wildly colored get-ups to match and now leaves "Neufunfland" to tour "Altzehnland" from Hamburg through Bamberg to Vogelsberg. In Hamburg she encounters both hyperpolitically correct West Germans in the city's richer suburbs and hordes of dark-haired children in its more exotic poor neighborhoods. From the requisite Reeperbahn tour she concludes that the "Wessis" had needed the leather whips and other S&M tools because they had never known any real pain or suffering.

Always assertive, and now supposedly truly "free" and in the supposedly truly democratic West, Judith berates Wessis who surprise her with their authoritarianism. She is nevertheless able to get inside their lives, because she exudes warmth and enthusiasm and is herself a simpatica listener. Wessis are willing to talk about themselves, she recognizes, because, unlike the Ossis, they are not afraid of being incriminated for what they tell you.

Her longest stop is in a pensione on a large farm in the Vogelsberg area. There she observes how much younger, healthier, and more authoritative this farm's owner appears compared to his cousin, who has just trekked in with the ragged remains of his horses from his farm in faraway Kazakhstan. These Easterners, however, are much more easygoing and not so obsessed with making money.

Back in Berlin, Judith is soon too much in her old GDR rut, as William observes, and he urges her to go to Greece. Here, like legions of Germans before her, she finds her paradise: a room with a view of the Mediterranean, some leisurely work, and a young lover-as we learn from the letters she sends William from Crete that conclude the volume.

With the notion that "paradise" lies in escaping rigid confinements, clinical or political, to discover the world-and oneself-Bernd Wagner offers little that is novel. Still, the colorful, entertaining perspectives and instructive insights on differences between Ossis and Wessis-the latter seem, for example, to have grown up on wheels while the former are still pedestrians-give us a vivid panorama of this new Germany, if not of a paradise.

Ulf Zimmermann

Kennesaw State University

Urs Widmer. Vor uns die Sintflut. Zurich. Diogenes. 1998. 166 pages. DM 32. ISBN 3-257-06178-1.

The prolific Swiss writer Urs Widmer has a preference for short narratives. In Vor uns die Sintflut he presents a collection of prose texts which he calls "Geschichten." However, the reader should not expect to find only the equivalent of what is generally considered a story in this rather mixed bag. Widmer also likes interior monologues as well as lists-for instance, of Swiss citizens, each of whom he describes in no more than three sentences. The result is a cross section of the population. Another list enumerates hotels the author has lived in between the Aegean Sea and Lompoc, California (in Lompoc, of course, it is a motel).

The texts which can be called stories are typical for this author. They are mixtures of satire, fairy tale, and myth. Their common denominator is a timely apocalyptic mood, which, since most of them were written recently, is appropriate for the final five years of the millennium. Some are quite to the point, such as "Shit im Kopf" (Shit in the Head), a manic monologue that contains just about every conspiracy from control of the earth by UFO's to the spread of AIDS and gene manipulation. In the title story, contemporary Noahs are building their arks, which float around aimlessly. "Nach allen Kriegen" (After All the Wars) predicts humankind to be nearly extinct in the year 2800, because chemical pollution has made men infertile. Humans can only be found in the highest regions of Tibet. From there two lovers descend to the warmer plains and become the progenitors of a new race.

The author's lament about ecological disasters are closely related to ones about human self-destruction. In "Mull an den Stranden" (Garbage on the Beaches) Widmer describes creation as it was millions of years ago, when "everything was beautiful." But when fish evolved into higher amphibians, disaster followed until man appeared and polluted the environment, which culminated in his greatest misdeed, the bombing of Hiroshima: "It destroyed all of our lives, for generations, forever." Widmer also likes to invent Alpine myths, which he uses playfully in stories such as "Am Gotthard. Im Gotthard," where a man, curious about this venerable mountain, is drawn into its interior and literally meets God and the devil. In "Durst" (Thirst) he wittily parodies Irish authors and Irish literature and simultaneously prescribes a remedy for a Swiss author's writer's block. Unlike this text, others display a contrived wit, as in "Die Augen-Wesen" (Eye-Beings), about mountain dwellers who make a living with the help of magic. Others show a flippant use of biblical reference and a rather provincial Eurocentrism.

Sigrid Bauschinger

University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Hans-Jurgen Heise. Die Sprache des Windes: Ein Leben in lyrischen Ablaufen. 2 vols. Weilerswist, Ger. Landpresse. 1998. 246; 272 pages. DM 48. ISBN 3-930137-72-0.

Reflecting on his earlier, thematically oriented collections of poetry, Hans-Jurgen Heise sensed that he had masked the ups and downs of life, that uneven cadence which he had discovered while writing his- truncated-autobiography in 1996. For the body of his collected poems, he opted for a strictly chronological order, a principle better suited to the "rhythms and arrhythmia of the years." The concern that his "poetic journal" form a counterpoint to his autobiography reveals the intimate relationship that exists in Heise's mind between his life and work. This relationship, however, is by no means a simple correspondence in time between lived event and poetic expression. Even Heise's most recent poems-e.g., "Erster Weltkrieg" (1997)-often draw on what Graham Greene called the "bank balance" of memory accumulated in childhood.

Although justifiably known as one of the founders-along with Gunter Eich and Karl Krolow-of a laconic poem whose length can be measured in syllables, Heise wisely chose a work with long lines and stretching over nearly three pages as his title poem for Die Sprache des Windes. For this poet of nature, the wind, in all its guises, is clearly the natural phenomenon that has most often and most forcefully played the role of inspiring muse. Stormy gusts and balmy sea breezes, seasonal and regional air currents, as well as dust devils, thermals, drafts, hurricanes, monsoons, and tornadoes all describe the various movements and velocities of air that metaphorically animate so much of Heise's poetry-and whose life-sustaining value the asthma-stricken poet learned at an early age. The winds in these poems blow graceful life into the sails of boats, pennants and flags, clothes hanging on clotheslines, sand dunes, sea gulls winging across the oceans, as well as-perhaps less gracefully-into the "alter Macho" peering under the windblown blouse of a mulatto beauty.

In the title poem Heise contrasts the anemograph-an instrument limited to its bookkeeping role of measuring wind speed-with the wind itself: "was fur ein Poet!" He marvels at its pervasive presence and the dazzling variety of its manifestations. Its quickening effect on phenomenal reality parallels the effect of the poet's words on mundane perception. Heise expands on his metaphor in a more recent work he simply calls "Das Gedicht." Here the poem acts as a tornado, twisting and shrieking through the rooms of a well-ordered house, throwing the literary theory on its bookshelves into disarray, and bringing roses from the botany text back into the garden. Pitting poetry against the rationality of domestic order, academic scholarship, and scientific (mis)appropriation of nature, the poem closes: "Das Gedicht ist ein Tornado / der sich viel zu selten / durch die Rumpelkammer der Seele bewegt."

Apolitical in the common meaning of the word, Heise's poetry is, however, not without its designs on its readers and their lives. It possesses an admirably self-assured sense of its own value and the confidence that the world would be a better place if readers were to pay it even greater heed.

Francis Michael Sharp

University of the Pacific


W. G. Sebald. Logis in einem Landhaus. Munich. Hanser. 1998. 188 pages, ill. + 5 plates. DM 34. ISBN 3-446-19503-3.

In a handsomely designed, tastefully printed, and creatively illustrated volume, six men who have enriched European culture are discussed with expertise and charm. W. G. Sebald has selected the early-twentieth-century Swiss author Robert Walser, the nineteenth- century Swiss novelist and poet Gottfried Keller, the nineteenth- century German poet Eduard Morike, the early-nineteenth-century Swiss chronicler and poet Johann Peter Hebel, the eighteenth-century Swiss- French poetic philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the early- twentieth-century Swiss painter Jan Peter Tripp to tell us things about each which we could hardly find in textbooks on literature or art. Not since Rejection and Emancipation was published in 1991 have I acquired such unique insights into the world of Swiss literati. Bibliophiles will be inspired to reread the works of Keller, the romantic essays of Rousseau, the lonely and melancholy prose of Walser (whom Sebald calls "le promeneur solitaire"), and the amazingly beautiful poetry of Morike. The emphasis here is on reread, for familiarization with the works of these chosen six figures prior to reading Logis is important, lest one wind up in a literary cul-de-sac.

Sebald's little tome is such a treasure because of the singular way he has of commenting on the subtlest aspects of the lives and cultural contributions of the six geniuses he discusses. He tells us things about the foibles and fears, tears and visions, sufferings and longings of these half-dozen men which sharpen our knowledge and at the same time enhance our appreciation of their work. Examples may include Rousseau's little-known interest in botany, Keller's obsession with harnessing his overbubbling feelings about the mystery of the female Eros, Morike's unfulfilled love life as expressed in his verse, Tripp's "frightening depth" (to use Sebald's term) which he transmitted in the painting of flowers, and the like. Sebald's commentary on the art and letters of these delicate souls should be missed neither by students of esthetics nor by historians of high culture, for he tells how these six artists of brush or pen were baptized by the zeitgeist of their respective eras in history. Two examples: Hebel's wonderful observations and wisdom stories in his almanac, suggesting historical changes and personages straddling the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and Rousseau's romantic essays and worship of nature and instinct in the midst of rationalism and philosophes, which the author attempts to revive in his own mind as he muses in Rousseau's study on the island of St. Peter-a wonderful passage. Sebald has a knack for ferreting out unknown secrets in each of these individuals without ever succumbing to the temptation of being anecdotal or psychoanalytic. Neither does he ever stress the droll or eccentric at the expense of the main thrust: literature, art, and philosophy. Thus we appreciate anew the joyful realism of Morike's poetry, for example, while at the same time tracing the spoor of his animus in writing his beautiful verse.

If there is any fault in Logis in einem Landhaus, I have not found it. And as one critic has said about Nietzsche's Zarathustra, the inexpungeable merits will dwarf all fault-finding.

Robert Schwarz

Florida Atlantic University


Peter Hartling. Das andere Ich: Ein Gesprach mit Jurgen Kratzer. Hans- Joachim Gelberg, postface. Cologne. Kiepenheuer & Witsch. 1998. 249 pages, ill. DM 39.80. ISBN 3-462-02772-7.

In Das andere Ich Peter Hartling (b. 1933) is interviewed by Jurgen Kratzer (b. 1959), an academic scholar and critic, who at times inserts his own opinions. The interviews are arranged in chronological order. In the first we learn that, as a youngster in by then German-occupied Czechoslovakia, Hartling was a devoted member of Hitler's Jungvolk-in fact, so much so that it caused some tension in his family (there were Czech relatives) and that the boy at one point thought of denouncing his father, who was critical of Hitler. The last years of the war and the first couple of years after it had ended, with the Hartlings now refugees in Germany, were marked by a dominance of females (the men killed in the war, still prisoners of war, or crippled), which Hartling feels had an effect on his generation. Then, as a young man, advancing through the ranks as a journalist, Hartling observes, he belonged to the first generation of Germans who could develop their political world view freely, as he realized that his seniors who were now mouthing democratic ideas had been loyal supporters of Hitler's regime. Hartling calls himself a conservative, but his views are generally what in the United States is considered "liberal."

Hartling is one of the few major writers in Germany to have launched his career in journalism. He has continued to be active as a commentator on public affairs, while also a prolific novelist, lyric poet, playwright, and essayist. In reporting his working habits, he surprises his interviewer by confiding to him that he will type the first version of a text, then rewrite it in longhand, and finally read it into his tape recorder. The author of biographical novels on the composers Schubert and Schumann (1992, 1996; see WLT 67:3, p. 597, and 71:3, p. 579), Hartling declares that his literary sensibility is primarily musical. He perceives his own lyric poetry as leading up to a musical version. He also is of the opinion that the man cannot be separated from the writer or artist: Hans Mayer was right when he said that Hartling's Holderlin (1976) was "Fritz," rather than "Friedrich."

Hartling considers his many books written for young readers very important, specifically because he believes that a ten- or eleven-year- old still has the capacity for utopian thinking, which the adults of today have lost. Hartling's great worry is that the gradual elimination of all taboos (Enttabuisierung), begun by the Enlightenment, has left the modern human individual dangerously exposed to "the wolves of the day after tomorrow." A conservative after all, Hartling deplores the loss of all absolute values in modern life. But then too, when it comes to assessing the problems of East versus West Germany, he concedes that they are in reality those of millions of individuals, impossible to be reduced to any general rule.

Rita Terras

Connecticut College


Hans-Jurgen Heise. Die Suse des Fliegenpapiers: Stationen meines Lebens. Weilerswist, Ger. Landpresse. 1998. 160 pages. DM 36. ISBN 3- 930137-70-4.

In a short epilogue, Hans-Jurgen Heise attempts to justify breaking off the story of his life in 1960 at the age of thirty. These early years, he summarily observes, lived under the "unlucky stars" of his personal life and historical times, possess an inherently more valuable Mitteilungswert. The turbulence of this period ended abruptly in 1961, when he met and married Annemarie Zornack, whom he credits for his newly found personal and professional stability. Still, some readers may feel slighted to have access only to the stormy prelude to a life whose further course has been marked by considerable literary productivity and recognition, a development indicated in the appended chronology and bibliography.

Because he is a writer creating the myth of his life, however-and Heise fully understands the fictive nature of his project-his focus on his humble origins can only amplify his later success. He began life in the rural village of Bublitz, in eastern Pomerania, as the accidental offspring of unmarried parents. His mother, whom he remembers only on her deathbed in the hospital, died following the complications of a miscarriage when he was four. Although his father soon married again, Heise recalls his stepmother less as a maternally nurturing force in his life than as a severe disciplinarian. Growing up on the borders of three familial groups, he perceived himself as an outsider in each of the extended families of his mother, father, and stepmothers. The sketchy, fragmented, and faded quality of events and personalities in his youth reflects the limitation of memory, an autobiographer's limitation that Heise explicitly recognizes.

With the move to Berlin in 1938, Heise began his acquaintance with the larger world beyond his provincial roots, stimulating his fantasies about worlds even more remote at play and in books. After the war had begun, and his father had been drafted and sent to the eastern front, he returned with his stepmother to the provinces, where his imagination, at least, continued to thrive. Several years later, during the summer of 1944 and in flight from the advancing Russians, the Heise family moved back to Berlin, a dangerous journey at the time that lasted an entire week.

Alongside the hunger and hardships of the Russian occupation, the postwar years also brought Heise into a first real contact with literature. Under the influence of American writers, he began to produce short stories and poems of his own. By the early fifties, his allegiance to nature as the central focus of his own work, his skepticism toward the intellectual honesty of his politicized colleagues, and his disinclination to "engineer" souls with his poetry had placed him on a collision course with the cultural politics of the emerging East German state. Although he fled to West Berlin in 1951 and fought for the status of a political refugee, he would have fit more readily under the designation "apolitical refugee."

The decade of the fifties was for Heise an unfocused, bohemian period during which he eked out an existence with occasional publications and unemployment insurance. More important in his reconstructed view of events, it was a period of waiting for that fateful meeting in 1961 about which the reader learns so little. For Heise, in an even more overt and radical fashion than for most autobiographers, less is more and autobiography is no more-but no less-than "ein Stuck fiktiver Plausibilitat."

Francis Michael Sharp

University of the Pacific


Peter Handke. Am Felsfenster morgens (und andere Ortszeiten 1982-1987). Salzburg. Residenz. 1998. 541 pages. DM 58/ S 423. ISBN 3-7017-1095-3.

Critics may argue whether the substantial volume Am Felsfenster morgens is a diary, a journal, a collection of observations and insights and wisdoms, or even a guidebook to Peter Handke's thinking and literary work. In direct and simple words, however, the author's short preface eliminates all second guessing. He suggests for the book the same dedication he had chosen for his much earlier work, Das Gewicht der Welt (1977): "Fur den, den's angeht" (To whom it may concern)-a purpose that, in his opinion, likewise should belong to Die Geschichte des Bleistifts (1982) and Phantasien der Wiederholung (1983). Handke views those three books as part of the same lineage as his recently published journal of the Salzburg years, 1982 to 1987.

The more than five hundred pages of printed text represent a mere quarter of the journal writing done during those years-years which may well remain forever the last ones Handke will have spent in his native country-while his daughter Amina attended school in Salzburg, living with her father. Handke considers these notes modestly, but with conviction, as "reflexes born from contemplation" rather than maxims or reflections. They cover years of little or no traveling and are, in the author's view, "focused on the place." Thus the entries, ranging in length from less than a line to more than a page, result in yet another seemingly weightless yet overwhelmingly connected text of deep concentration. (I read the book while on a lecture tour through Australia and felt as if I were "traveling" more within these pages than through a wholly absorbing continent, while at the same time "seeing" more of the exotic country visited with Handke's Salzburg visions at hand.)

A wonderful book it is, if taken quite literally in the sense of wonder conveyed by the author's lucidity in viewing his and our world. Life itself seems to jump at the reader's face with every entry. Where we find such clarity of both the senses and the mind, the reading must lead time and again to the threshold of pain. But it is the healing pain of comprehending and of recognition. Although Handke's books demand great concentration, they generously convey this rarest of commodities in our times. Am Felsfenster morgens is a "school of seeing" more compelling than any other recent book I could name.

While in Salzburg, Handke lived on the Monchsberg in a house dating back to the Middle Ages. He spent his time writing some of his major fiction, but also translating from the ancient Greek, the French, the American, and the Slovene. Once more he had returned from many years of living abroad to his native land, with which he felt (increasingly?) at odds. He also read a great deal during his time in Salzburg, and his assessments of other writers' books (he covers the ages and the planet in both his curiosity and understanding) fill the present journal as much as do his own emotions and ideas. The notes end with Handke's departure from Austria (1987 marked the beginning of several years of travel before the author found and founded his new home outside Paris, in a place he had come to love much earlier).

Sadly, the requisite brevity of WLT reviews prohibits quoting from a work so immensely dense and rich in truth and suggestion, poetic depth and intellectual challenge, that readers must come away from it with a feeling (much needed today!) that somehow all is well with contemporary writing and that quite possibly the true time of books is still to come. Handke writes: "Schreiben: Ich setze die Worter ein, wo ein leerer Platz ist: leer und Platz." Who could doubt a continued presence (and increasingly so) of emptiness and space? So much for poetic optimism justified.

Erich Wolfgang Skwara

San Diego State University

Foreign Criticism

Neil H. Donahue. Voice and Void: The Poetry of Gerhard Falkner. Heidelberg. Winter. 1998. 234 pages. ISBN 3-8253-0579-1.

Gerhard Falkner (b. 1951) is one of the most accomplished poets of his generation. His output encompasses poetry, prose, some editions of art books as well as of contemporary American literature, and some translations. His poetic voice is unique-although it does draw on well- defined German traditions and it does share certain qualities of recent German poetry, as Neil Donahue shows in his recent study.

Falkner has generally shunned the limelight and vehemently avoided any self-promotion. In 1989 he announced in a note appended to his collection wemut (see WLT 64:3, p. 457) that this volume was to be his last book of poetry-although his carefully worded statement did leave open the possibility of published prose or individual poems. That such a quirky poet is known at all is due as much to Neil Donahue as to any other scholar or critic on either side of the Atlantic. As a complement to, an amplification of, and, in a sense, a completion and rounding-off of his previous reviews and articles, Voice and Void (what a felicitous title!) is a comprehensive study of Falkner, notable both for the painstaking and intricate analysis of individual poems and the collections they come from, and for the placing of this poetic work within the context of contemporary German literature.

In the first of seven compact chapters, Donahue outlines Adorno's philosophy of poetry with the intention of using it as a framework for his reading of Falkner. Chapter 2 deals with Falkner's view of the relationship between society and the language of poetry, with his four modes of response to reality, as exemplified in the poetry, and with the form and verbal nuance of the poems in Falkner's first collection, so beginnen am korper die tage (1981). The critic goes on to show how Falkner's second book, der atem unter der erde (1984), while continuing to involve the sensual response to experience which was central to the earlier volume, is less positive in outlook; the titles underscore this difference. In chapter 4 Donahue looks carefully at Falkner's sonnets about the writer/murderer Jack Henry Abbott and also gives the essential background to In the Belly of the Beast and the reaction of the New York literary scene to Abbott and his book so far as they are relevant to Falkner.

Chapter 5, which centers on Falkner's longest and most difficult collection of poems, wemut (1989), shows how the poet avoids the hazards of postmodernism and remains within the terms of modernism: "A Modernist esthetics in a period of Postmodern and Poststructuralist thought yields a productive tension for the poet," as Donahue puts it. The paradox in this situation is all-pervading, and the essence of wemut is that it asserts identity even as it effaces it. The link to the tradition of Mallarme is well brought out. Falkner's poetics are dealt with in chapter 6, and in an excursus to the same chapter Donahue uses Durs Grunbein to amplify the views of Falkner. The final chapter concludes the book not by summing up the poetic achievement of Gerhard Falkner, who, even as he renounced poetry, continued to produce it, but by looking at the further production of this "hermetic and hermitic" writer.

Although there are some regrettable misprints and printing flaws (no heading for chapter 6, for example; the consistent misspelling of differance in one chapter along with the correct spelling in another; the inconsistent use of both "1980s" and "1980's"), Voice and Void is a thorough and impressive study of a difficult but very important poet. It is written with great sensitivity, depth, and, occasionally, with adroit Falkneresque wordplay. It is a major and definitive contribution to Falkner scholarship.

David Scrase

University of Vermont

Jonathan Kalb. The Theater of Heiner Muller. David Bradby, ed. New York. Cambridge University Press. 1998. xix + 255 pages, ill. $59.95/[pound]40. ISBN 0-521-55004-1.

The author of this excellent study is a recipient of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism (1991) and author of a previous volume on Beckett as well as a collection of essays titled Free Admissions: Collected Theater Writings. Jonathan Kalb presents a thoughtful and personally intimate analysis of the life and theater of Heiner Muller by comparing his production with that of various predecessors. Thus, the reader finds chapters labeling Muller as Brecht, Kleist, Mayakovsky, Shakespeare, Artaud, Genet, Wagner and Beckett. These are bracketed by a biography and a final summarizing chapter appropriately titled "Muller as Proteus." The book also contains fifteen black-and-white photographs from Muller productions, a beautifully constructed chronology, notes, a commendable bibliography, and a detailed index.

It is a difficult task to write a Muller biography, because the author (1929-96) viewed his life as part of his art and used interviews as opportunities to perform theater, projecting changing personae. Kalb himself was one of those who communicated with Muller. He is direct about his uncertainties concerning the author's life and public pronouncements, using the first-person singular at various points in the text. His view of Muller's work is fruitful. His stated aim is "introduce Muller to an Anglophone public largely unfamiliar with him": "If my book succeeds in convincing some of the previously dubious to look, or look again, or clamor for fresh translations, I will consider myself fortunate."

It is a stroke of inspiration to compare Muller with other dramatists, even when the playwright himself has denied their influence, because Muller so clearly takes a stance toward them in his plays. Kalb points out which specific Muller works are adaptations and dialogues with these authors-some more obvious than others, but each illuminating. Collage effects, shocking productions, text versus theater, the role of directors and actors, the influence of drama and critical theory, and the relative merits of Muller's plays are all explicated here.

Kalb's conclusions are humanistic and relevant. "Muller's most disturbing insight," he asserts, "was his . . . realization that in the late twentieth century . . . the playwright of lasting importance cannot simply be an exquisitely feeling ego or 'subject', like Strindberg, O'Neill or Beckett. This playwright must rather be an engaged intellectual, someone capable of perceiving both the historical impasse in the theater (the end of bourgeois drama in a world not quite ready for the Lehrstuck and the historical impasse in subjective experience (the end of Individualism in a world not quite ready for Collectivism). Only such a writer would have the requisite indifference to reproaches of disingenuousness, evasion, charlatanism, and cynicism as he went about preparing literary bulwarks against the 'ice age'."

An extraordinarily insightful, sensitive book, a tour de force of knowledge of modern drama and its critics, The Theater of Heiner Muller is an indispensable aid in unlocking the riddles and merits of the man and his contemporaries.

Erlis Wickersham

Rosemont College
COPYRIGHT 1999 University of Oklahoma
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Review
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1999

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters