Three Notable Novels

Here are some highlights about this year’s three notable books written in languages other than English .  The German novels have already been published, whereas the French one is coming soon.

DurchzugEinesRegenbandesThe first German title that caught my attention is Ulrich Ziegler’s novel Durchzug eines Regenbandes (Passage of a Rainband). Ten years in the making, it is a dense, stylistically exuberant triptych channeling the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, the classic cinema of the 1920s and 30s and popular German TV shows. In the first part, which exudes a film noir atmosphere, a journalist called Norden meets a stranger who tells him the incredible story of the Island Bienitz and its hierarchic society. The man with the exotic name Weh-Theobaldy belongs to the oppressed ethnic minority of Lapislazuli who are forced to wear paper clothes and do menial jobs. Weh-Theobaldy’s confession to a murder triggers Norden’s investigation into a tangled web of secret plots and conspiracies. The second part is set in GDR in 1969. Its main focus is yet another investigation: the search for an old lady who disappeared in the coal cellar of her own house. The protagonist of this part is a pop singer who performs cover versions of West German schlagers. The main character of the third part is a hard-drinking, delirious painter. The bulk of the narrative is made up of his stream of consciousness, sprinkled with numerous references to television lore. The German reviewers describe Passage of a Rainband as a confusing puzzle of a book, which might require several readings to make sense.

1330_01_Kopetzki_Risiko.inddIf you enjoyed Against the Day, you might be interested in a novel that specifically focuses on the Great Game, which, as you remember, was one of the pivotal subjects in Pynchon’s book. Steffen Kopetzky’s Risiko (Risk), which, like Ziegler’s novel, also took its author ten years to write, is a meticulously researched fictional account of  the The Niedermayer–Hentig Expedition. The main goal of this mission was to persuade Afghanistan to declare independence from the British Empire and side with the Central Powers in World War I. In this book we follow the adventures of navy radio operator Sebastian Stichnote, who joins the secret expedition and travels together with the other members 5,000 kilometers across Western and Central Asia. The broad canvas of the narrative does not only include loads of geographical, historical and cultural data, but also accommodates amusing anachronisms and postmodern games with the reader.


Finally, all those who have been waiting for the publication of the English translation of Pierre Senges’ encyclopedic novel Fragments of Lichtenberg, there is something else to get excited about: the French writer is about to publish a new novel, which is as bulky as Fragments. The novel is called Achab (Sequelles)  (Ahab (Aftermath)) and, as evident from the title, it is about the fate of Captain Ahab after his last encounter with the white whale narrated at the end of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Senges’ Ahab tries to capitalise on his tragic experiences by attempting to sell his story first as a musical on the Broadway, and then as a script for a Hollywood movie. There will also be flashbacks to Ahab’s youth when he embarked on a voyage to London at the age of 17, intending to become an actor. The synopsis promises the appearance of Cary Grant, Orson Welles and Scott Fitzgerald.

There seems to be a heightened interest in Herman Melville recently, as the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai’s next project is “a novel about Melville after the publication of Moby Dick” which he will be working on at the Cullman Center.

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