On the evening of April 10, 1938, a lot happened in the Upper Austrian village below Hochkogel. It’s Sunday’s election. Big flags everywhere, mass in the morning in the chapel, then festive meals, brass music and male choir, evening beer at Platzer in the dining room. The inhabitants of the village would unanimously agree to the annexation of their country to Hitler’s Germany. Except for the dissenting voice.
With the classic rule of the unity of place, time, and action, Thomas Arzt, formerly known as the playwright, leads events through the bush through the juicy description of the situation, direct speech in dialect sound, inner monologue and distant narrator hum. Homeland novel? If so, then the one who does not spread intimate intimacy, but echoes horribly what is known and historically familiar.
“If Karl Blimfeldner goes, he goes the local route.” Like the pictures of grandparents on a nail on the wall of a room, the opening sentences of the 29 chapters, each related to a character in the novel, are actually connected, which is often missing in the following sentences because the villagers understand each other anyway and thus you don’t need to finish the sentences. Karl is the main character, a student, the son of a local cobbler, who returns home from Innsbruck on Sunday. But he thinks as he walks through the village: “You never completely disappeared, even if you were never there.”
Young people use sticks to hunt ‘mind pig’
In the afternoon, he will wander around the mountaintop less meditatively and seek shelter from the group of goons and young Nazis who follow him on his trail. Before that, at the polling station, where others proudly put a public “yes” sign, when marking a “no” behind the curtain, fearing the consequences of his bravery, unable to act, he ran across the floor of the parish hall. Someone shouted: “Trottle groan at Hitler.” So now young people are going after the “emotional pig” with sticks and pistols.
In this book, Thomas Arzt shows how he can skillfully develop situations, scenes, and moods in a novel. While most villagers act like lukewarm henchmen trying hard to convince themselves of the Germans’ greater luxury for their personal lives, some features are sharp and angular. Kern Cilli, for example, the daughter of the new mayor, who quickly recognized the signs of the times and ditched the old mayor – “do so long and put your knuckle under it.”
Even her father appears to Cilli, who takes care of political agitator Oscar from school and has a picture of Hitler under her blouse, with the comfort of a New Age roast pork. Because she herself dreams of an unconditional will on future battlefields. While the shoemaker, Karl’s father, worries about where the many new shoes will go.
Or there is also Forester Lang Abbey. Although he is embarrassed to be in the service of Catholics only, he wants all the pride to drop the finest oak tree in his forest to celebrate the day as a “leading trunk” of particularly strong beams, before seminary teacher Gotthard falls into his arms. He warns that these oaks must stand still, as he likes to climb under the German tree with his students to read Goethe’s book. Instead, the forester must cut down the other trees around him.
In recognition of the courage to refuse, the novel is compelling
With a sense of the effective leaps of scenery, the author stretches through the events of the terribly quiet day in an accelerated chapter rhythm. One is intrigued by the many tales packed into the sound of a synthetic local language and visibly oppressed by all the trimmings. It is as if the atmosphere of Martin Speer’s “Hunting Scenes from Lower Bavaria” flashed with it, rather than a clear reflection of the present in the brown past as in Speer’s case, but now as a latent anticipation for us today. With half sentences such as “…the sister of Karl Friedl will say later,” the story slips from the present sometimes briefly into the future without specifying when, where and on what occasion the sister will say it. As if time had turned around since that special day.
Is this regional literature? historical novel? Hint for our present with a history fence post? A tale about follow-up, resignation, rejection, resistance? One hears the author tell the story of his great-uncle. Appreciating the courage of rejection, the novel is compelling, and the diversity of features does not allow simplistic stereotypes to appear. Everyone has their reasons to participate, and the lone pedestrian crossing is not a hero either, but it waits at the train station the next morning for a train back to Innsbruck.
The jigsaw is reminiscent of a coloring sheet with brilliantly drawn stencils, which you can color in your imagination while reading. Instead of an abyss, there is only a rather scary background behind it, which also invites you to color. This book would be too great for a historical novel and too clearly dated for an epochal problematic novel. What remains is the sensational image of an indomitable man who disappears again in the secrecy of his existence after this day.
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