DuMont Literatur und Kunst Verlag, September 2006, 318 pp
As regular readers of new books in German are already aware, the novelist Helmut Krausser is nothing if not adventurous. His subjects have ranged from multiple personality disorder to wild dogs at large in modern Pompeii and a mysterious magician who may or may not be the Devil. In Eros ambiguity is still the name of the game. The principal character is one Alexander von Brücken, a seventy-year-old reclusive millionaire with an enigmatic past who invites an unnamed writer to stay in his mansion and ghost his autobiography. The writer, who is also the narrator of the tale, will be well paid for his efforts, and von Brücken agrees that he may pass the work off as fiction. His only stipulation is that, whatever its form, it shall not be published till he is dead.
Though the style is unemotional the story itself is gripping. It begins during the war, when von Brücken is still a teenager and his father, a Nazi industrialist, poisons himself, his wife and their two daughters, and tries unsuccessfully to poison his son, when he sees Hitler is going to lose. It is in an air raid shelter, before this happens, that the boy meets, and sleeps next to, a local girl called Sofie. To help her impoverished family, or so she claims, she demands money for a kiss, and in spite, or perhaps because, of this mercenary approach, the boy is hooked for life. We learn how, after refusing the cyanide pill, he loses his sanity and how he recovers it, and how, as heir to the von Brücken industrial empire, he attempts to track down Sofie, who has got herself involved with a terrorist group with connections to the Stasi. Her split with the group, a terrifying time for her, is brilliantly narrated, as is the sequel describing von Brücken's attempts to rescue her before, finally, she bids him goodbye and disappears.
All this, the reader appreciates, is von Brücken's version of events. A coda to the book, after his death, hints at other interpretations. But whatever the truth, here is a thought-provoking tale, in which the play of truth and fiction combine with fine storytelling to illustrate human unhappiness and the destructive power of obsessive love.