Although Hans-Ulrich Treichel has already published seven volumes of poetry and miscellaneous prose, his first novel has produced the biggest splash yet, both in his native Germany and abroad. Initially this seems a little surprising. Lost
is a small book whose expressive resources are constricted on one side by the narrator's youth (he's 8) and on the other by his emotional range (from mild to deep perplexity). Yet Treichel's plot has an elementary and irresistible power. As we learn, the narrator and his parents are beneficiaries of the postwar German boom, now living in East Prussia. There is, however, a missing piece from this family portrait: an older brother, reluctantly abandoned to a bystander during the Russian advance in 1945. The parents are tortured by this fact, while the narrator, forced to study the single remaining photo of his sibling, takes a more laissez-faire approach:
Arnold was dead, which was certainly very sad, but it made it easier for me to deal with his photo. Happy, easygoing Arnold even struck a chord in me, and I was proud to have a brother who was dead and still looked so happy and easygoing. I mourned Arnold and was proud of him, and I shared my room with him and wished him all the milk in the world. I had a dead brother and felt I had been singled out by fate. None of my playmates had a dead brother, let alone one who'd starved to death while fleeing the Russians.
The narrator's pride in this low-impact relation evaporates, however, when his parents discover that Arnold may be alive after all. What follows is an eerie excursion to the Institute of Forensic Anthropology in Heidelberg, where the entire family is poked, prodded, and measured for evidence of consanguinity with "foundling 2307." This nutty procedure is straight out of Kafka
, as is the utterly meaningless report that follows on its heels. Yet Treichel's musical, repetitive, unparagraphed prose owes much more to the late Thomas Bernhard
, with whom he also shares a taste for black-comic vexation. For this reader, in fact, the comparison leaves Treichel slightly diminished: he lacks the sort of maniacal intensity that was always the true motor of Bernhard's art. Still, there's a great deal to admire in his tormented take on brotherhood--which could easily have been titled From Here to Fraternity
--and Carol Brown Janeway
's translation captures both the author's meticulous banality and his momentary, moving leaps into the tragic register. --James Marcus
From Publishers Weekly
A missing child casts a long shadow over his younger brother's existence in this slim, astringent first novel by German poet and professor Treichel, enthusiastically received upon its German publication in 1998. Thrust into a stranger's arms in a moment of terror and confusion during the Russian advance on Germany during WWII, baby Arnold disappears without a trace. His petit bourgeois mother and father never quite recover from the loss, though they make a new life for themselves in a small town in Westphalia and have another son. Stifled by his brother's ghostly presence ("my undead brother had the leading role in the family and had assigned me a supporting part"), this unnamed second child, the book's young narrator, is dragged unwillingly into his parents' all-encompassing search for Arnold. The search narrows to focus on "foundling 2307" in a Red Cross facility, who is reported to bear an almost exact resemblance to the narrator. But before foundling 2307 can be viewed in person, a prior relationship must be indicated, and a bureaucratic odyssey of blood tests, fingerprinting, cranial comparisons and official reports ensues. The narrator, caught between his distraught mother and his irritable father, a work-obsessed meat and sausage wholesaler, rebels silently, unmoved even when his father suffers a fatal heart attack upon returning from a final series of tests to discover that his cold-storage shed has been ransacked. The deadpan humor of the boy's observations and the absurdist quality of the proceedings compete evocatively with the novel's real traumas, and the final scene, which abruptly turns the emotional tables, casts new light on all that has gone before. Treichel's finely tuned prose moves at high velocity in a continuous text virtually bare of paragraphs and chapters. It is well served by Janeway's English translation, as the novel ticks from beginning to end like expert, ominous clockwork, measuring out blackly comedic alienation against the bleak backdrop of postwar Germany. (Nov.)
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