A slightly dissolute German aristocrat maintains a running commentary on cultural mores and world events in a sometimes sluggish but mostly satisfying satire. Westphalen, a popular German nonfiction satirist, breaks into the English-speaking world with this first novel. It's the early 1970s, and jazz enthusiast Harry von Duckwitz, already jaded and not yet 30, flees the expanding comfort of his life as a lawyer in Frankfurt for the zanier comforts of a life as a member of West Germany's foreign service. After passing an undemanding test (he can identify Paul Klee and picks the right moment to savage Nixon), Harry is sent to Cameroon, where he swiftly learns that the cinematic image of diplomats and diplomacy fails to match the real thing: Dashing drunks bearing cigarette cases are out; ""insipid neckties"" and ""acidic joviality"" are in. Reluctant to inherit a bureaucrat's fate, Harry becomes a provocateur, shooting his mouth off with a cavalier disregard for just about everything and everyone. His haughtiness is immeasurable, as is his romantic appetite. Surprisingly, he marries, and with his Indian-Korean wife, Rita, moves back to Germany and then on to Ecuador, meanwhile learning that his college flame, Helen, has developed an unexplained taste for postmodernism. She insists that he read the French theorist Baudrillard, but Harry couldn't care less: ""By now,"" he comments, ""someone had probably written a cultural history of the fart."" Once the South American adventure concludes, the story really livens up as Harry, Rita, and Helen form an uneasy mâ€šnage â€¦ trois in Bonn. Later, Harry adds another woman to his harem -- his brother's girlfriend. Fancying himself a contemporary Paris forced to judge among his three lovers, Harry stumbles toward reunification but is forced to take an early retirement when he claims that he wouldn't ""wipe his ass"" with the East German flag. Still, he emerges from his trials with his â€šlan intact. Agile wit more than makes up for the slow parts.
Pub Date: May 1, 1995
Page Count: 304
Publisher: Catbird--dist. by Independent Publishers Group