THE DISTANT LOVER by Christoph Hein


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East German Hein's first novel to appear in English--about an affair between a woman who carefully controls her life and a married man addicted to danger--is yet another (albeit successful) exploration of modern existential angst. Claudia, a physician who is divorced and childless, fears "established familiarity" of every sort; but then she meets Henry, an architect, and they have a present-tense affair, meeting approximately twice a week until his death a year later in a fistfight. The story opens with his funeral, and backtracks. After Henry arrogantly walks into her life, narrator Claudia takes us with her on her rounds: she photographs empty landscapes as a hobby; meets patients, and associates with colleagues, reporting on them with clinical precision but with little if any emotional connection; visits her parents, her aunt Gerda and uncle Paul; becomes nearly hysterical when Henry admits he's married; and relives her first marriage with its several abortions. As the narrative progresses, it becomes more explanatory as Claudia analyzes herself: "I hadn't realized that I never photographed people." She begins to miss Henry, to long for him when he's absent. With him, she goes to G., her childhood home, and recalls the religious Katharina, her best friend whom she publicly renounced. (Politics and personal history dovetail nicely here.) She also realizes that her relationship with Henry has avoided depth; but, after living through his death, and through other less catastrophic moments, Claudia remains unredeemed, still alienated from herself and still denying it. A derivative but honest clinical portrait of modern emotional isolation--which is especially endemic, the narrative implies, to the professions.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1989
ISBN: 394-56634-3
Publisher: Pantheon
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