An elderly artist meets an elderly dandy in the late Croatian writer Drndić’s (EEG, 2019, etc.) brief but potent novel, and the rest is history‚ with all its inevitable tragedy.
Born in time to witness some of the worst episodes of the 20th century, Artur and Isabella are very different people, he “the greatest wearer of hats in this country,” she a quiet photographer who fled her native Germany decades earlier. They meet on a New Year’s Eve, and after a few hours together, they depart this life, statistics for a police ledger. All that is by way of prelude to Drndić’s larger story, centering on a melancholic fellow, aging but not elderly, named Pupi, who has an unusual attachment to the rhinos at the city zoo, “wild beasts, heavy beasts.” Pupi doesn’t much like the name he bears—he thinks of himself, Drndić writes, by his formal name, Printz, —and he doesn’t much like the life he is living, caring for an elderly father, nursing a variety of complaints, and collecting an odd assortment of facts for his notebook: The year of his birth, 1946, was, he calculates, also one in which numerous Nazis met their deaths: “Joachim von Ribbentrop, German war criminal, hung; Hans Frank, German war criminal, hung; Julius Streicher, German leader, hung; Wilhelm Keitel, German field-marshal, hung.“ Printz has odd little habits besides his obsessive collecting of facts, including pilfering things like food and bottles of wine from trade shows while excusing himself by noting that the French philosopher Louis Althusser did the same thing. Of course, Althusser also killed his wife, though Printz excuses him with the thought that “he helped her to kill herself because she wanted to kill herself.” That slender thread joins Isabella’s story to Printz’s, which ends as it began, in the company of rhinos—which is not necessarily a good thing.
Pensive and ponderous: a work of continental gloom that promises that no one gets out of here alive.