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With echoes of Kafka, Beckett, and others, Hofmann takes his middle-class German narrator through a surreal--yet understated and ironic--nightmare-episode: encounters with Death, Eros, and Violence in the world's most barren tourist-trap. Vacationing in Sicily, the narrator and wife Maria are at a bitter marital dead-end: he's furious with her for having gotten pregnant again (there's a small daughter back home); she's furious with him--after learning that he has an illegitimate son. Appropriately, then, they wind up in the dead village of Dikaiarcheia--""small, ruined, dustblanketed. . . poverty-stricken, horrible, and repulsive."" They're the only guests at a vile inn. The only signs of life are young boys slaughtering goats. But the couple is suddenly approached by the village ""supervisor""--who insists on leading the hot, tired Germans on a tour of Dikaiarcheia's historic sites, culminating (he promises) in a ""spectacle at the tower."" The first attraction? A one-room house containing--as viewed through the window--old, dead women ""on an iron rod built into the wall. . . like rare birds in a darkened cage."" Next comes the deserted Foundlings' Home, where ""superfluous children"" (an echo of Maria's controversial pregnancy) were systematically mutilated. Then the marketplace, site of bygone political tortures. (""Well, I say. . . for our taste, he's going too far, much too far. Also that his account is far too precise, with too many details. Do we, as tourists, have no right to a touristic relationship with the market of D.? Can't we, as visitors, be allowed here, as elsewhere, to stop at the surface of things?"") And finally comes the disappointing water tower--a 19th-century eyesore--followed by a very grim spectacle indeed: the German couple, along with a magically-appearing crowd of fellow tourists, is treated to a grisly hunger march (""a demonstration against death'). . . and the death-leap of a handsome goat-boy from that phallic-symbol/tower. Hofmann's network of themes here often threatens to become a murky muddle: existential angst; social conscience (rich tourists vs. poor, desperate-to-please Sicilians); and sexual tension (the narrator's bygone, reawakening homosexuality). But, through most of this short, resonant novel, the dreamlike bizarreness and ominous atmosphere are firmly maintained--thanks to elegantly rhythmic narration (masterfully translated) and a shrewd balance between horror and comedy.

Pub Date: March 30th, 1984
Publisher: Fromm International