LOST by Hans-Ulrich Treichel


Email this review


A first novel from Treichel, a well-known German poet and critic, turns a fragmented family’s arduous search for its missing son into an eerie and perversely amusing metaphysical puzzle. The nameless narrator, a boy of indeterminate age, lives with his parents in a village near the Polish border—and with the knowledge that he is both their only child and the child they love least. For an older brother, Arnold, he eventual learns, was “lost” during WWII when, fleeing the invading Russian army, Arnold’s terrified mother had impulsively passed her baby to another woman—who immediately disappeared into a crowd, never to be seen again. Years later, the narrator observes with mingled resentment and fear the efforts of his still-traumatized mother and businesslike father (a prosperous meat wholesaler) to determine, through genetic testing, whether an anonymous orphan—designated “foundling 2307” and said to bear an “amazing likeness” to their other son—is indeed the missing Arnold. Treichel stretches this intriguing premise into a wry psychodrama focused on the narrator’s increasing confusions about his own identity, confusions that are nicely balanced by satirical glimpses of officialese red tape and impersonality (the family’s visit to Heidelberg’s Forensic Anthropology Institute is a deadpan-comic nightmare worthy of Kafka). After a somewhat stodgy beginning riddled with affected redundancy (virtually an entire page is consumed by the narrator’s reiterated objections to being “squeezed” by his mother), the novel moves with impressive swiftness toward a chilling surprise ending triggered by several unanticipated reversals (the narrator’s passive mother becomes the family spokesperson; her decision to adopt foundling 2307, no matter whether he is or isn’t Arnold, is thwarted; and the narrator’s fear of being displaced by the brother his parents really want is assuaged—in a way he cannot have foreseen). A gripping and resonant parable, done with remarkable economy, subtlety, and finesse.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40627-1
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1999


NonfictionOSTEND by Volker Weidermann
by Volker Weidermann
FictionF by Daniel Kehlmann
by Daniel Kehlmann
FictionGUILT by Ferdinand von Schirach
by Ferdinand von Schirach


FictionF by Daniel Kehlmann
by Daniel Kehlmann