An emotionally muddled art student’s unlucky sexual ventures as he stumbles upon the Sardinian woman of his dreams.
Women typically find Albert rather idiotic and pathetic, especially the Roman policewoman with whom he has an unfortunate chance encounter while pursuing his study of Caravaggio. “Preoccupied with disastrous urges,” but lacking the courage to fulfill them, poor Albert, weaned on the revolutionary books of Wilhelm Reich and Peter Kropotkin, lives on the verge of daily frustration and regret; suffering from a deep-seated skin condition, he prefers to scratch at paintings rather than analyze them. Back home in Berlin, he visits a Mafia-style Italian bar and falls for Elena, an impassive, somnolent Sardinian waitress whose uses for Albert aren’t clear. She operates as a shill for Italian gamblers, and her heart is apparently taken by an older married “Persian”; Albert is terribly jealous of the man but can’t compete with him. Eventually, Elena saves enough money to buy a house back on her homeland and take up a cosmetology business. Albert, imagining he can research Caravaggio while there, follows her. The result, as with everything in his experience, is not what he imagines. Or does he have happiness within his reach, only to throw it away like the sandwiches his mother always made him lovingly before a long train trip? In a few short, sharp strokes, German novelist Treichel (Lost, 1999) delineates Albert's miserable and permanent state of sub-being: When he and Elena make love, “it was once again as if she were allowing him to take part in a feast to which people like him weren’t usually invited.” Albert is a bumbling romantic hero who needs to be rescued, and Treichel mirrors his restless, befuddled state with dry, passionless prose beautifully rendered in a marvelous and very funny translation by Wood, who has done equally well in the past for Thomas Mann, Patrick Suskind, and Ingo Schulze.
Deceptively simple, nicely nourishing fiction of the old school.