A disaffected German comes of age and sets out on a lifelong journey to discover himself through sex, drugs and, ultimately, spirituality in Mitze’s novel.
Walter Herzog was born in a small town outside of Frankfurt to an emotionally detached mother and a Nazi-sympathizing stepfather at the tail end of World War II. Teenage Walter and his pals come to school drunk and oversexed; eventually, they skip classes altogether to make out with girls and earn drinking money. Over the years, restless Walter finds himself loving numerous women. He gets drafted into the German military and relinquishes his service by claiming pacifism. Later, he discovers marijuana and finally settles with a beautiful girl, Hilde. But a stable relationship isn’t enough to stave off Walter’s mounting depression and intense desire to find meaning. When he and a friend visit the United States in the late 1960s, he falls in love with an unlikely place—Oklahoma City—where he encounters psychedelic drugs. He moves there with Hilde to open a restaurant, before returning to Frankfurt, addicted to psychedelics. One summer, while living with Hilde at his parents’ home in Germany, Walter has an epiphany: “People he knew or heard of had gone to the East…and seemed different when they returned.” So he and Hilde bus through Budapest, Athens, Turkey and the Middle East to India, where Walter marvels over “how people survived their daily struggle in apparent chaos under harsh conditions.” Later, on a depressive whim, he also visits the Far East, briefly living in a commune and practicing meditation to help him come to terms with his new life as a father and published author. The bulk of Walter’s life, roughly 50 years, is relayed largely through exposition, resulting in dry prose that rarely slows to capture the intense emotions of, for example, Walter’s first sexual encounter or his decision to visit India. Regardless, the book’s dozens of concise chapters, characters and exotic locales—not to mention Walter’s spontaneity—make for a profoundly engaging and unpredictable plot. In Walter, Mitze has created a counterculture-era Siddhartha, a nomadic soul who discovers unexpected meaning in home, friendship and rock ’n’ roll.
A picaresque tale of personal conviction and compassion.