HIMMELFARB by Michael Krüger


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 In this artfully written German import, KrÅger (The Man in the Tower, 1993, etc.) turns a satiric eye on an 80-year-old man whose esteemed career has been built on a lie. Starting in 1942, a graduate student named Richard at the Leipzig Ethnological Institute spent two grueling years in the jungles of Brazil researching his thesis. But he merely went through the motions. In truth, he ``was not interested in Indians, those degenerate humans, and their propensity for alcoholism and quarreling.'' Naturally, this racist attitude would have destroyed his entire project if it weren't for a German Jew named Leo Himmelfarb whom he hired as his guide. Not only did Leo chart their course and translate the native language; but he made friends with the villagers and painstakingly recorded every encounter, folk tale, song, and ritual in an oilcloth journal. But Richard's pride kept him from learning anything from a man who could have been his mentor, and he felt more relief than sorrow when Leo took ill and he was forced to leave him behind in the jungle. After several years with no news from Leo, Richard assumed he was dead and published the journal as his own. His entire reputation in the literary and scientific community is based on this work. So, when Leo turns up 50 years later, Richard suffers to think that he could lose his stature. As it turns out, Leo seeks not to expose him but to finally teach him the lessons he should have learned when he was young. The book's major flaw is Richard, who lapses into incomprehensible pedantry during moments of introspection: ``Reality has vanished and what we perceive as reality is only an ironic transfer sticker that is being held up to a running camera by a politician abandoned by all good German spirits.'' Still, KrÅger manages, without a trace of sentimentality, to show a dying man take inventory of a failed life.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8076-1363-0
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Braziller
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1994


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