From Krüger (Himmelfarb, 1993, etc.), prize-winning author in his native Germany, a seriocomic gem about a modern composer whose past—it seems—comes back to haunt him.
Some twenty years ago, our mature and thoughtful narrator (he’s referred to once as György) attended a modern music conference in Budapest, still behind the Iron Curtain. Such a visit wasn’t unusual—he went to many such affairs in eastern bloc Europe, not necessarily with very high hopes for the future of modern music (his own comfortable income is from the popular music he writes for TV detective shows), though certainly with some hope, and certainly with the aim of nurturing and maintaining a sense of principle in an increasingly unprincipled (an unaesthetic) world. The conference in Budapest, though, did differ in one way—in the passionate affair György had with the Hungarian singer Maria. And thereby hangs a tale. Two decades later, who should be sent by Maria to appear in György’s Munich apartment—maybe to remain for keeps, it seems—but 20-year old cellist Judit, who just might be—could she be?—György’s daughter. Readers will never know for sure, but they’ll love the rollicking tale that follows as a huge crop of Hungarian relatives gathers to celebrate Judit’s 20th birthday, all but pushing György out of house and home, guests who include the wondrous eccentric, Uncle Sandor, also Maria herself, even two children whose parents for a time seem mysteriously to disappear altogether. Alas, how can György conceivably hope to get any work done on his already-stalled grand opus—his opera on the subject of Osip Mandelstam? Politics and history, history and art, after all, constitute the real subject here, and possibly Krüger’s whole novel is a kind of allegory of German responsibility for the post–WWII ravages that befell eastern Europe. Either way, there’s comedy here aplenty amid the colorful and the eccentric, great learning worn lightly, the whole delivered by a fine and intelligent tumble of words.
Wonderful. Alert all who hunger for the stimulus of real intellectual entertainment.