THE HERITAGE by Siegfried Lenz


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Like Gunter Grass--who chronicled Danzig in The Flounder--Lenz (The German Lesson, An Exemplary Life) turns his attention to Germany's lost eastern history, that particularly of Masuria, the East Prussian (now Polish) province centered in Lucknow and abundant with ducks, lowlands, great rug-makers, and a folk culture of unusual heterogeneity. Zygmunt Rogalla narrates this novel from his hospital bed; he is explaining--to an unspeaking young man--why he burned down the Masurian museum, a museum which Zygmunt and other Lucknowers have spent so many years trying to retain since World War II (when Masuria reverted to Polish control). In order to do this, Zygmunt ranges distantly back to before World War I: the feudalism; the extraordinary tradition of Masurian weaving (typified by Sonja Turk, Zygmunt himself, and a younger master, Marian Jeromin); the cultural barbarism of the Nazis; the mass exodus from Lucknow to the Baltic at the end of World War Il. And there are strongly etched personalities along the way: Zygmunt's alchemist/pharmacist father; his uncle Adam, who first collected and curated Masurian artifacts; and the independent Konrad (Conny) Karrasch, a life-long friend who was always about twice as politically conscious as everyone else--and who, after the war, changed his politics and thus provoked the disillusioned Zygmunt to his destructive act of freedom: the collection's incineration. Very much bound to local atmospheres, Lenz chronicles all of this with none of Grass' joie de vivre--but also without Grass' tricks and circuses. A history comes across--patiently, at length, right down the center of the lane--through vivid (if sometimes heavy) accretion alone. A solid, adhesive novel; of limited but distinct interest.

Pub Date: June 4th, 1981
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux