Survivors of a sunken ship traverse a war-torn Europe in Weiner’s picaresque follow-up to The Museum of Love (1994).
Nineteen-year-old sailor Nicholas Bremml boards his first ship, the merchant marine vessel Yellow Sailor, in 1914 in the German port of Hamburg. Delicate and easily frightened, he gets his dose and more of torment from his rough-hewn crewmates. After the ship runs aground in Polish waters, thanks to a critical error Nicholas made in the engine room, the crew scrambles ashore and scatters across a Europe in chaos. Jacek Gorecki, the electrician, dodges firing squads that are shooting deserters and ends up working in a mine. Brothers Karl and Alois are like a demented comedy duo, stumbling from one misadventure to another. Initially full of humor, they slide toward bitterness. Karl declares, “The future lied to us.” Meanwhile, Nicholas searches for meaning in the gutters of Hamburg and Prague, finding it most often in the arms of prostitutes. The Yellow Sailor’s wealthy owner, Julius Bernai, glides comfortably along a more rarified path. Ensconced in a sanitarium, he falls in love with his doctor’s wife, even though he has always loudly proclaimed his homosexuality. Weiner wields his words with the ease of a career novelist. Previously compared to Burroughs and Céline, he has the grim scatological edge of the former and the man-on-the-run, trans-European ambience of the latter, but parts company with both in lacking an urge to shock. Skipping through the years with ease, replete with dreamlike scenarios, this dark carnival of the absurd (dedicated to the Brothers Quay puppeteers) has no targets or prosecutorial ambitions, which is to its credit. It all does leave one wanting more by the end, though: Perhaps in future outings, the author will be able to leave a more lasting mark on the page.
Like a set of surreal flashcards, whipping by to create a crazed, impressionistic portrait of a Europe in which everyone is on the move and nothing is certain.