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AT THE WRITING DESK by Werner Kofler


by Werner Kofler ; translated by Lauren K. Wolfe

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-62897-004-3
Publisher: Dalkey Archive

A collection of stories, as much essay as fiction, originally published in 1988, by the late Austrian novelist and polemicist.

“It’s out of powerlessness that I sit down to my desk to write and out of powerlessness that I get up and walk away again,” sighs one of Kofler’s narrators. Power is a constant preoccupation; while one narrator insists that “literature is a fight against crime,” others accede or are complicit. Born in 1947, Kofler raises searching, often unsubtle questions about Austria’s guilt in World War II and the Holocaust; the nation may have chosen forgetfulness—“You saw nothing!” as one brownshirt hollers at an old woman, emblematically—but Kofler, as if channeling Karl Kraus or Friedrich Dürrenmatt from previous generations, is there to hold the mirror up to its eyes. So it is that one embittered veteran of the war grumbles, well, sure, 6 million Jews may have died, but “what about the three and a half million German soldiers who set out to make a better future for themselves and wound up losing their lives, what about them?” That “better future” is a matter of debate. In the opening paired narratives, a mountain guide and the tourist he leads thrash over whether to keep the alpine country pristine or set down a reservoir and power plant in the middle of all that scenery. “Bullshit, this is bullshit, I want to call out but I can barely make a sound,” laments the visitor, just one of countless Austrians who, now as then, go along to get along. Kofler’s diction is unadorned and rough-edged, qualities which the translation straightforwardly captures; the only thing wanted is more thorough annotation to gloss such things as the symbolism of the kingfisher and what Kofler means by phrases such as “a Franconian nightmare,” though the existing notes are helpful in outlining matters such as the history of the neofascist politician Jörg Haider, “a self-nominated outpost-German.”

A welcome introduction to a writer little known to American readers.