Category: Fiction

Terézia Mora
Das Ungeheuer
[The Monster]

Novel

Review

In Terézia Mora’s novel, "Der einzige Mann auf dem Kontinent" ["The only man on the continent", 2009], the ambivalent protagonist Darius Kopp is a typical Berlin-based IT consultant. In an interview, Mora once described people in that industry as living on the safe side of the future, who prefer to live outside the present. Like Kopp. Yet at some point, the American IT company, “Fidelis,” “changed goals,” and the boorishly-sly Kopp was soon out of a job. Now it was his Hungarian wife Flora’s turn to make ends meet as a waitress.

Terezia Mora was born 1971, in Hungary/Sopron, and moved to Berlin at the age of nineteen to begin studying there. In her semi-autobiographical novel, “The only man on the continent,” Mora deals with the bursting of the internet bubble in 2001, which was responsible for her husband losing his job.

In her most recent novel, “The Monster,” Mora returns to Darius Kopp’s narrative five years later. But one needn’t have read the first novel to enjoy the second. Here the focus is on a completely different side of Kopp: his private life, which in the previous novel seemed stripped away by the force of the economic crisis. Flora, meanwhile, has also lost her job and withdraws to the hinterlands of Berlin. After months of solitude in the forest, she commits suicide by hanging herself from a tree. “The Monster” narrates this event in retrospect, but it is the key moment in Darius Kopp's life.

Kopp’s shock is intensified when he discovers Flora's diary on her laptop and has it translated from Hungarian. In the pages, he discovers to his horror a woman he did not know: hardened and depressed, disillusioned already as a student, ruthless, a woman who had gone to bed with every man she had met, only pills kept her afloat.

Kopp is unable to handle this farewell text, which transformed flora and left him abandoned. Kopp falls apart, living on a diet of pizza and beer, until finally a friend rescues him from his grief. He takes a trip to Hungary, to the land where Flora was born. He needs to understand what had happened to his wife.

At first glance, the novel would appear to be a classic narrative with the classic risk of turning maudlin. Since winning the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 1999, Mora has been considered one of the most important writers in German literature, and she instantly circumvents such dangers in both a surprising and convincing way. Once Kopp sets out on the journey that takes him from Hungary to Armenia, Mora draws a horizontal line in the middle of each page from then on: Below the line are Flora’s notes, which make up the other half of the novel; her text’s poignant solemnity accompanies and contradicts Kopp's intensely felt and confused search.

Mora has created a compelling voice for Kopp and an important literary text. Kopp is transformed by the shock into a man who wants to fool himself and others. He defends himself against a therapist who categorizes his trauma over Flora's death as depression. He had no desire to take “sick leave” for a matter of grief.

Mora was rightly awarded the German Book Prize in 2013 for “The Monster.” The interplay of linguistic brilliance and the timeliness of the narrative rarely can be found in German literature. Terézia Mora once said she began her projects by listening to the news every morning, so as to keep in mind the times she is living in. Only when the novel has found its “own time” did she stop. One senses this while reading. She has created a literary relevance that makes the events of the day seem old.
 
Hans-Peter Kunisch

By Hans-Peter Kunisch, 18.06.2014

​Hans-Peter Kunisch lives in Berlin and Ireland. He is a freelance writer and journalist and writes mainly for the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Translated by Zaia Alexander