Category: Fiction

Feridun Zaimoglu
Liebesbrand
[Blazing love]

Review

At a time when speed-dating has become the timesaving norm for finding a partner, and internet singles services boast they can provide a perfect match based on scientific criteria, can such a thing as irrational, crazy, impossible and all-consuming love still exist? In his new novel Liebesbrand / Blazing Love, Feridun Zaimoglu searches precisely for this feeling: existential, romantic love.

The book begins with a bang, both in language and content: "It grew dark, it grew light, then I died." David, the first-person narrator, is travelling through Turkey, where he is entangled in a deadly bus accident that brings him within an inch of his life, and leaves countless dead and wounded by the roadside. The reader experiences first-hand the gory details of the accident as vividly as only pictorial art is able to convey. Perhaps the desperation of this scene is so palpable because a few years back, Zaimoglu had survived a similar accident. The reader is abruptly pulled into the story and—apart from a few passages in the middle –isn’t released until 375 pages later.

After escaping the flames, David lies at the side of the road. Out of nowhere, a blonde woman arrives at the scene, gives him some water, and wipes the blood from his forehead. As suddenly as she had appeared, she disappears once again. The first letters of a German license plate and a blue ring she was wearing are the only clues the injured man can remember. The reader senses immediately, this is not the last time David will encounter the woman.

David first lands in a Turkish hospital. His neighbours in the room confront him with a view of love that, though he was born in Turkey, is completely alien to him; his roots are in Germany where he was raised and resides: "I knew some sparks, but in my heart there was no such thing as blazing love, I was spoiled by the West, I was an utterly degenerate man of the Occident and I knew nothing about the Oriental tradition of worshipping the woman."

Back in Germany, David returns to a dreary, miserable life. He breaks off a “dead-end relationship,” but has no plans for the rest of his life: “What plans? I thought, if only.....” Having previously earned good money as a stockbroker, he no longer needed to work; there was nothing left in his life to fill the emptiness. And then suddenly he recalls the blond woman with the blue ring. An unfamiliar longing takes hold of him. And this longing for her develops over time into a “blazing love” that knows no bounds, one that steers him halfway across Europe.

Zaimoglu is not interested in psychological narratives. He deliberately refuses to analyze his characters’ emotions or to explain their actions. The narrator’s longing is simply there, and it is so strong nothing else matters, period. As magical as it may seem, “to escape death and be handed over to a fairytale” the plot of the novel is unquestioningly anchored in reality. The language of this fantasy-filled author consistently breaks the boundaries of the expected, a language in which the oriental storyteller’s tone resonates uniquely.

David sets off on his search for the blond woman, equipped with nothing more than luck and the first two letters of her license plate, NI, which stands for Nienburg, a small north German town. As in most fairytales where the strangest coincidences appear to be perfectly natural, David indeed finds the woman with the unusual name Tyra, which refers to early Nordic legend.

Although, at first, Tyra brusquely rejects his bluntly articulated demand, "I want to be your lover ..." the two spend a night of love together. More such nights will follow. Thus begins a merry-go-round of being accepted and rejected, because more than wishing to be involved with David, she wants nothing to do with him. "Pursuit is futile. Farewell.” But this rejection ignites his blazing love even more. Although he knows he is making a fool of himself, David spares no effort in trying to meet up with her; he follows her from the northern German province to Prague and Vienna, and behaves—he often describes himself thusly— like an idiot.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that neither his courtship, nor the narrative, continues in a straight line. Our hero is often led astray and takes so many detours that the reader nearly forgets why the journey was made in the first place. David meets a number of strange characters along the way. Maniacs want to get hold of him, charlatans offer him their services, he is cursed and deals with alleged saints and sinners. In Prague, his beautiful tour guide takes him sightseeing to sites of legend and superstition as though it was a normal thing to do, and they continuously visit churches, monasteries, holy figures and cemeteries.

Tyra asks him at one point, “are you a romantic?” and with that articulates the quality resonating continuously throughout the novel: a great love for the romantic. So Tyra’s blue ring of this love odyssey can be understood as a symbol of romantic longing, much like the “blue flower.” But it's not just the romantic echoes that give this book its unique tone, rather – given the origin of its author—there is yet another source: the oriental worship of woman (which is in the narrator’s blood!). Baffling is the fact that oriental and occidental traditions of love are obviously not so distant from each other at all.

And the end? According to tradition, true romantic longing must remain unfulfilled. The object of his desire finds salvation through religion. Her final retreat from David may pave the way for him to find another fulfilled and fulfilling love—who knows?

Blazing Love isn’t the first novel that has made Zaimoglu one of the most important contemporary authors in Germany. His book of short stories Twelve Grams of Happiness (2004) and the novel Leyla (2006) were both successes. Yet with Blazing Love he managed to push the discourse about Romantic literature to the forefront of the German cultural features section. Something like this doesn’t often meet with success: an outdated book about romantic love that stands apart from the current canon of lukewarm introspective love stories. Bravo.
Vorname Name

By Anne Nordmann, 01.09.2008

Translated by Zaia Alexander