Category: Fiction

Helmut Krausser
Einsamkeit und Sex und Mitleid
[Loneliness and sex and pity]

Review

Helmut Krausser is as controversial an author in Germany as he is successful. Most discussions around his work refer to Krausser’s blustering performances and his oft repeated lament of being a misunderstood genius. Krausser describes the principles of his poetics: "Love, myth, death - I love transporting the great themes into our era". At first glance, none of this can be found in his newest book. Loneliness and Sex and Pity is an episodic novel that centers on his protagonists’ everyday life. In brief we see:

The callboy Vincent walks in on a homeless, but unexpectedly attractive burglar in his apartment. Ekki, a retired Latin teacher, goes to his local pub one night and sweet talks the waitress with stories about lusty ancient Rome. The young Arab Mahmoud makes the pubescent Swentja a blatantly immoral proposal, drawing both of them closer than they would have ever imagined possible. The author brings together about 15 Berlin-based characters, whose paths cross at various points in the book. Krausser skillfully weaves his narrative with dramatic flair, connecting the lives of his characters as he goes. The book offers a snapshot, a dazzling panorama of the city of Berlin and the Federal Republic of Germany.

A character in the novel Uwe König is the marketing manager of a Karstadt department store. Every year he spends Christmas Eve with his wife Julia at home; this year she suddenly and coolly informs him she wants a divorce. Cut, scene change. On that same Christmas Eve, the former Latin teacher Ekkehard Nölte sits in his favorite pub and is loathe to go home. He is lonely since retiring, and all he can do is think about a student, who unjustly caused his early retirement from school by making false claims. To delay going home, he starts a conversation with the kind waitress Minnie and stays until the bar closes.

Swentja is a 15 year-old student. When one day a young Arab boy approaches her on the street and offers her € 100 for oral sex, she is both furious and curious at the same time. Though she rejects the offer, she asks Mahmud for his phone number, despite her new boyfriend Johnny. Johnny’s father is a preacher, and his faith in God convinces him that Swentja will be his future bride. Swentja, however, has had enough of her Bible-thumping boyfriend and finds Mahmud much more exciting. Johnny fights for Swentja and struggles with himself and his faith.

Janine is a 37 year-old dancer, who earns her living as a dance teacher. She looks back on her career as a prima ballerina, which ended prematurely due to an epileptic condition. She successfully arranges a blind date over the internet, yet thinks the man is too conventional for a long-term relationship. On their dinner date, Uwe König’s stories about his job at Karstadt department store bore her to death. He tells her about an older gentleman named Ekkehard Noelte, who loudly complained about the products in the food section.

This element of surprise—we unexpectedly get a glimpse of one character through another, proves to be a key principle of the novel. During the course of the book, the reader encounters each character at least one more time, allowing for a complex web of relationships. We see, for example, Swentja is the student who falsely accused the retired teacher Ekkehard at the start of the story. This revelation about the characters serves not only the individual scenes, but also endows the protagonists with contour and focus.

The narrator relies entirely on the appeal of his characters. Thus, he dispenses with distancing reflections and lets the protagonists speak for themselves. He achieves this by telling the story from their internal perspective and giving the dialogue free reign. The language of the novel is direct and diverse – allowing each character a voice of their own.

All of the characters are portrayed not only as individuals, but also within their social context which likewise influences their actions. The protagonists come from all ages and social classes: Ur-Berliners are shown along with migrants, women and men, young people and seniors, PhDs and the working poor. A representative cross-section is presented here. But representative of what? First, certainly of Berlin, whose diverse cityscape provides the backdrop for the novel. But taking the title of the novel seriously, it's not just about the panorama of a city, but the mood of the German nation. "Loneliness and Sex and Pity" instead of "Unity and Justice and Freedom" - the allusion to the German national anthem that resonates in the title suggests the book is also dealing with the state of the German nation.

This point, at the latest, it is clear Krausser is concerned about "Love, Death and Myth", although it only becomes clear upon closer inspection. Although each of the protagonists in “Loneliness and Sex and Pity” is looking for partnership, the word "Love" never appears in the title. Likewise, it remains unclear to the protagonists what is actually meant by the word: love.

Julia König ended her marriage to Uwe because he didn’t care enough about his career, and given her tight timetable, she makes an appointment with the Callboy Vincent for sexual gratification. Her estranged husband Uwe casually sleeps with the dancer Janine to distract himself from his separation with Julia. Ekki feels lonely and seeks comfort from the hesitant Minnie. The Punk Holger rapes Sibylle in her sleeping bag and swears eternal fidelity to her the next day. Do the characters in their various relations get what they are longing for? They all struggle with loneliness. Love, however, appears as an empty space within the novel’s stories. The novel gains a transcendental dimension through the character Johnny, who struggles with his faith in God.

Krausser transforms the daily toil of love into a wider context. The small concerns and observations of his characters are symbolic of the search for happiness. The question whether this search is linked to a contemporary diagnosis of the Federal Republic of Germany is left open enough in the novel that any reader can provide his or her own answer to it. The final passage of the book certainly gives reason for hope: "Ümal was gripped by horror [...], but then as he ran down the street, he felt neither anger nor disappointment, on the contrary. He could not explain it. It was as if his finger was touching an unconditional and all-inclusive love of all things, animals and people of this world. "
Vorname Name

By Eva Kaufmann, 27.09.2010

Translated by Zaia Alexander