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Category: Fiction

Sabine Gruber

Daldossi oder Das Leben des Augenblicks
[Daldossi, or A Moment’s Life]


Returning to everyday life without a bulletproof vest
Sabine Gruber's novel, "Daldossi, or A Moment’s Life"

Bruno Daldossi is a war photographer. He has risked his life during his travels to war zones from Bosnia to Afghanistan to Iraq and seen atrocities he won’t easily forget. Now in his early sixties, he finds himself in a kind of full-scale retreat and—given the quantities of alcohol he is consuming—one might safely say he’s an alcoholic. His girlfriend Marlis, a zoologist in charge of a brown bear reserve, who also nurses baby squirrels back to health, has left him because her reserves of being "laidback" had been depleted over the years. Unable to get over the separation, Daldossi follows her to Venice, where she has moved in with her new lover. Once he finds her there, however, he loses the opportunity to be with her because he’s too intoxicated to remember anything at all.

Ever since her debut novel titled Aushäusige (1996), Sabine Gruber, who was born 1963 in Merano, has frequently set her novels in her hometown South Tyrol and created characters that explore the world, while remaining deeply connected to their roots. The motif of going away and staying behind also plays a role in, "Daldossi oder Das Leben des Augenblicks." Gruber tells the touching story of a lonely man, who, after witnessing the horrors of war, has lost his ability to live a life of peace. It’s not easy to trade a bulletproof vest for an apron, or take the problems of everyday life seriously after shooting photos of children with mutilated limbs. Getting involved and the desire to help others are human impulses that are forbidden to the professional photographer. How can such a person possibly return home, let alone be able to love again? And: isn’t it a duty to intervene, act, help out, rather than just witnessing and capturing the image?

Fortunately, these are questions that this novel never answers explicitly. That we love and live in a world filled with horrors is a fact each of us must deal with in our own way. Sabine Gruber has been dealing with these questions for years: she was a close friend of the "Stern" magazine reporter, Gabriel Grüner, who was shot in Kosovo in 1999. The novel is steeped in her mourning over the death of her dear friend and respect for his work, and this endows the character Bruno Daldossi with tremendous intensity.

The story is told from two perspectives: apart from Bruno, who is as cool as he is desperate, there is Johanna, the ex-girlfriend of a former colleague, who has traveled to Lampedusa to write a report about Mediterranean refugees. This text is included in the book as a prologue – along with a report on military training for journalists designed to help them navigate a mine field. This grandiose, unsentimental, and precise report about people starving and dying of thirst at sea evinces what Daldossi hopes to achieve in his photography: it is possible to show misery without being voyeuristic. His photographs are used as short descriptions between the individual chapters; Gruber translates the pictures into small narrative vignettes, thus portraying the love life of the protagonists through a double perspective: existence and history.

Bruno follows Johanna to Lampedusa, where they tentatively grow closer, but while she is ready to fall in love with him, he still needs to process the separation from Marlis. The "life of the moment," which is referred to in the title, not only applies to the art of the photographer to be at the right place at the right time, it is precisely that very ability which has been lost in Daldossi’s own life: he drowns himself in painful memories of Marlis and is haunted by war images, and, as a result, he loses the moment in his life. If happiness means being completely present in the present moment, Daldossi is a profoundly unhappy person. Sabine Gruber’s ability to breathe life into this character’s desperate turmoil, which is the turmoil of our era, is the stuff of great art. She has written a gripping, intelligent, and moving novel that readers will never forget.

Translated by Zaia Alexander

Vorname Name

By Jörg Magenau

Jörg Magenau is an author and literary critic for newspapers and radio, including Süddeutsche Zeitung and Deutschlandfunk Kultur. His most recently published book is titled, "Princeton '66: Die Abeteneuerliche Reise der Gruppe 47" (Klett-Cotta).