Monday, December 3, 2012

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY

All villages have their somber side. Hemmersmoor, the village where Stefan Kiesbye set his novel, YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE, YOUR CHILDREN ARE ALL GONE, is no exception.Characters capable of the worst kind of cruelty—that which can they dismiss as thoughtlessness--inhabit its forbidding landscape. There are no lovable people in Hammermoor. There are no sunny moments in their lives. Theirs is a story one reads for writing, which is spare and elegant and which promises an ineffable beauty it only fails to deliver due to the unrelenting ugliness of the place and people it describes.

This is not a cozy little novel to be tucked into a Christmas stocking along with oranges and sweets. This a story in the dark-night-of the soul European tradition that dates back to the Ecclesiastes. In Hammersmoor, everyone suffers, everyone inflicts pain on its neighbour. Some sin by indifference, other sin by overt aggression. Some beat their children, some bury infants in flower pots under the roots of roses. I mean, how European can you get? For all his dazzling command of English, Kiesbye’s first language is German. One assumes that he grew up with German folktales not too terribley different from the story he tells. The difference is that in folktales there is usually redemption, a lesson, a moral. In his novel, as the main character repeats, “Time is of no importance.” The past will be forgotten, much as the mysterious camp in the outskirts of the village is forgotten along with its inmamates-- people with shaved heads who merit but a fleeting mention in the story.Is this book worth reading? Yes, if only for the promise of what Kiesby will do as he puts down roots in a sunnier continent.

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