(Reviewed by Guy Savage AUG 27, 2008)
“You have to imagine what it was like—the world was going wild, was buzzing, everything seemed to be changing. And me? I stayed in my castle, a depressed escapist, listening to reports that my beloved had fallen for a tattooed beer drinker, and was uttering alarming cries of pleasure during the night. The sense of being excluded—you know, whatever my personal attitude to this revolution, I would never have been allowed to take part in it simply because I had too much money and power. OK, I could have given up my money and power, but I would never have been believed, just as, deep down inside, I didn’t believe in the revolution. But did I envy them!”
In the intriguing novel Eros by Helmut Krausser, a novelist whose “life is in ruins”
is summoned to Owl’s Nest, the Bavarian neo-gothic style home of the elderly reclusive millionaire, Alexander von Brucken. Last seen in public over twenty years earlier, von Brucken’s life is swathed in mystery. The novelist, full of trepidation, is both curious and repulsed at the thought of meeting the man who’s become a legend in Germany. Von Brucken, who is dying, tells the novelist that he wants to commission him to write “the story of a love, my love.” The millionaire wants the writer to create a novel using audiotapes of his memories along with available documentation insisting that “something that is written down has, in a certain way, happened, it’s my way of making something very secret public.” There are some conditions: the writer must alter the names of those involved so that the book appears to be fiction, and the book is not to be published until after von Brucken’s death.
Fascinated, the writer agrees to the conditions outlined by von Brucken, and over the course of the next eight days, the dying millionaire relays a fantastic story of obsessive love, unrequited passion, and unimaginable power while the author sits and listens, taking notes and asking questions.
Von Brucken’s story begins in his youth in WWII when as an innocent youth he fell passionately in love with a local working class girl named Sofie. Alexander’s wealthy family live in a villa in the north of Munich, and his father, an idealist who operates a number of metal processing factories doesn’t completely swallow Nazi ideology, but he’s nonetheless impressed by their successes. While he forbids Alexander, his only son from joining the Hitler Youth, he does insist that the boy remains faithful to certain traditions. Alexander remembers his father as a man who “tolerated the Nazis” and who failed miserably in the war effort:
”Everything my father did, he did as if under observation by rigorous judges who gave marks for character and bearing. Individuality seemed for him something one could only indulge in after the performance, in the privacy of one’s own home … from the cradle he found himself part of a social order there was no sensible reason to reject. He never had to make something of himself, just to fit in with what was already there, fill a vacant spot that was allotted him. This he did brilliantly and with great style, and it was only when his world began to fall apart that he found himself faced with decisions his mental apparatus was not equipped to cope with.”
Von Brucken’s remarkable tale of survival continues through the Munich bombings, the end of WWII, and the rise of industrialist Germany. Growing more and more eccentric, von Brucken refuses to accept that his love for Sofie is not reciprocated. Using limitless power and wealth, von Brucken’s tale details how he protected Sofie from a brutal lover and her Marxist-Leninist activities.
Eros is a marvelous tale that charts the history of modern Germany through von Brucken’s obsessive love for a woman who dismisses his attentions. Included in von Brucken’s tale: the excesses of the Springer Press, the “economic miracle” of the "new" Germany, the rise of Red Army Faction, the murder of Benno Ohnesorg, the June 2 Movement, the suicide of Ulrike Meinhof, the murder of industrialist Hans Martin Schleyer in “German Autumn” of 1977, and the subsequent state-conducted murders of members of the imprisoned Red Army Faction in Stammheim Prison.
One of the more fascinating aspects of this riveting tale is that author Helmut Krausser even explores the Stasi connection to West German Marxist-Leninist revolutionary groups, and this is a subject also scrutinized in Volker Schlondorff’s film, The Legend of Rita. Both the film and the novel examine the idea that Marxist-Leninist groups, while ideologically based, were sometimes funded by East Germany--although it seems likely that not all Marxist-Leninists understood who was pulling the strings. Certainly the RAF seemed to have established their own mechanisms of funding through a series of bank robberies, but in Eros, Sofie discovers--the hard way--that Communist East Germany is the puppet master for some of her more violent, subversive activities.
Eros is a wonderful tale, and part of the enjoyment of this story comes in the hints we are given that von Brucken may very well be an unreliable narrator. After all we only have his version of events, and while he had limitless power and money, and could very well have engineered everything described in these pages, why is the proposed book some sort of expiation for his sins? Why does von Brucken hope that the publication of the novel will somehow “reduce the crime?” Some aspects of von Brucken’s tale simply do not add up--at one moment, he insists his father was not a Nazi, but was a victim of Nazi drive and ideology--even at one point forgetting to say “Heil Hitler!” Yet soon thereafter, von Brucken acknowledges that his parents did not wish to remain alive in a Germany that did not contain their Fuehrer. That mindset, of course, reflects the same mindset as Goebbels and his wife. But at the same time, von Brucken’s description of his father--his obsession with architectural aesthetics, his dabbling in amateur architecture through the designs of new buildings, and his acquisition of art are all eerily similar to descriptions of Hitler.
The novel thus also functions on a symbolic level. Von Brucken could very well represent Germany’s post WWII economic miracle and Sofie could represent the dissatisfied youth--all too aware the fascist forces still operate within the country. At this symbolic level, their doomed romance could also represent a fractured Germany and a failure to successfully unite until after the collapse of the Berlin Wall when their relationship morphs into a heroic rescue of sorts. Do von Brucken’s unwelcome attentions to Sofie represent the tumultuous relationships of the left and right wing portions of post WWII Germany? Von Brucken’s limitless power results in efforts to monitor and "protect" Sofie, and these actions may, after all, have thrown her right into the jaws of Communist East Germany. As von Brucken acknowledges: “That will not excuse what I did to this person, will not make it as if it never happened—but the publication of the crime, the disclosure of a wrong, will, I feel at least reduce the crime.”
At the conclusion of the multi-layered Eros (which I read almost non-stop), I mulled over the possibilities of von Brucken as an unreliable narrator, and then mentally reconstructed the book with that possibility. And then, still not satisfied, I considered the book as simply a secret history told by some anonymous millionaire to the very real author Helmut Krausser. With all of these intriguing possibilities in my head, I reluctantly closed the book’s cover, but I am convinced I will reread this wonderful novel soon. (Translated by Mike Mitchell.)
- Amazon readers rating: from 1 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Fette Welt (Fat World) (1992)
- Der große Bagarozy (The Great Bagarozy ) (1997)
- UC (2003)
- Stream (2003)
- The Wild Dogs of Pompeii (2004)
- Eros (August 2008)
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- Wikipedia page for Helmut Krausser
- Necessary Prose review of The Great Bagarozy
- Complete Review on Eros
- LA Times review of Eros
- The Seattle Times review of Eros
- New Books in Germany review of Die Kleinen Gärten des Masestro Puccini
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About the Author:
Helmut Krausser was born in 1964 in Esslingen, Germany. He is a novelist, poet, diarist, dramaturge, composer, and screenwriter. At various times he has worked as a night watchman, newspaper canvasser, opera extra, vocalist in a rock ‘n‘ roll band, and journalist. He has a degree in Roman archaeology. His novels Der große Bagarozy (The Great Bagarozy) and Fette Welt (Fat World) have been adapted for the screen starring Jürgen Vogel.
Krausser lives in Berlin, Germany.