High as the Waters Rise

Catapult. tr. from German by Anne Posten. Sept. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781948226523. $26. F
DEBUT After his best friend, Mátyás, is swept off an oil platform near the coast of Africa, rig worker Waclaw leaves his job and embarks on a journey of grief through his past and through a Europe changed from his memory of youth and early adulthood. He ventures first to Italy, the residence of Alois, an elderly uncle who was important to him in his youth. Then, borrowing Alois’s pickup truck, Waclaw begins an odyssey through Eastern Europe, visiting Mátyás’s sister before returning to his old hometown, where he hopes to reconnect with old girlfriend, Milena, only to find her comatose following a car accident. What results is the story of a man at the edge, a story of displacement and existential loneliness told with restraint and overall vagueness around the relationships among the various characters that both deepen the protagonist’s sense of isolation and elevate the action to an almost mythic level.
VERDICT Award-winning German author Kampmann is a poet, and this first foray into fiction is a poet’s novel in the richness of its imagery and the exquisiteness of the language. It’s as if the protagonist were a modern Odysseus returning to a home he no longer has

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