Not since The Reader has a work of fiction so stunningly evoked the guilt and shame that resounds in postwar Germany. In this debut novel of astonishing originality, we bear witness to a family ravaged with regret at the loss of their child.
As a young boy, the narrator learns that his parents lost their firstborn son while fleeing the advancing Russian Army in 1945. Though his family has comfortably settled in Westphalen, the memory of Arnold continues to haunt them. The narrator shares his parents' anguish, but he can't resist feeling resentful, for his brother's absence is the most defining aspect of his life. When his parents learn of a foundling that resembles Arnold, they embark on a horrific quest to claim him as their own, only to endure a series of unanticipated twists that lead to a startling denouement. At turns uncanny, subtle, and perversely amusing, Lost is a chilling novel of mesmerizing power.
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Although Hans-Ulrich Treichel has already published seven volumes of poetry and miscellaneous prose, his first novel has produced the biggest splash yet, both in his native Germany and abroad. Initially this seems a little surprising. Lost is a small book whose expressive resources are constricted on one side by the narrator's youth (he's 8) and on the other by his emotional range (from mild to deep perplexity). Yet Treichel's plot has an elementary and irresistible power. As we learn, the narrator and his parents are beneficiaries of the postwar German boom, now living in East Prussia. There is, however, a missing piece from this family portrait: an older brother, reluctantly abandoned to a bystander during the Russian advance in 1945. The parents are tortured by this fact, while the narrator, forced to study the single remaining photo of his sibling, takes a more laissez-faire approach:
Arnold was dead, which was certainly very sad, but it made it easier for me to deal with his photo. Happy, easygoing Arnold even struck a chord in me, and I was proud to have a brother who was dead and still looked so happy and easygoing. I mourned Arnold and was proud of him, and I shared my room with him and wished him all the milk in the world. I had a dead brother and felt I had been singled out by fate. None of my playmates had a dead brother, let alone one who'd starved to death while fleeing the Russians.The narrator's pride in this low-impact relation evaporates, however, when his parents discover that Arnold may be alive after all. What follows is an eerie excursion to the Institute of Forensic Anthropology in Heidelberg, where the entire family is poked, prodded, and measured for evidence of consanguinity with "foundling 2307." This nutty procedure is straight out of Kafka, as is the utterly meaningless report that follows on its heels. Yet Treichel's musical, repetitive, unparagraphed prose owes much more to the late Thomas Bernhard, with whom he also shares a taste for black-comic vexation. For this reader, in fact, the comparison leaves Treichel slightly diminished: he lacks the sort of maniacal intensity that was always the true motor of Bernhard's art. Still, there's a great deal to admire in his tormented take on brotherhood--which could easily have been titled From Here to Fraternity--and Carol Brown Janeway's translation captures both the author's meticulous banality and his momentary, moving leaps into the tragic register. --James Marcus From the Back Cover:
"A brilliant tragicomic story."-- The New York Times
"Treichel's poetic genius allows the fertile ambiguities that Grass and Heinrich Böll planted so adroitly a generation ago to water the guilt and obsession of this particular...family."-- Los Angeles Times Book Review
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