Erneste works in the restaurant of a grand hotel in Giessbach in Switzerland. He is the 'perfect waiter', a model of order in every way, and his private life seems to embody the qualities he brings to his job. But inwardly this polite and dignified man is in the grip of a violent passion, a passion aroused many years before in the late 1930s when he fell in love with a young waiter, Jakob. For Jakob the affair was just a fling, a fleeting step on the way to better things. One day, when Erneste finds Jakob in flagrante with a great German writer, Julius Klinger, it was all over. Jakob fled Nazi-dominated Europe for a new life in America with Klinger, and Erneste's heart was broken. He spends the next thirty years becoming what had previously only been a role - the 'perfect waiter'. The novel opens decades later, when Erneste receives a letter from America from Jakob who asking him to make an appeal to Klinger for money. Klinger, who had returned to Europe after the war, refuses to help, and in a short time Erneste receives dramatic news of Jakob which threatens his memories of the great love of his youth. Moving skillfully between two time periods, this elegantly written, cinematic novel is rich in tension and poignancy.
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Alain Claude Sulzer was born in Basel in 1953. His first novel was published in 1983 and he has since written four further novels, including Annas Maske (2001) and numerous short stories. A Perfect Waiter is his first novel to be published in English. He lives in Alsace. John Brownjohn is one of Britain's leading translators from the German and has won critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic including for 'My Wounded Heart': The Life of LIlli Jahn 1900-44 by Martin Doerry (Bloomsbury, 2004). Among his most recent awards are the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for Thomas Brussig's Heroes Like Us and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize for Marcel Beyer's The Karnau Tapes.From Publishers Weekly:
In Alsace-based Sulzer's first translated novel, set in 1966 Switzerland, self-possessed, middle-aged Erneste is the rock of the Restaurant am Berg, working the lavish Blue Room without missing a shift in 16 years. A letter posted from New York threatens to shatter the orderly cocoon he's built around himself. Claiming to be in a bad way from every angle, Jakob Meier, Erneste's one great love of 30 years ago, pleads with Erneste to track down Julius Klinger, the intellectual whom Jakob followed to America in 1936. Klinger, Jakob tells Erneste, has returned to Europe, been nominated for a Nobel prize and lives near Erneste; Jakob wants Erneste to ask Klinger for money, and to send it. Erneste is immediately torn between his tidy independence and intense longing. Sulzer sure-handedly layers the past on the present, gradually opening windows on both. The pieces fall together like bits of a puzzle, with a full portrait of Erneste and the truth about his relationship with Jakob coming together only at the end, powerfully. (Apr.)
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