In just under a year, three Jakov Lind books will be reissued (the Open Letter edition of Landscape in Concrete is available now, with NYRB’s edition of Soul of Wood coming out later this fall and our reprint of Ergo releasing in January), and to celebrate this rediscovery, Jeff Waxman wrote an interesting piece for the Quarterly Conversation:
Lind is not only a major post-Holocaust writer; he is also a modernist of extraordinary talent and vision. His writing shows an intriguing, Beckettian dissolution of reason, and it owes a clear debt to the absurdists, whose themes of obsession and the perversion of reality closely resemble Lind’s work. Born in Vienna a decade before the Anschluss, Lind also owes something also to the Austro-Jewish literary tradition exemplified by Stefan Zweig—there’s a humanist regard that colors his work and tinges his cynicism with a smirking regret. This sort of weeping giddiness characterizes all of Lind’s writing, from his excellent dramatic efforts like The Silver Foxes Are Dead to his short stories and his extraordinary dark novels. [. . .]
Reading Lind, it becomes clear that he—like so many of his fellow Jews—never recovered from the Shoah that he somehow missed; his books are stuffed with the madness of that time, of hiding in plain sight, of those dark circumstances. Somewhere in life’s meaninglessness, through LSD and hashish and stunningly good humor, Lind tried to find some structure, something beneath the insanity to cling to and make real. He found logic, because logic exists even divorced from reason. It’s from this bizarre worldview, from this confusion of ideas, that Lind wrote some of his best work. [. . .]
In a time when Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum is seeing a revival in an inspired new translation by Breon Mitchell, and when other lost post-Holocaust literature is reemerging (for example, the recently published, gorgeous Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada), there is no better time for the reading public to reengage with this scarred, deeply alone survivor of tumultuous times. A writer who blended the deranged freedom of the 1960s and the death of reason in the 1940s into an extraordinary understanding of humanity in all its hopeful and idealistic depravity, Jakov Lind wrote the kind of books that are not to be missed.
Although the fiction buyer at Barnes & Noble had her doubts about 2009 being the “Year of Jakov Lind,” this year really does represent the best chance this overlooked, peculiar Austrian writer has of being rediscovered. Over the course of the next few months, three Lind titles will be reissued: Landscape in Concrete (available now), Ergo (also from Open Letter), and Soul of Wood (from NYRB).
We’ve been joking around the office for some time about creating a “Peculiar Dudes” t-shirt, since we seem to have so many of them on our list—Macedonio Fernandez, Ilf & Petrov, Ricardas Gavelis . . . But Lind’s biography might be the most bizarre of them all.
He was born Heinz Jakov Landwirth in Vienna in 1927 and was sent to Holland as part of the Kindertransport in 1939. To survive WWII, he assumed a pseudonym, pretended to be a Dutch merchant, and spent the war in Nazi Germany, working on barges and transporting messages . . . Post-War, he assumed the name “Jakov Lind” and started writing novels—strange, compelling, unique novels, such as Landscape in Concrete.
We just sent our Fall/Winter catalog to the printer, and I’ll preview Ergo and the other forthcoming titles over the next few weeks, but the main impetus for this post is the wonderful review by Karen Vanuska that Open Letters Monthly ran of Landscape in their new issue:
While Gunter Grass and Ursula Hegi chose dwarfs to tell their stories of Germany during World War II, Lind chose a giant for Landscape in Concrete – this is six-foot-two, three hundred pound Gauthier Bachmann. And in fate’s typical twist (or perhaps it’s just a case of Lind channeling that inner trickster of his), Bachmann is a giant with a miniature mind.
Bachmann is much more eloquent than other enfeebled narrators like Faulkner’s oft-cited Benjy; he’s not mentally retarded, though he shares the naiveté of the brain damaged. He is instead a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; his brain is trying to protect him by keeping at bay the human degradation and mutilation he’s witnessed as a sergeant in the German army. The battle at Voroshenko, where Bachmann’s entire unit literally drowned in mud, especially haunts him [. . .]
Twisted humor is the engine that drives this plot. Additionally, Lind’s portrayal of Bachman is so accomplished that the reader does not feel tempted to laugh at Bachmann, only the crazy and sad things his does. Instead of throwing the characters into Voroshenko-type battles, as you’d expect in World War II novels, Lind makes the violence quite personal. Everyone has axes to grind that have little to do with the politics of wartime Germany and everything to do with vendettas. [. . .]
Yet a strain of raucous humor runs through Landscape in Concrete, sparing readers from drowning in the muck of war, affected by the story, but not consumed by it – an excellent vantage to ponder and reflect.
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
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