13 August 09 | Chad W. Post

The latest addition to our review section is a piece by Nigel Beale on Jakov Lind’s Landscape in Concrete. Usually we don’t run reviews of our own books (which initially seemed like a good idea, but sort of doesn’t make sense, since Open Letter books are as interesting as a lot of the titles we do review, and we are trying to cover the world of international literature as broadly as possible), but hell, it’s The Year of Jakov Lind. (And I’m still working on my review of Bolano’s The Skating Rink.)

Nigel Beale is a freelance writer/broadcaster who specializes in literary journalism. His articles and reviews have appeared in, among other places, The Washington Post, The (Manchester) Guardian, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Bookseller, BorderCrossings and Canadian Art magazines. In his role as host of The Biblio File radio program he has interviewed many of the world’s most admired authors; plus publishers, booksellers, editors, book collectors, librarians, conservators, illustrators, and others connected with the book. (We’ve posted about a few of his interviews, including the one I did, this recent one with Ha Jin, and the hysterical one with John Metcalf. )

Here’s the opening of his review of Lind’s creepyfunny WWII novel:

We meet a familiar angst-ridden Russian early in the pages of Jacov Lind’s novel Landscape in Concrete: Dostoevsky’s Underground man surfaces in the guise of Gauthier Bachmann to here tread the desolate earth of the Ardennes during WW ll. No longer confined by inertia to his wretched little room, this protagonist is on the road—a bleak, inhuman, carnage scarred road—blindly journeying in search of meaning and identity. It’s as if the contents of a diseased mind have spilled out into the real world.

And indeed, after witnessing unbelievably shocking scenes, it is hard to regain a grasp on real, ordinary life. Such is Bachmann’s lot. A sergeant in the German army, he has, as the book begins, just fought in a battle at Voroshenko and seen his entire regiment slaughtered , sunk in a quagmire of blood and mud.

Throughout the book, Lind then dips us, episodically, into the hell of Bachmann’s post-traumatic existence and his logical/illogical flight back to what he knows. Against “human” nature he wants willfully to expose himself again to the horror of war; in this sense perhaps he is ill: unwilling or incapable of caring; unable to hope. He has seen friends and countrymen blown to bits; what reason is there to live? He is filled with uncertainty too: about what constitutes a “man,” whether or not he is one, whether he is diseased, dead or alive, real or make-believe. Returning to the simple order that the army offers is perhaps all he has to hang on to, because good, honest, stable “normal” life and relationships aren’t found in the world he now inhabits.

Voroshenko renders Bachmann “unfit for duty.” Despite this, he journeys throughout the Ardennes in quest of a fighting unit he can once again join; to which he can “belong.” Neither “spiteful nor kind, rascal nor honest man, hero nor insect,” Bachmann stoically sinks into depravity, abdicating responsibility for his actions, numbly stumbling around, Lear-like, encountering and succumbing to the wishes of evil, indecent characters, willing to do anything to fill the void.

Bachmann, unlike the Underground Man, acts. But he acts in the wrong way. No one, Victor Frankl tells us, in Man’s Search for Meaning, has the right to do wrong. Bachmann does wrong. He acts indecently.

Click here for the full review.


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