The dissolution of East Germany through the eyes of its outcasts.
Book cover image: Kruso by Lutz Seiler, Translation by Tess Lewis.
The book’s narrator Ed is the nervous type. He lives alone and finds easier company among poems, which he instantly absorbs and stores, than people. In his apartment one night, Ed finds himself in the depths of indecision. His literary studies have gone on for far longer than they needed to, he feels directionless, lonely and since the loss of his girlfriend G (with the circumstances of which are not immediately clear) he moves deeper and deeper into depression. Feeling totally disconnected from his life and home Ed flees to mysterious Island in the Baltic Sea, the most northern point of East Germany and according to some, within striking distance of Denmark.
On Hiddensee Ed seeks re-invention. He is done with the cerebral pursuits of the university and wants the physical labour that he remembers fondly, work that will leave him feeling like he has achieved something and well-deserved fatigue at the end of the day. He is taken on at the Klausner, one of the Islands restaurants under the wing of the enigmatic Kruso, the unofficial and unquestioned leader of the ‘crew’. Yet despite Ed’s initial intention to leave his studies behind him, it is his knowledge and photographic memory of poems that begins the deepening of his relationship with Kruso. Kruso takes Ed into his confidence and shares his poetry, in whose pain and loss, Ed finds an eerily familiar presence.
Ed takes to his duties with gusto and is slowly accepted as not just a visitor but one of the islanders. In doing so begins to see a darker and more complicated side to the island in which he sort salvation. Ed’s nativity slows the pace at which he understands Kruso’s larger plan, the steady turnover of outcasts that revolve through the rooms of the hotel staff and the seemingly unending store of secrets that Kruso reveals about both himself and the Island right up until the edifice of the island and the East German state collapse.
Kruso’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Seiler’s unique style of poetic and sparse prose, much like a poem, leaves room for the reader to interpret, imagine and experience Ed’s naivety in visceral manner. But this is one for the connoisseurs and Kafka lovers because a general audience is likely to get lost in what can be an ambling and opaque reading experience. This book clearly demonstrates the difference that chief of the 2011 Man Booker Prize judging panel Stella Rimington drew between books that people buy to read and books that people buy to admire.
It is certainly an impressive book worthy of admiration. It sole focus on the lives of an outlying few in the telling of one of modern history’s most significant moments and the close intertwining of their lives with it, without ever directly addressing the politics or historical situation is a feat to behold. If you’re a literophile who loves the slow and artful penetration of a community’s individual and hive minds, this is one for you but if books like the The Luminaries left you feeling lost, Kruso, will likely leave you feeling the same way.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Kruso by Lutz Seiler, Translation by Tess Lewis
SIZE:234mm × 153mm
PUB DATE:3 Apr 2017
HIGH-RES COVER:Download Image
2015 ENGLISH PEN AWARD - WINNER
CATEGORIES / TAGS
MODERN & CONTEMPORARY FICTION (POST C 1945) FICTION
AUTHOR Lutz Seiler (translated by Tess Lewis)
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level