Der Schwimmer is an unusual novel in terms of style as well as content. The first-person narrator, Kata, is one of the two main characters, the other being her brother Isti, and her account of her childhood traumatised by the loss of their mother, the aimless wandering from one relative and family friend to another and the constant uprooting cannot but touch the reader to the core. So, in the opposite sense, do the occasions when things go well for the two of them and happiness and stability come to their lives.
The novel is set in postwar Hungary, and the story unfolds against the aftermath of the 1956 uprising, the suppresssion of which destroyed any hope of a different and better world. A wife and mother, Katalin leaves her home and family without a word and flees across the border t o the West. Her husband Kalman sells his smallholding when people at church begin to talk, and from then on the and his two children roam the country.
In the early days of their nomadic existence the children are obsessed with timetables, which they memorise and which symbolise their wish to be elsewhere. In active terms they walk, cycle and hitch lifts from strangers and motorcycles. But the only time they feel joy and experience magic moments is when they are near rivers and lakes, watching their father cut through the waves or, in Isti’s case, swimming after dragonflies or ‚eaves-dropping“ on the fishes.
Der Schwimmer, the work of an important young German writer, is a story of great dreams and great sadness. The characterisations provides a colourful palette of three-dimensional characters, human beings helping the children along in any way they can. Most notable among them are their father’s sister Agi and her spirited daughter Virag, who restore to the pair the precious feeling of family unity. Kata and Isti have lost unselfishness, and an optimism that only children can have. Nonetheless the reader is perturbed to recognise the harm done to their souls.
About Zsuzsa Bánk
Rights sold to:
|Denmark||Samleren, rights returned|
|Netherlands||De Bezige Bij|
|Spain||Quaderns Crema||Katalan Rights|
|Spain||El Acantilado||World Spanish rights|
|USA||Harcourt||World English rights|