Judith W. Taschler has eight books to her name, all published between 2011 and 2022. Her plots are cleverly devised and well-structured, her characters adventurous, likeable but fallible, and her narrative style full of pace and mood. Taschler’s characters dare to strive for a different life in spite of family expectations or pressures, but never lose the ties that bind, are driven forward by love in its different guises, and deal courageously, at times ingeniously, with the unkind hand of fate. Typical Taschler themes transcend borders and cultures.
Über Carl reden wir morgen (‘Let’s Discuss Carl Tomorrow’) is a family history spanning over one hundred years, moving from Rosa Brugger’s bold decision in 1828 to leave rural life for Vienna, to the eponymous Carl faking his own death towards the end of the First World War. The plot is further enriched by time shifts – a particularly effective trick in Taschler’s work – that take us forward, back and forward again as we observe with excitement and puzzlement the lives of the Bruggers and the other key family, the Eders.
Brother and sister, Anton and Rosa Brugger, grow up in Taschler’s own district of the Mühlviertel. The boy is expected to take over the family mill, the girl to marry and make a home. But in 1828 Rosa strikes out for Vienna, first returning home twenty years later when her brother, widowed with three little girls and a baby boy after his wife dies in childbirth, writes to ask for her help. Anton’s fourth child, the boy they had longed for, is named Albert.
Once grown, Albert is restless and decides to enlist in the navy instead of immediately taking over the family mill. He first returns home in 1881 and eventually gets married to a young Viennese girl, Anna Svoboda. Albert and Anna have twin boys, Eugen and Carl. We don’t meet Carl until we are deep into the book, an additional page-turning device that works well.
A key moment in the book is a shockingly reckless but spontaneous action by Carl. Returning to the Front after being wounded, he witnesses a barn fire in which three of his own men die. He rips off his identity tag – the one all soldiers have affixed to their uniforms – and hurls it into the burning barn. He is now a deserter. He is soon presumed dead. And when he then assumes the identity of another, he becomes an imposter.
Meanwhile Eugen has been trying out a new life in the United States among other European migrants. He had been informed that Carl had been killed but is naturally overjoyed to see him again when he visits in 1918. He decides to give Carl his own identity. As Eugen Brugger, Carl will be in a position to take over the family mill and marry. But where does this leave the real Eugen, his twin?
Taschler has a strong narrative presence and a calm yet authoritative voice, with plenty of colour and pace. Her novels are full of tantalising puzzles that compel us to go straight back to the beginning once we have read the last sentence. It’s time to bring this lively writer to an English-language audience.
Reviewed by Deborah Langton
ÜBER CARL REDEN WIR MORGEN (‘Let’s discuss Carl tomorrow’)
By Judith W. Taschler
Published by Zsolnay (2022)
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Deborah Langton’s latest translation is Living in Two Worlds, the Behrend-Rosenfeld diaries (Cambridge University Press, 2021). Earlier publications include bestsellers such as The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter (2018) by Julia Drosten and fact-based fiction, A Fight in Silence (2019) by Melanie Metzenthin. She has been Editorial Assistant at New Books in German.
Read Deborah Langton’s #Riveting Review of ALL FOR NOTHING by Walter Kempowski