Auf dem Seil – literally ‘on the tightrope’ – is the book’s title. Is life in fact a perpetual balancing act? Darius Kopp has come close to breaking point. Three years have passed since the death of his wife Flora. He once had a career as an IT expert but threw it all away and cut ties with his family and friends to travel around Europe with Flora’s ashes, looking for a suitable place to scatter them, finally ending up on Sicily.
Since then he has found himself living in fear of his landlady, scattered Flora’s ashes on Mount Etna, and made a new life for himself as a pizza chef. One day, his seventeen-year-old niece, Lorelei, appears out of the blue. She is travelling alone and needs his help. They return to Berlin together and take care of each other in their own ways, couch-surfing and crashing with friends. Along the way, Kopp learns that happiness largely comes down to what you can change through your own efforts, and what you can’t.
This is the third book by Terézia Mora to feature Darius Kopp – a genial, slightly bumbling everyman who does (or did) ‘something in IT’ – but it works perfectly well as a standalone novel. It takes a little while to get used to the style, in which dialogue and internal monologue are mingled seamlessly with the narration, so that it isn’t always clear who is speaking, or when we are in fact privy to Darius’ thoughts and the running conversation he has with Flora in his mind. Point of view and tense can shift even mid-sentence:
‘There is one of these passing places under a holly oak, there was someone standing there, waiting for Kopp, who nodded to him. Do we know each other? Or maybe it’s only him who knows me. It was a half-hour drive to the tollbooth, he was on time.’
Yet Mora’s writing is so clear and punchy that once I’d adjusted to the style, I flew through the book. The voice is snappy and idiosyncratic, giving sharp insights into our contemporary society and psychology, and the textual quirks add to the impact rather than being distracting gimmicks.
About halfway through, his life already thoroughly disrupted by Lore, Kopp asks himself: What will become of me if I grow fond of her? And this seems to me to be the most crucial question of the book. What will happen if we let ourselves open up again? Seeing Darius Kopp’s anxieties helps us identify with him, as does the blurring of speech and thought: ‘Did I say that aloud? Why can’t I talk likea normal person? What a stupid thing to say…’
‘I’ll end up growing fond of her’ he said. And as a reader, so did I – of Darius, Lore and all of them.
Reviewed by Rachel Ward
AUF DEM SEIL
Written by Terézia Mora
Published by Luchterhand Literaturverlag (2019)
Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.
Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.
Rachel Ward studied literary translation at the University of East Anglia. She still lives in Norfolk today, where she works as a freelance translator from German and French, specialising in crime fiction, children’s books and non-fiction.