The Austrian Riveter: From DUNKELBLUM by Eva Menasse, translated by Charlotte Collins

Readers seeking a new take on the familiar themes of guilt and memory need look no further than Darkenbloom, the latest novel by the award-winning Eva Menasse. Comic yet chilling, the novel tells the compelling tale of a town forced to confront its Nazi past.

The Austrians are a people who confidently look forward to the past.


In Darkenbloom the walls have ears, the flowers in the gardens have eyes; they turn their heads this way and that so nothing escapes them, and the grass has whiskers that register every step. People here have a sixth sense. Curtains billow as if fanned by quiet breathing, in and out, essential to life. Whenever God looks down into these houses from above, as though they had no roofs – when he peeps into the doll’s houses of the model town he constructed with the Devil to serve as a warning to all, in almost every house he sees people standing at the window, behind their curtains, peering out. Sometimes – often – there are two, even three of them in the same house, standing at windows in different rooms, concealed from one another. One wishes God could only see into houses and not into hearts.

In Darkenbloom, the locals know everything about each other, and the few tiny details they don’t know, that they can neither fabricate nor simply leave out – these are not irrelevant, these matter most of all. Whatever is not common knowledge predominates like a curse. The others, the incomers and those who have married in, don’t know much. They know that the castle burned down, that the count’s descendants now live in various far-flung countries but usually return for weddings and christenings, when there is great celebration throughout the town. The children gather flowers in the cottage gardens and wreathe garlands, the old women dig out their hundred-year-old traditional costumes, and everyone stands the length of Herrengasse and waves. The foreign brides note with tight little smiles that, although the republicans took over many years ago, the subjects here can still be relied upon, on high days and holidays, at least.

It’s been a long time, though, since counts were buried here. The crypt can be visited, but it is no longer accepting occupants. It wasn’t until twenty years after the war that the counts were lured back to Darkenbloom, with the information that the family crypt was no longer watertight. By contrast, immediately after the war somebody – no one knows who – kept them away with astonishing diplomatic finesse: the news conveyed to them about the condition of the burnt-out ruin was greatly exaggerated. Demolished, alas, it had to be completely demolished: this was the assessment presented, amid wailing and gnashing of teeth. And the recently widowed countess-in-exile believed her former stewards and tenants and secretaries and maids, or whosoever was behind it, or whosoever passed on things they knew from hearsay or things they had been forced to say themselves. Perhaps the countess wanted to believe it. She was too lazy, or too cowardly, to come and see for herself, too low on funds to pay for a surveyor’s report. And so the castle was pulled down, and a huge piece of prime real estate became available in a previously inaccessible central location. Someone must have profited back then, because someone always does. The centre of Darkenbloom has been architecturally and atmospherically divided ever since: the centuries-old rustic half, with its winding streets and whitewashed houses with their blue or green shutters, and the other half, hideously functional, all steel and silicone, practical, easily wiped clean, just as people would have liked to have been themselves, back then, in the period of reconstruction.

By Eva Menasse

Translated by Charlotte Collins



By Eva Menasse

Published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch (2021)

Forthcoming translation by Charlotte Collins (Scribe, 2023)

Read The Austrian Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.

Buy books from The Austrian Riveter through the European Literature Network’s The Austrian Riveter page.

Eva Menasse was born in Vienna and started out as a journalist before her fiction debut in 2005 with the family novel, Vienna. This was followed by novels and short stories which have won numerous awards, including the Heinrich Böll prize, the Friedrich Hölderlin prize, the Jonathan Swift prize, and the Austrian Book Prize. Eva Menasse has lived in Berlin for over twenty years and her works have been translated into numerous languages.

Charlotte Collins studied English Literature at Cambridge University and worked as an actor and radio journalist in Germany and the UK before becoming a literary translator. Her co-translation, with Ruth Martin, of Nino Haratischvili’s The Eighth Life won the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, and in 2017 she was awarded the Goethe-Institut’s Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life.

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