Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker’s writing is steeped in the authenticity of rural life, its archaic ways and precarious violence, and a moving sense of existential awareness. He grew up on his parents’ farm in Upper Austria, which today he runs himself, an experience that has profoundly shaped his writing. In each sentence the reader senses his physical familiarity with the subject matter. ‘Poacher’ is a powerful story about family, love, and the protagonist’s struggle with life in a radically changing world. The singular quality of Kaiser-Mühlecker’s prose consists not only in his skilled descriptions of the rural landscape and his development of character, but in the subtle comedy of hopelessness and despair. ‘Poacher’ was longlisted for the 2022 German Book Prize and shortlisted for the 2022 Austrian Book Prize. (AR)
As soon as Jacob stepped into the clear, ice-cold, amber-coloured water, which was barely ankle-deep at this point, he spotted the bitch a stone’s throw away, standing with her forelegs splayed out in front of a deep spot, seemingly staring into the water, which was taking on a grey colour similar to that of the silt lying under the topsoil in the wetlands here. Jacob could see the muscles twitching above her withers. Although the sound of the stream was not very loud, more like a gurgle, it was loud enough for her not to hear him. Step by step he made his way through the water darting away beneath him. The stones, polished and covered with algae or moss, felt soft and slippery, and only occasionally did he step on something sharp; he did not always recognise what it was, as the sun’s rays penetrating the canopy or rather the undergrowth made the surface of the water gleam, blinding him and causing him to step more carefully. Landa was only a short distance away. A few metres. He had almost reached her. Two, three breaths. Jacob untied the knot he had made in the lead and took one last step and reached for the bitch, but before he could grab her, something sharp penetrated the sole of his foot with such force that he groaned, and although the pain did not make him stop, the brief delay was enough to make the bitch jump away to the side. She shook herself as if she knew she had the time, that he was too slow or could not move any faster because his foot hurt and the water was getting deeper, and so she ran on as if nothing had happened, as if he had not just ordered her to come to him with a sharp command.
‘Damned bitch,’ Jacob hissed and pulled his foot up and looked at the sole; bright red blood, thin, thin as the water with which it was merging, was oozing from the ball of his foot right under the big toe. ‘You stupid bloody bitch. I’ll kill you.’
He knotted the lead in front of his belly and ran up the creek with hardly a thought for his feet, which were growing more and more numb from the coldness of the water. He ran and ran. Shouted her name again and again. It was a hunt that he had lost from the outset, a hunt in which the hunter never once got to see the hunted, a hunt that he did not give up, could not give up. It took him a long time to admit to himself that it was pointless to keep running, to keep limping along, because he would not catch up with her or track her down, and then he gave up. He was hoarse and bruised, bruised and hoarse. There was no sign of the bitch. Jacob climbed out of the stream and went back onto the road. He walked as if he had logs tied to his feet. As if he had no toes. He walked like a penguin. Every now and again someone came towards him, someone overtook him, a few times a car tooted at him; each time he just raised his chin a little or, with those coming from behind, his hand, not even paying any attention to who it was.
Translated by Alexandra Roesch
by Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker
Introduced and translated by Alexandra Roesch
Published by S. Fischer Verlag (2022)
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Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker’s debut novel Der lange Gang über die Stationen (‘The Long Walk Across the Stations’) was published in 2008. Fremde Seele, Dunkler Wald (‘Foreign Soul, Dark Forest’) was shortlisted for the German Book Prize in 2016. Wilderer (‘Poacher’, 2022), was awarded the Bavarian Book Prize.
Alexandra Roesch is a bi-lingual, bi-cultural translator from German to English. She holds an MA in Translation from the University of Bristol and has participated in various literary programmes including NBG, LCB, BCLT and FBF. Recent translations include Hans Fallada, Seraina Kobler and Harald Gilbers. Alexandra lives in Frankfurt with her family.