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Nobodaddy's Children: Scenes from the Life of a Faun, Brand's Heath, Dark…

by Arno Schmidt

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1072205,001 (4.25)7
Nobodaddy's Children is a trilogy of novels that traces life in Germany from the Nazi era through the postwar years and into an apocalyptic future. Scenes from the Life of a Faun recounts the dreary life of a government worker who escapes the banality of war by researching the exploits of a deserter from the Napoleonic Wars nicknamed The Faun. Brand's Heath deals with the chaos of the immediate postwar period as a writer joins a small community of "survivors" to try to forge a new life, and Dark Mirrors is set in a future where civilization has been virtually destroyed. Dark Mirrors' narrator fears he may be the last man on earth until the discovery of another creates new fears. All three novels are characterized by Schmidt's unique combination of sharply observed details, sarcastic asides, and wide erudition.… (more)
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I'm reviewing the third of the three novels collected here, "Dark Mirrors." It's a post-apocalyptic novel, like Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." But "Dark Mirrors" is much sharper, more inventive, more immediate, more resourceful. Reading Schmidt really shows how lugubrious, portentous, overblown, grandiose, and stentorian McCarthy is. McCarthy is muddy, muddled, and misguidedly ascetic. Beckett was McCarthy's model, of course, and it was not an appropriate model, because Beckett described alienation so much better. Schmidt's book is a tonic, because the two people in it (only two, with three or four others mentioned) remain absolutely human: petty, irascible, easily mollified and distracted, sometimes profound but usually wholly superficial.

There is a limit to Schmidt, however, and for me it's his continuously ecstatic engagement with whatever is at hand, moment by moment. He writes in an unusual format: the first line of every paragraph sticks out to the left, and the first words of that line are italicized. They serve to telegraph that paragraph's interest, like the title of a poem or the headline of a newspaper article: "In the modern ruins," "Deep melancholy," "Wood, lots of wood!" etc. After several hundred pages, it becomes very difficult to keep up with this, emotionally and in terms of attention. But the kaleidoscope of sharply focused, fragmented, unpredictable centers of attention is wholly his, and it's a tremendous invention. In the end I stopped reading halfway through another novel in the series, "Scenes from the Life of a Faun": it is also a spectacular achievement, with more energy per page than most novels can manage, but the continuous skittish shifting of attention also began to wear on me -- it wasn't quite counterbalanced by the narrative (love, loss, history, recovery). But I will definitely return to Schmidt. ( )
2 vote JimElkins | Jul 23, 2009 |
Last years big find for me was the Belgian writer Louis Paul Boon. This years find even this early on is pointing towards the German Arno Schmidt. Of the 3 novellas of Nobodaddy's Children I've only read the first but it is a 5 or as high a rating as I can give. That particular novella 'Scenes from the life of a faun' revolves around a narrator--a village bureaucrat Heinrich During and its action begins right before the German invasion of Poland that set the Second World War into motion. Heinrich is more than a bit at odds with the totalitarian nature of the Hitler regime--though in the spirit of self preservation he's keeping it mostly to himself. His son Paul and his wife Gerda though see things in a different light and through a lens of personal ambition. During twits them on it but is met with a kind of mild rebuke that promises harsher measures which leads to more and more estrangement in their feelings towards each other. Though middle aged his eyes turn to much younger fare--one Kathe Evers (aka The She wolf). His boss (a despot in his own right) in the meantime gives to him the task of collating the villages archives into some kind of order. These archives go way into the past and Herr During takes it upon himself to steal those things that most catch his eye and ferret them away for his own use and amusement--all the while flirting on and off with the woman-child She wolf. Through the perusal of some of this material he locates the underground lair of a French deserter (from Napoleonic times nicknamed 'the faun' who in his own day was a kind of one man crime wave) and takes that for his hideout stashing his ill-gotten archival gains on site and continues his double life as dutiful bureaucratic husband to Gerda while continuing to chase after Kathe. As the war moves on his son is killed--but he continues as before until a farmer tips his boss off about having seen a prowler out in the vicinity of his woods. In the course of his interview with Heinrich his boss (who suspects him) broaches this with him and tips him off about the raid that will take place in the area. That night he sets off to destroy the lair and all the evidence and runs smack dab into an allied bombing raid--in the course of which he saves Kathe and takes her to his lair--where they spend the night making love after which he burns everything.

What's most remarkable about this particular work is the prose which is quite stunning. One might think of James Joyce particularly Ulysses but maybe also his fellow German Alfred Doblin. Schmidt's is a very unique prose dependent on a host of variations of typography, numbers and symbols--it's deconstruction at times of words into more literal meaning is not the usual-- but it is fluid (though a very controlled fluidity) and oddly poetic and to make things even better is his very often laugh out loud sarcastic/satirical way of describing humans and human nature in general. Anyway I think it is a great book and look forward to reading much more of his work. ( )
2 vote lriley | Jan 5, 2007 |
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Nobodaddy's Children is a trilogy of novels that traces life in Germany from the Nazi era through the postwar years and into an apocalyptic future. Scenes from the Life of a Faun recounts the dreary life of a government worker who escapes the banality of war by researching the exploits of a deserter from the Napoleonic Wars nicknamed The Faun. Brand's Heath deals with the chaos of the immediate postwar period as a writer joins a small community of "survivors" to try to forge a new life, and Dark Mirrors is set in a future where civilization has been virtually destroyed. Dark Mirrors' narrator fears he may be the last man on earth until the discovery of another creates new fears. All three novels are characterized by Schmidt's unique combination of sharply observed details, sarcastic asides, and wide erudition.

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