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Vladimir Vertlib: Lucia Binar und die russische Seele (Lucia Binar and the Russian Soul).

de   en   fr   span   cz 

Vienna: Deuticke, 2015.

320 p; hardcover; Euro 20,50.
ISBN 978-3-552-06282-5.

Vladimir Vertlib

Kurt Tucholsky defines humour as the feeling "that what we do here looks abundantly nonsensical when seen from above".
According to this view of humour, one of its preconditions is an ability to perceive a situation from another perspective, to be able to relativise it. Writers with an emigration background have this ability to change perspective as it were inherently. This outside perspective is a particular concern of Vladimir Vertlib, by his own definition a
"Jewish Russian, writing in German and living in Austria". As his subject-matter, he takes topics which otherwise tend to be marginalised. That also applies to Lucia Binar und die russische Seele ('Lucia Binar and the Russian Soul'). The story describes events during three months in spring at the start of the 21st century in Vienna.

First of all, the 83-year-old teacher Lucia Binar tells her story. She is widowed, and has two children who have not been living in Vienna for many years, send her e-mails and are prepared to skype with her at the most once a month. Mrs Binar is convalescing after an accident, cannot therefore get to the books of poetry that she loves so dearly, and wants to die in Großen Mohrengasse in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna, where she has lived since she was a child. Her life is being made miserable by the avarice of Willi Neff, the owner of the building where she lives, who is seeking to ruthlessly evict tenants in order to 'develop' the apartments. He is letting the building go to rack and ruin, taking in refugees, homeless people and shady characters as lodgers and getting the city council to pay for it all. Conditions are appalling and Mrs Binar wouldn’t be able to stand the situation it if she weren't able to recall a few lines of poetry by heart.
Also living in the apartment building is the student Moritz, an androgynous young man, who has learned ju-jitsu at police school. He wants to obtain Lucia Binar's support for his attempt to rename Großen Mohrengasse (the street's name, translated, means 'Big Blackamoor Street'). At first, the project proceeds very awkwardly, yet the circumstances eventually bring the two together to fight against the nauseating conditions. In the process, they also embark on a quest to find and confront Elisabeth, a call centre employee, who suggested, when the mobility-hampered Mrs Binar didn’t receive her Meals on Wheels delivery, that she eat crisp bread and Neapolitan wafer biscuits instead.

Elisabeth, in her turn, has got to know Alexander during a skiing lift accident. With this development we have arrived at the novel’s secondary plot, which plays out partly in Russia. The most important figure in this is the Russian magician by the name of Viktor Viktorovich Vint. That may all sound rather complicated, yet the story is nevertheless narrated in a traditional manner, does not present any problems in comprehension for the reader, and is greatly enjoyable, despite the experience of the above-mentioned human and social abyss.

Vladimir Vertlib says that the source of his writing is "the experience of emigration and family legends". In addition, literature also inspires him. In this novel, the inspiration is provided, on the one hand, by the poets who are quoted above all by Lucia Binar and Victor Viktorovich Vint, and on the other hand, by Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic The Master and Margarita. In Vertlib, the intention is of course not to refer to transcendental powers, but rather simply to reveal rather the absurdity of the present.
Vertlib achieves this magnificently, indeed making what we do here below seem abundantly nonsensical...

Abridged version of the review by Helmut Sturm, 9. April 2015.
English translation by Peter Waugh.

Full German text: http://www.literaturhaus.at/index.php?id=10679

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