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Wolfgang Popp: Die Verschwundenen (The Disappeared)

de    en    fr    span    cz

Vienna: Edition Atelier, 2015.
ISBN 978-3-903005-02-0.

Wolfgang Popp


Whatever happened to …? The question regarding the well-being of former classmates, fellow students and teachers pops up all the more frequently the older one becomes, and the more acquaintances one makes in life.
Wolfgang Popp has made this question the leitmotif of his new novel. In Die Verschwundenen (The Disappeared) he lets characters who have not seen one another for decades meet up again. Sometimes the encounters happen by chance, as in the first story, entitled "Alpbacher or the Girl from the Ashes": in the town square of Sorrento, the former schoolboy Lechner, now an adult, encounters his former Latin teacher. It is a reunion of a special kind, because way back then the teacher had left the school in a great hurry. For years, the pupil had wondered where the teacher could have gone. And what his departure had had to do with his quiet, mysterious classmate Anna.
Other 'missing persons' reappear unexpectedly, as if from a void, and moreover make extraordinary requests: for example, the ornithologist Philipp wants a friend from his student days to accompany him on an adventurous journey to Greece, in order to take photos of a rare owl.
The light tone often causes the reader to overlook the fact that every story has a different narrator – in each case, history has caught up with him or her, and of course they all react differently. What does one actually feel in such a situation? Is it predominantly curiosity, fear or unease? The author succeeds particularly well in contrasting the past and the present: he shows how a glance, the tone of voice, or a gesture can still seem familiar even after many years.
Popp, who himself studied sinology and history, and has studded the book with many facts and a great deal of historical knowledge, succeeds in bringing the scenes to life with his use of picturesque language. His gift of making exact observations guarantees local colour, regardless of whether it be in Italy, England, Austria or Sri Lanka. (In this, Popp's experience as a travel guide becomes evident.)
By the end of the 240 pages, readers find themselves thinking about how they would react to people from their own past: would they travel across the whole of Europe, or even go all round the world in order to do one of them a favour?

Review by Emily Walton.
English translation by Peter Waugh.
Original article: http://www.literaturhaus.at/index.php?id=10590















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