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Verena Mermer: die stimme über den dächern (the voice over the rooftops).

de    en    fr    span    cz

A novel.
Salzburg/Vienna: Residenz Verlag, 2015.
160 p.; Hardcover; EUR 19,90.
ISBN: 9783701716456.

Verena Mermer


They read Freud and Marx, smoke lots of cigarettes, and at night they walk the narrow streets of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Nino is head over heels in love with Ali; she is a language teacher and he, a perpetual student, is an agitator with his head in the clouds. They move into a house share with their friends Che, a doctor, and Frida, a dancer and actress. Moments of fragile euphoria hold the characters spellbound, reminiscent of Oriental storytelling as the sanctuary of lovers. Here, they all find refuge. Their circle also peripherally includes Emin, who works at the small corner store, the somewhat suspect Richard, who drinks beer with fascists and tea with Stalinists, and Ali’s brother Fuad, whose homosexual relationship puts him in danger.

If, at the beginning, passions and descriptions only serve to add local color and atmosphere, increasingly a political dimension creeps in. Telephone calls are wiretapped, visits from and reprisals by the KGB take their toll on relationships. Nino loses her job for political reasons and worries about Ali, who was arrested and disappeared after a demonstration that was critical of the government. Allusions to historical figures such as Frida Kahlo and Che Guevara are intentional. Che, the doctor, becomes a revolutionary apparition. Interspersing the short, often cinematic descriptions and scenes are first-person passages that reveal the characters’ fantasies and dreams. In these passages, Ali returns on an imaginary plane in a hug that seems to be real. These shimmering, interstitial worlds make visible the tension that finally causes Nino to break down. But over the rooftops the voices remain, repeatedly echoing the word azadliq – "freedom" in Azarbaijani.

After studying and teaching in India and Romania, the widely-travelled young author spent the spring of 2011 in Baku during the protest movement, which she made the subject of her finespun first novel.

Abbreviated review by Martin Kubaczek, May 2016
English translation by Laura Radosh

Original version in Literaturhaus-Buchmagazin:

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