As if They Were Walking in a Dream.
Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2017.
208 S.; geb.; EUR 20,60.
A hospital. A hospital room. On the ceiling a fan is turning, incessantly. Day and night, Klee is lying in this room, He is about seventy-six years old; the year is around 1976. Klee is dying. His eyes are directed towards the spinning fan. And as with a film projector, this leads to a sequence of images, now getting faster, now pausing, now frozen. The images produce a life. This life produces a novel – 'As if They Were Walking in a Dream' by Anna Baar.
The author, born in Zagreb in 1973, grew up in Klagenfurt, Vienna and on the Dalmatian island of Brac. In her sensation-provoking first novel, Die Farbe des Granatapfels (The Colour of the Pomegranate) the story already took her back to Dalmatia, and that is also where her new novel is set.
She tells of a world in which her protagonist Klee is born around the year 1920. It is a rural world into which the modern age has penetrated only sporadically. It is here that Klee, the farmer's son, grows up with his younger brother Malik. Then there is also Lily, the doctor's daughter, Klee's heart-throb. And yet he keeps his distance. Because she is not only prettier than the others, but also cleverer and braver. Then Klee is called up for military service, it is the summer of 1940. He is seriously wounded and is thought to be dead, is found by some farmers and with difficulty eventually finds his way home. Where nobody is expecting him. Meanwhile the country has been occupied by the victorious soldiers from the north with steel helmets on their heads.
When the war ends Klee, the commander of his little group of partisans, is a hero. But he himself cannot find his way back into life any more. For some years he goes to sea, but even this cannot be a substitute for Lily and his love for her, unfulfilled and never experienced. Even if Klee has meanwhile married Ida, with whom he had fallen in love during the war, he lives, as far as his soul and his feelings are concerned, outside of the present. Now while Klee is lying in hospital and physically slowly slipping out of the world, in his dreams he goes back to the years of his life, dreaming of childhood and youth, of Lily, who was shot by the Germans because she was Jewish.
Anna Baar does not shrink from high emotion. Her language is loaded and interwoven with elements that are atavistic, anachronistic and rhythmically bizarre. There are passages that come at us almost in a whisper and develop a momentum as the language dances along in an original and individual way that is remarkable for present-day literature. It is a text in a distinctive style that is on a high level and finely interwoven with motifs, allusions and references drawn from music, art, Christology and the Bible.