A History of the Wind, or The German Gunner who Once Rounded the World and then a Second and Third Time.
Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2019.
Sixteenth-century globalization: Spain and Portugal divide the globe among themselves, exotic spices are prized merchandise, and humans circumnavigate the world. Raoul Schott tells a tale of a young man from Aachen named Hannes (also known as Ahnes, Juan, Anas) who—through a series of happenstance, yearnings, and chance incidents—embarks on three different voyages around the world.
He is there for the discovery of the passage between Tierra del Fuego and the South American mainland later named the Strait of Magellan, which enables circumnavigators to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from there to keep sailing farther and farther west. The destination is the Maluku Islands, the legendary Spice Islands, where they can pick up cargo that brings with it the promise of riches and prosperity back in Europe.
In a change of perspective, the narrative centers on those who risked their lives for European colonialism and colonial trade. Warfare, intrigue, injustice, and strokes of misfortune are described matter-of-factly. The novel is a "report" punctuated with the subjective theories of its protagonist Hannes, and some of his contemporaries, on topics such as weather phenomena and the role of the planets. Unvarnished descriptions of colonial powers’ treatment of both their "own people" and people indigenous to other parts of the world remind readers that exploitation has a long history.
Raoul Schrott’s prose is sprinkled with archaic language and is deliberately cumbersome in places, and thus all the more authentic—sometimes with a slightly ironic undertone. In some sections Hannes speaks for himself, dictating his experiences and thoughts. Elsewhere, Schrott serves as narrator or reports on his own journeys retracing those of 500 years ago.
Raoul Schrott’s story is not one of fame and fortune. Even Hannes has "merely survived something, but not truly accomplished anything." In the end, he devises an astounding invention. But this is not the place to reveal it.