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David Bröderbauer: Die Halbe Welt

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Half the World. Novel.
Vienna: Milena Verlag, 2023.
248 pages; hardcover; EUR 25,-.
ISBN 978-3-903460-08-9.

David Bröderbauer


'We're all perpetrators. Let's not forget that,' Lilian, the protagonist of this novel, declares at the start. We are all responsible for the destruction of the planet. This insight serves as the premise of a thought experiment at the heart of David Bröderbauer's third novel: faced with the rapid extinction of numerous species, a large part of the global community is committed to the idea of Half the World.

The premise refers to one of the influential biologist E. O. Wilson's (1920 – 2021) ideas: fifty percent of the world's surface should be turned into nature reserves to guarantee the survival of all living creatures. Bröderbauer, who is also a biologist, expands this idea. Half the World becomes reality: people who had resided in the territories of the new 'Nature Reserve Islands,' are transferred, as the official euphemism for expelled or expropriated labels it, meat production is relocated to laboratories, there are no more domestic pets. Once the coexistence of humanity and nature seems to have failed, the only remaining alternative is their radical separation. Lilian is one of the border agents of Half the World. He works with nameless officials who administer both worlds and evaluates applications from scientists and philanthropists who want to visit Half the World.

Plagued by his isolated existence in an open-plan office, Lilian strays ever further from the officials' prescribed procedures until one day—in the tradition of Melville's Bartleby—he simply prefers not to show up. Instead, he becomes increasingly involved in the lives of others, in the life of a partner of a biologist who has disappeared and in the lives of migrants and outcasts who live and play bocce in the botanical garden—one of the last open spaces left in the human half of the world.

Bröderbauer's reflections on the idea of Half the World offer not only interesting scientific positions on environmentalism and activism, but also an exploration of community and the place of humanity in the world. In addition, his novel does not neglect extrapolated future political aspects, the dilemma of private funding that circumvents democratic processes, the role of NGOs and migration. Bröderbauer has created a clever and lifelike journey into a world—with all its contradictions—that is no longer structured according to the primacy of human beings.

From a review by Johanna Lenhart,
Literaturhaus Wien, 3 April 2023
Translation by Tess Lewis

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