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Peter Rosei: Rebus [Rebus]

While I am always a glutton for novels where the city is the main character, I am not convinced that this one really works. Certainly, Rosei’s idea is interesting. What he has done is to write a series of sketches or portraits of different scenes in the unnamed city (though clearly Vienna) and then left it to us to solve the puzzle, to put them together to make a coherent whole. There is no plot, no main character, just these little stories. There is a structure – seven sections, each with five stories. The first is called Instead of an Introduction and starts with a view of the city from a specific spot, partially seen through the eyes of a man in trench coat writing notes, probably Rosei himself. One of the stories, for example, is about children discussing their various language classes (English is the stupidest language in the world, says one). The second section is called The Inner life of a Commercial Firm and is just that, with scenes from the Kayman company and its employees. Number three is Alternatives, the fourth one is Underworld, the fifth The World Above, the sixth What Else Happened and the seventh Overall View. All have more or less the same format, little slices of life, vivid descriptions, often using Viennese dialect, telling the stories of people and life in the city, often those at the edge, such as the poorer workers, immigrants and the lonely. It is certainly well done and Rosei is very good at painting a vivid image of the city but, ultimately, you have to wonder whether it really is enough and, frankly, I am not convinced that it is.

Publishing history

First published 1990 by Klett-Cotta
No English translation