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Volker Braun: Hinze-Kunze-Roman [The Tom, Dick and Harry Novel]

This novel was written in 1981 but not published till 1985. Given the situation in East Germany at the time, this is not surprising. This book has several aspects but one aspect is clear – it is a satire on East Germany, mocking the system, the devotion to communism and the functionaries of the State. The story – if story there is – is about an East German official, Kunze, and his official driver, Hinze. They have many of the aspects of the traditional literary couple, be it Vladimir and Estragon or Tweedledee and Tweedledum, where this is a symbiotic relationship but, at the same time, where there is an element of enmity, at times overt and at times latent, as well as an occasional reversal of the power roles. However, there is a third main character and that is Braun, the author, himself. Braun comments, says what he can and cannot do and generally intervenes in a benign sort of way, at least, till the end, when the characters start to address him and his intervention becomes much stronger, as he describes his problem in getting the book published.

There is not much story. The two are functionaries who do what they have to do get by, glibly spouting the State slogans while clearly not believing in them or practising them. Drink and, in particular, sex play a role, as Kunze, in particular, has an eye for the ladies and the lady he most has an eye for is Hinze’s wife, Lisa. But, even here, this is treated by Braun as more of a messy, at times amusing problem rather than a serious issue and it only helps to make the relationship between Hinze and Kunze more acute. This relationship, Braun’s own intervention and the careful but marked satire of the system make this one of the most interesting novels to come out of East Germany. Sadly you cannot, as yet, read it in English.

Publishing history

First published 1985 by Suhrkamp