Terézia Mora: Der einzige Mann auf dem Kontinent [The Only Man on the Continent]
Darius Kopp is a forty something year old, somewhat overweight, asthmatic tall German. He was born in what was East Germany and studied computers. Since reunification, he has done well in the West. He lives in an unnamed city (presumably Berlin), about which he feels very possessive, where he is the sole European representative of a US firm which used to manufacture aircraft parts but now manufactures computer network equipment. Darius is responsible for selling such equipment, particularly to Eastern Europe and even beyond. Indeed, his main customer at the moment seems to be what he calls the Armenians but is, in fact, a Greek man who is setting up a network in Armenia. Darius is married to Flora née Mehr, an immigrant from Hungary. Flora worked as the assistant for a film producer but now works in a bar. She is clearly much cleverer than Darius – she is currently reading Marlen Haushofer‘s Die Wand (The Wall) – and this is apparent throughout the book. Darius has few interests. He loves eating and drinking, going out with Flora but particularly he likes going out for a night on the tiles with his friend Juri. They eat a lot, drink a lot, then eat some more and drink some more. Juri tries to persuade Darius to go to a brothel but, quite apart from the fact that neither man is probably capable, Darius wishes to remain faithful to his wife. When he is not doing any of these things, he mindlessly surfs the Web. By his own admission he has no other interests.
Is Darius the typical German man? Darius is lazy – he seems to spend little time at work and, indeed, says that the ideal working week is one day of work and six days off, he is naive , not very intelligent, disorganised but basically a decent man. He tries his best to be a good son to his parents and a good brother to his sister, Marlene. Tries but does not always succeed. He likes driving but has lost his licence for speeding and now has to take public transport, which he does not like. Flora also drives him but, though she is normally calm, she can be quite aggressive behind the wheel. At work, he seems to spend some time on the phone. His office, like his study at home is cluttered with samples, catalogues and so on. Flora and Juri both seem to be happy to tolerate him and he is generally happy with his life.
At work, he is having problems with the Armenians. The Armenian-who-is-Greek phones him and wants to know where his order is. Darius tries to chase it up with his boss, Anthony, an Englishman located in London. Anthony is rude and aggressive, telling Darius that he has cancelled the order, as the Armenians have not paid their bill. Darius thought that chasing up bills was the responsibility of the finance department and, anyway, payment would not be due till the order had been supplied but Anthony is abusive and says it is Darius’ problem to get the money right away. (Where is the famous British courtesy? Darius asks Flora afterwards. He also says that Anthony is a German-hater and cannot understand how anyone could hate the Germans.) When Darius goes over Anthony’s head to Bill, based in the US, Anthony is even more abusive. When a mysterious package arrives for Darius, he finds that the Armenian-who-is-Greek has left him €40000 on account – in cash. His problem is what to do with the money. Firstly, he gets the money late on Friday so he has to deal with it at the weekend. Then there is the fact that the company owes him, in his estimation, €40000, as they have failed to pay his social benefits and have not given him a proper contract. Should he take the Armenians’ €40000? But the €40000 causes him problems. He is used to dealing with figures on paper but not large amounts of cash. He receives the Armenian’s package on a Friday evening so he has to keep the money till Monday, which brings its own problems. When he tries to contact the company the following week, no-one seems to be answering the phone. And then Flora disappears.
Mora uses something of a confusing style. She switches casually between first-person and third-person narrative, often in the same paragraph, so it is not always entirely clear whether it is Darius speaking or the narrator. However, whether it is first- or third-person narrative, it is clear that Darius is the ordinary man, happy with his lot, unambitious, a lover of food, drink and good company and taking everything as it comes, found in earlier German literature but less common in recent years. But this type of person is used to finding everything unchanged, following a routine. When things go wrong as happens to Darius both with his job and his wife, he struggles to cope. Mora’s skill is to show us this man – maybe her idea of the typical contemporary German, particularly as seen by an immigrant – in all his multiple facets and what happens when things go wrong. Some German reviewers were fairly critical of this book but I very much enjoyed it. It is funny, well written and gives a perspective of Germany that is different from the current view of Germany, at least as seen from elsewhere in Europe.
First published 2009 by Luchterhand
No English translation