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Hans-Ulrich Treichel: Der Verlorene (Lost)

The unnamed narrator of this book, a German boy of around twelve years of age, has a lot of problems with his brother, Arnold. He has never met Arnold and nor does Arnold appear in this book. When young, the narrator is told by his parents that Arnold died of hunger when they were fleeing to the West from the Russians at the end of the War. However, now that he is older, he is told that Arnold may have survived. The family was suddenly set on by Russian soldiers. To save the baby, the mother handed him to another woman, who escaped without either giving the mother her name or her learning Arnold’s name. Both of the parents, of course, survived and fled to what became West Germany. While the father has set up a very successful meat wholesale business, both parents, but, in particular, the mother, have fretted over Arnold. Indeed, the unfortunate narrator is shunted aside in favor of the absent Arnold.

Most of the book is about the narrator’s relatively low-key feelings of resentment at his neglect by his parents and his parents’ attempts to find Arnold. An agency specialising in finding such missing children has identified a child that might be Arnold. The parents are not allowed to see him but an incredible array of tests are done to see if this child is related to the parents and the narrator. At first these tests are done locally but then the family has to travel to Heidelberg for a further complicated set of tests, which Treichel recounts with a certain amount of irony. The measurements of various parts of the body cannot but fail to recall the way the Nazis measured the Jews during the War. In the end it is all in vain and culminates in the father having a stroke and dying. Treichel has a beautifully ironic ending to the story.

Apart from his brilliant use of irony and the background of the Wirtschaftswunder, it is Treichel’s tale of the unnamed narrator and how he feels left out which makes this book. This is done subtly, though the narrator clearly expresses his resentment of his brother. Most of the time, the narrator does feel left out and excluded but, at times, he not only does not resent it but welcomes it. He even has psychosomatic travel sickness to avoid accompanying his parents on their weekly trips to the country. Treichel cleverly shows this rejection not as something traumatic but just as a fact of life. All in all, a well-told tale.

Publishing history

First published 1998 by Suhrkamp
First published in English in 1999 by Pantheon