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Gonçalo M. Tavares: Klaus Klump (O Reino (The Kingdom) series) (A Man: Klaus Klump)

This novel has some of the similarities of others in the series. It is set in an unnamed country, presumably, judging by the names, somewhere in Central Europe. There is a war though, in this case, it is much bloodier and far more violent. The population, particularly the female population, most of whom seem to get raped, is affected more but their resistance is still minimal. There is an active resistance group but we see them more as unsuccessful, i.e. captured, than as attackers. In addition, there is considerable collaboration. A major leader of the occupying army is called Ortho, though it is not clear whether he is the same Ortho as the one in A Máquina de Joseph Walser (O Reino (The Kingdom) series) (Joseph Walser’s Machine). As with that Ortho, he is often attacked and eventually killed.

Klaus Klump comes from a rich family, though, like Joseph Walser, he is a sloppy dresser. He likes to read and hates action. He has set up as a typographer but also publishes books, including what are called perverse books, which seems to mean subversive. He has a girlfriend called Johana, who seems to welcome the tanks. Klaus does not welcome them. He wants to publish book that upset the tanks. The occupier seems to be brutal as a third of the men in the city are in hiding. When the occupying soldiers threaten Klaus, he kisses the boot of a soldier. He is not ashamed at the time – self-preservation is important – but he is, later. One day, soldiers come to the house where Johana lives with her mother, who has serious mental issues, and they rape Johana. Klaus comforts her. However, it seems that he is working for the resistance. One day, he comes into town and sleeps with Herthe. Unfortunately for him, Herthe earns her living by entrapping those in the resistance and handing them over to the occupying authorities. Klaus is arrested and sent to prison.

In prison, Klaus is assaulted by other prisoners but when they learn he is from a rich family, they become more friendly. He is in prison seven years. His family seem to be trying to get him out but when his father visits, Klaus assaults him. Eventually, Klaus and another prisoner, Xalak, escape. Meanwhile, Herthe has done well and is going to marry Ortho, one of the military leaders of the occupation. However, at the wedding, her brother, Clako, who had disappeared, turns up and asks Herthe to help him kill Ortho. She does but Clako is injured while trying to escape. He will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Meanwhile, Klaus fights in the resistance. Herthe marries the very rich Leo Vast (who was the owner of the factory where Joseph Walser worked in A Máquina de Joseph Walser (O Reino (The Kingdom) series) (Joseph Walser’s Machine) and they have a son. Vast has made his money out of the war and is very disappointed when the war finally ends the day his son is born. However, Klaus returns to the family firm – his father is now dead – and starts making money.

This is a quite slight book, fewer than a hundred paged, and much of it is taken up with Tavares’ off-the-cuff comments. The style is also bitty. He spurts out one liners. Action takes place in short, snappy sentences. While the book is clearly anti-war, Tavares is not afraid of showing us some of the really gruesome bits and many will find this off-putting. Did the war change anything? Klaus is once again with his rich family business. Leo Vast and subsequently his son are also rich. Johana, daughter of a mentally disturbed woman is, herself, in an asylum. We do not know what happened to the occupiers nor, indeed, how the war was won. Yes, war is bad and people do some very nasty things in it but I have certainly read better books than this on the topic.

Publishing history

First published 2003 by Caminho
First English translation 2014 by Dalkey Archive Press