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Max Frisch: Homo Faber (Homo Faber)

Walter Faber is an engineer who likes everything just right and does not like irritation or disruption. When flying to Caracas from New York, he tries to avoid the German – Herbert – who was his neighbour on the first leg but ends up sitting next to him. When they have to make an emergency landing in the Mexican desert, they become friends and Faber finds out that Herbert is the brother of his erstwhile best friend, Joachim, and that Joachim is now married to Faber’s former lover, Hanna. Faber agrees to accompany Herbert to the plantation in Guatemala that Joachim is now managing but, when they get there, they find that Joachim has hanged himself. Faber returns to New York and then sets off for Europe – on a ship. On the ship he meets Elisabeth (Sabeth) and he falls for her and proposes. Though she turns him down, he visits her in Paris and they drive South. Only in Italy does Faber discover the truth that we may have expected but he did not. Inevitably, he pays the price for doing so.

What Frisch does so well, as he has done in other books, is to show that the façade that modern man has built for himself – in this case homo faber which might be translated as technological man – can hold only so far and is likely to crumble when anything untoward happens. In this case, Faber’s schedule is disrupted (by the crash) and this leads to a whole series of events, including dragging back half-forgotten memories, all of which turn Faber’s life upside down. Frisch writes so well that you cannot fail to be dragged into the mind and feelings of Faber’s life and his crisis and you cannot fail to see what is, for Frisch, the crisis of the modern intellect.

Publishing history

First published in German 1957 by Suhrkamp
First English translation 1959 by Abelard-Schuman
Translated by Michael Bullock