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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Doktor Wassers recept

Lars Gustafsson

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Title: Doktor Wassers recept
Author: Lars Gustafsson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015
Length: 144 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Doktor Wassers Rezept - Deutschland
La ricetta del dottor Wasser - Italia
  • Doktor Wassers recept has not yet been translated into English.

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit slim, but a fine and entertaining character-portrait

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Rundschau A 13/6/2016 Judith von Sternburg
Svenska Dagbladet . 25/9/2015 Jesper Olsson
Die Welt A 27/3/2016 C.-U. Bielefeld

  From the Reviews:
  • "(E)in spätes Meisterwerk ohnehin und auch ein typischer Gustafsson. (...) Doktor Wassers Rezept ist in klassischer Gustafsson-Manier nicht bloß die Durchführung einer kuriosen Fantasterei. Dahinter schlummert und gähnt bisweilen jener Abgrund an Beliebig- und Sinnlosigkeit, der charakteristisch für die dabei ja so aufwendige menschliche Existenz ist." - Judith von Sternburg, Frankfurter Rundschau

  • "Gustafssons Erzählen erinnert an die Methode eines Spielers, der sich ans Klavier setzt, Töne sucht, aus denen sich eine kleine Melodie formt, die abbricht, die neu gefunden und variiert wird, die ausläuft, wieder einsetzt und spannungsreicher wird und die einem schon bald gefangen nimmt. Nur kurz treten viele Figuren auf und setzen sich doch im Kopf fest (.....) Gustafssons Roman über einen Menschen, der sein eigenes Leben wie einen Roman lebt, entwirft ein schönes philosophisches Spiel rund um Identität und Nichtidentität, Lug und Trug, Freiheit und Determination, über „Zeit und Zeiterleben“: ein wahres Lesevergnügen." - Claus-Ulrich Bielefeld, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

[Note: this review is based on the German translation of Doktor Wassers recept by Verena Reichel, Doktor Wassers Rezept (2016). All quotes are my translations from that translation.]

       Doktor Wassers recept, Lars Gustafsson's slim final novel, is narrated by Kurth Wasser, who, having just turned eighty, begins his account looking back and reflecting on his life. The Swedish doctor can sum up and declare, in his opening line: 'I am a winner'. He seems to have a knack for it, describing in the opening chapter how now, in retirement, he often enters the contests found in magazines and newspapers -- generally different kinds of puzzles or word games -- and constantly wins them. However, he only occasionally bothers to collect the prizes, telling the organizers, after Olympics-founder Pierre de Coubertin, that the point isn't winning, but how you play the game. Deep down, however, he doesn't believe that: for him, winning is the point -- and, at the game of life, he seems to have done that. As it turns out, in some ways he has -- but as far as the big picture goes, he certinly also seems to have some lingering regrets.
       Kurth Wasser is also an impostor. While in his twenties, in the 1950s, he came upon the corpse of the real Kurth Wasser, who had died in a motorcycle accident and whose body had long remained undiscovered. Kent Andersson -- so the narrator's original name -- took Wasser's identification documents and other papers and, after some deliberation, stepped into the role of Wasser. The real Wasser was East German and had clearly fled the German Democratic Republic, hoping to establish himself in Sweden; among his few papers were the documents attesting to his completed training as a doctor. Andersson was recognized for his intelligence at school, but had limited opportunities in his provincial childhood; after leaving school he took jobs at a tire-changing shop and then as a window-washer but with Wasser's papers he then applied for Swedish accreditation and was able to slip into the medical profession, despite never being trained in it.
       The impostor understands that he was lucky not to immediately be assigned a surgical residency but rather positions that allowed him to observe and learn -- and not endanger those he was supposed to treat -- and he got a sufficient knack for it to pass for a real doctor. Still, knowing he had to tread carefully, he remained on the lookout for a suitably straightforward specialty -- and came upon that of sleep disorders, in which he then made his (well, Wasser's) name. He also gained important administrative and then leadership positions -- and among his responsibilities was, amusingly enough, looking into cases of other possible medical impostors.
       The fake Wasser takes several steps to make the change from one identity to another -- seeing it as the ultimate proof of free will, of determining one's future. He abandons what little family and few friends he has -- understanding also that among the risks he lives with is that someone who knew Kent Andersson would recognize him. He affects a slight German accent -- badly, he admits, but apparently it's good enough. (Oddly, no one ever seems to try to speak German with him.)
       He always does quite well with women, but remains unattached. Early on he did recognize that to foster his career he did need a mentor, and he found her in Caroline Sundborn, a woman seventeen years his senior with whom he also had a passionate intimate relationship. Sundborn would also seem to have seen through him and his ruse .....
       The short chapters of Doktor Wassers recept are episodic -- scenes from a life --, the account moving roughly chronologically forward but also introducing some information out of order, such as his relationship with Sundborn. Wasser is a contented pensioner in the present-day, but early on already he resists the surge of memories rising up in him -- 'I don't want you ! Don't come here ! I am completely satisfied without your participation' -- and a sense of loss (not least of Sundborn, who we know has passed away) does tinge the whole account.
       Wasser's life has been a lie -- but, as he suggests in another context early on: 'Truth be told -- why shouldn't truth be told, as it is almost always itself a lie ?' For better and worse, at least his life-lie has been of his own making, a choice he made, a path he took -- to be, as he says, 'a place holder, as one says in mathematics', filling in a void left by another. Yet his life also continues to hold a gaping void: there is a sense of loneliness to his existence, with intense but brief sexual encounters his only experiences of intimacy as he has no family and no real friends. He does lament: 'Something in my life has -- without my doing or even against my will -- systematically led towards me becoming evermore lonely'. But, of course, his life has also been his choice.
       Breezily told, Doktor Wassers recept is a loose remembrance. It's an appealing character-portrait, the episodes typical of Gustafsson -- amusing and revealing sketches, quickly related -- and if in some ways a bit thin, as it skips over much that readers might be curious about, still feels quite rich. The closing chapter presents Wasser's short newspaper obituary, suggesting too just how unknown and unknowable each of us remains to the world, regardless of how public and ostensibly full our lives have been, a fitting coda to this fine -- and final, in Gustafsson's case -- little novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 March 2023

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Doktor Wassers recept: Reviews: Lars Gustafsson: Other books by Lars Gustafsson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Lars Gustafsson lived 1936 to 2016.

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© 2023 the complete review

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