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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Lutz Seiler

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To purchase Kruso

Title: Kruso
Author: Lutz Seiler
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 459 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Kruso - US
Kruso - UK
Kruso - Canada
Kruso - France
Kruso - Deutschland
Kruso - Italia
Kruso - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice take on lost souls, place, and time

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian B+ 15/7/2017 Andrew Fuhrmann
The Economist . 2/3/2017 .
FAZ . 12/9/2014 Lorenz Jäger
Irish Times A+ 4/2/2017 Eileen Battersby
NZZ . 3/10/2014 Roman Bucheli
Die Zeit A+ 21/8/2014 Alexander Cammann

  Review Consensus:

  Almost all very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Kruso is a lyrical reinvention of the Wenderoman, the German unification novel, one that comes close to the condition of poetry, if not always line by line then certainly in its orchestration of images and its diminutive gropings into the nature of freedom and enthralment, extremity and submission. (...) For all its originality, however, Kruso is far from perfect. Itís slow getting started, and itís disconcerting that the female characters are ghostly ciphers or sexualised nonentities. Still, if this is not exactly a desert island book, there is nonetheless something compelling about it. Tess Lewisís translation is serviceable, but a bit lumpen. I wonder if the book would have been better served by a translator who is a poet, someone capable of transfiguring the prose for English." - Andrew Fuhrmann, The Australian

  • "Above all, he evokes the moods of Hiddensee with visionary power and precision. Although a sophisticated fable of liberty and its discontents, Kruso roots every idea in the salty, sandy landscapes of this "last hope of all the freedom-seekers in this land"." - The Economist

  • "Seltsames Buch. Kein vergleichbares kommt einem auf Anhieb in den Sinn." - Lorenz Jäger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "German poet Lutz Seiler has brought all his art, linguistic ease, flair for dazzling images and mastery of what he describes as "the nervous systems of memory" to this extraordinary debut novel about a young man in free fall during the closing months of the old GDR. (...) Memory becomes a thematic refrain that is brilliantly sustained. The award-winning American translator, Tess Lewis, conveys the essential strangeness of the laconic, at times fantastical narrative, which triumphs through dialogue that consistently replicates the randomness of everyday speech. The ultimate power of Kruso rests in the characterisation of Ed, who responds to his surroundings with the forensic grasp of detail peculiar to being in shock. (...) Kruso is an exciting, expansive work of German literature; it may well prove one of the major novels of the 21st century." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

  • "Lutz Seilers tollkühn konzipierter Roman erzählt von der deutschen Wende, ohne die entscheidenden Ereignisse in den Blick zu nehmen, vielmehr schaut dieser Erzähler geradezu auffällig angestrengt in die entgegengesetzte Richtung. Nur ein dünn schepperndes Echo dieser Zeitgeschichte dringt in den abgeschotteten Ort an der Ostsee. (...) Aber so wie der Roman die literarischen und biblischen Referenzsysteme nur andeutungsweise aufruft, so bleiben auch die Bindungen an das politische Bezugssystem vage und lose. Erst daraus jedoch entsteht die poetische Provokation" - Roman Bucheli, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Kruso ist letztlich ein vielschichtiger philosophischer Roman, der eine große Frage stellt, auch an unsere Gegenwart: Wie ist Freiheit möglich ? (...) Seiler verfremdet immer wieder die Realität in eine surreale, oft ziemlich lustige Fantasiewelt, ohne dass darüber die Realität verloren ginge" - Alexander Cammann, Die Zeit

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:

       The author-resembling protagonist of Kruso is not the title character but rather Edgar Bendler, a university student of literature in Halle, East Germany. Still traumatized by the death of his girlfriend G. he abandons his studies and leaves town -- choosing, rather spontaneously, to head to: "A hide-out in the sea, hidden sea, Hiddensee ...", off Germany's northern Baltic Sea coast. (The island is a real place, and pretty much as described in the novel, and it really is called: 'Hiddensee' (which, here, works even better in English than in the original German ...).) With the Danish island of Møn tantalizingly within sight, Hiddensee is, at that time, a popular destination both as tourist spot and where the desperate try to escape East Germany -- though if that was in the back of his mind, once he gets there Ed doesn't look any further.
       After doing the rounds and sleeping in the rough, Ed manages to get a local toehold, a position as dishwasher at Zum Klausner -- "The Hermit Inn". [Yes, it's a real place -- and apparently author Seiler worked there in that same summer as the book is set .....] Kruso is not there when he is taken in, but it is Kruso who is essentially in charge of the place and who will determine his fate -- and Kruso takes to him. They are, in a sense, kindred spirits -- like brothers, they eventually figure --, specifically because they are each marked by a great, close loss, as Kruso lost his sister when he was a child.
       The son of a Russian general (and a mother who died in front of his eyes when he was very young), but mainly raised by an uncle on this island, he is:

Alexander Krusowitsch, most people say Kruso, a few friends call me Losh, from Alexander, that is from Alyosha, Alosha -- Losh.
       As that explanation suggests, his identity is complex -- indeed, it proves even more complex and less fixed than this. Among much else, he is, of course, a sort of (Robinson) Crusoe-figure, and Ed becomes a sort of Friday, even if the busy island hardly seems a deserted one. Of course, both men are, in their own ways, islands unto themselves, and they have also been cast adrift, finding a sort of hold on these shores, and then with each other.
       Kruso is long-established on Hiddensee: everyone knows him, and he is a prominent figure. He is also very active in providing support for those who want to travel on -- who are willing to risk their lives trying to reach the West. While the island is heavily guarded by the authorities, people make it there -- and try to slip onwards -- all the time, and there is a large community locally that helps them on their way. Kruso and other sympathizers have prepared a whole set of covert sleeping quarters, for example, -- there are secret spots all over the island, with people even bunking in playwright Gerhart Hauptmann's old bed, in the local museum dedicated to him --, and he clearly sees it as his mission to help these castaways.
       Ed takes to his job and role in the close-knit, hard-working community at the Klausner, finding purpose and routine -- and acceptance. His room is eventually opened to castaways, too, like many of the others, strangers coming to spend a night or a few there before disappering again (which affects Ed too, especially initially -- and makes for some awkwardness, when he takes to sleeping on the floor).
       The story takes place in the summer and fall of 1989, but for a long time the greater German turmoil -- this was the time when the Soviet Union was beginning to implode, and borders in the east -- first in Hungary -- became increasingly porous, before the final collapse of East Germany that fall. An ancient radio that can't be turned off provides a constant if not always clear background patter, so some of this news drizzles in, but for most of the summer there's little sense at the Klausner of a changing world beyond the island. But eventually the tide turns: fewer castaways arrive, as it becomes easier to escape west via other routes, and eventually even the Klausner staff begins drifting away. Ed, however, is a holdout: his dream wasn't of escape west. He was on the run from other things, and he found his escape, his temporary home, on Hiddensee. Kruso, meanwhile, suffers more as what he has devoted his life, and the answers he's been chasing to dissolve in front of his eyes.
       Presented in relatively short chapters, Kruso is closely focused on Ed and the small circles around him. The Klausner is a kind of island on the island itself, and while Ed does occasionally venture beyond, his life is dominated by the close-at-hand community in which he lives and works.
       Ed keeps a diary of sorts -- but in a datebook, where there are only a few lines for every day, limiting what he can say (unless he doesn't write for several days, as often happens) -- and occasional entries are presented in the text, but it's only a small part of Seiler's detailed portrait. Seiler also presents Ed's dreams and misperceptions, and his fantasy-conversations; Ed isn't always 'there', either, drifting somewhat loosely at times (something Seiler falls back on rather too often, with Ed, for a variety of reasons, not fully conscious). Kruso is Ed's main counterpart, the two drawn to each other, but Kruso also remains something of an enigma, Ed (and the reader) only gradually learning more about him. There are connections -- especially that sense of loss that they have not managed to fully deal with -- but Kruso also continues to mystify Ed.
       Literature remains significant, from the co-worker named Rimbaud and the circulation of a variety of books at the Klausner (though tellingly, the final left-behind library disintegrates like everything else ...) to Ed's own poetry -- both the remembered and the written. He had considered writing his thesis on Georg Trakl, and the poem Sonja is one that makes for a connection with Kruso (whose sister was named Sonya). So also Seiler weaves quotes and fragments from a wide variety of authors into his text (noting which in the Acknowledgements).
       Kruso plods along -- but quite effectively. Traumatized Ed welcomes getting back to basics -- simple routines, finding a place in the small Klausner community -- and Seiler has Ed's unusual personal journey unfold at a slow, deliberate pace, much of it a kind of daze. The background of the events of 1989 is also very well used -- obviously looming over the story, even as for so long the events and changes barely figure in it at all, until everything spirals out of the long-established order. It's a fascinating picture of and take on the collapse of East Germany, from an unusual, almost peripheral vantage point.
       Seiler does allow Ed's own voice to emerge in an Epilogue that is a report written in the first person, several years after the events on Hiddensee -- a kind of attempt at finding closure that, while interesting in and of itself, is a bit of an odd fit with the story itself.
       The poetic language and careful expression to the prose in Kruso make for an arresting read too, slightly odd and off-beat, but quite compelling. It's also a novel of big themes -- freedom (personal and political), longing (in all its gradations), and mourning, in particular -- and the narrative's general sense of drift, with these bobbling up constantly but never overwhelming the story, is particularly well done.
       A fine, big novel.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 August 2018

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Kruso: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       (East-)German author Lutz Seiler was born in 1963.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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