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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Zündel's Exit

Markus Werner

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To purchase Zündel's Exit

Title: Zündel's Exit
Author: Markus Werner
Genre: Novel
Written: 1984 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 124 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Zündel's Exit - US
Zündel's Exit - UK
Zündel's Exit - Canada
Zündel's Exit - India
Zündel s'en va - France
Zündels Abgang - Deutschland
Zündel se ne va - Italia
  • German title: Zündels Abgang
  • Translated by Michael Hofmann

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Our Assessment:

B : decent little novel of man falling apart

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 2/6/2014 Ricky D’Ambrose
TLS . 6/7/2015 Jen Calleja
Die Zeit B+ 5/10/1984 Peter Burri

  From the Reviews:
  • "Zündel’s Exit gorges on the limit point of madness, of fidgeting hands and heads and hearts punished by the sclerosis of cramped conditions. Solitude supplies one way out, although the route to the promised land is split (.....) Describe it however one likes -- as a tale of love, erotic longing or thwarted pleasure -- Zündel’s Exit often reads like a strange, hermetic story of suspended romantic commitments, driven by what Michael Hofmann calls, in his introduction, its protagonist’s impersonal dandyishness." - Ricky D’Ambrose, The Nation

  • "Reading Michael Hofmann’s masterly enactments of Markus Werner’s dialogue, word games and cavorting prose is akin to watching someone enjoy their favourite pasttime, one they happen to be very good at (.....) (I)t is the book’s pitch-black humour that sets it apart from the familiar existential novel. The desperate conversations with compassionate friends and lovers keep the reader hopeful, but once Zündel decides to leave reality behind there’s no stopping him." - Jen Calleja, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Markus Werner behandelt seinen Zündel mit angenehmer Distanz, mit trockener Ironie (.....) Ein nicht unkluges Buch, es tippt mit viel Schreibökonomie und keinerlei Längen, mit einigen Pointen und auf dem Bewußtseinsstand von 1984 alles an, was die Schweizer Literatur schon seit langem als Thema hat: Das Ausbrechenwollen aus einem Gesellschaftsgefüge, wo alles gut und vernünftig sein soll; Variante Beziehungen: Man möchte lieb miteinander sein -- und es ist zum Ersticken." - Peter Burri, 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:

       Zündel's Exit is narrated by a friend of the eponymous Konrad Zündel, Pastor Viktor Busch, piecing together Zündel's final summer from Zündel's notebooks as well as his personal knowledge.
       Konrad Zündel, born 1949, is a Swiss school teacher in his early thirties who has been married to Magda for several years. The story opens with him in Ancona, ready to set out on the ferry for Greece -- he and his wife are spending some time apart, vacationing separately ("It was our decision -- and we came to it jointly", Magda reminds him) -- but already here Zündel is literally falling apart. He loses a "pin-tooth (or first broad incisor)" -- it simply falls out -- and he refuses to continue his trip in this gap-toothed state, making an about-face and heading straight back home.
       He wonders already what life-changing events he has sacrificed by abandoning his trip ("Maybe I would have drowned in Greece ? Or fallen under a bus ?") and believes that in hurrying back home:

Whereas now, everything will remain as before.
       Of course, it turns out that that's not nearly the case.
       The novel opens with a lot evoking a sense of foreboding: the opening scene involves a young boy vomiting, there's that tooth dropping out, and on the train-ride back home Zündel not only loses his cash to a pickpocket but finds a finger -- just a finger, but definitely human -- on the bathroom floor. It's only after these scenes that Viktor Busch steps forth, announcing himself as the shaper of this book, a shift from his omnisciently-narrated beginning. He explains how he has the information that allows him to present Zündel's perspective (and thoughts) in these scenes and this story -- he has Zündel's notebooks, etc. -- but of course it makes clear that his is the hand shaping the story, picking and choosing what episodes to relate, and in what order. With the foreboding beginning he offers, Busch certainly is setting the stage very clearly.
       When Zündel returns home so much earlier than expected from his aborted vacation it rattles his wife, who seemed to be looking forward to some time by herself. Or, with the building super then cruelly suggesting to Zündel that Magda had not spent the past few days alone, perhaps she moved much further on than he could have imagined ..... In any case, Magda quickly makes some space for herself, taking off to visit a friend and leaving Zündel to his own devices -- not a great place to leave him.
       If his spiral of decline was only suggested in physical and financial loss, it soon enough becomes a full-blown disintegration. Mulling matters over, he does come up with one idea -- to buy a revolver (yes, with the ambition of using it) -- which leads him back to Italy, and, of course, further misadventure.
       Busch notes that both he and Zündel assume a role of: "habitual spectator and commentator". Zündel does try to act, but these things tend to go rather wrong -- beautifully illustrated when he figures out where he's being led after picking up a prostitute. Readers don't worry too much about his buying and using the gun, because it's pretty obvious how that's going to turn out, and much of the appeal of the story is in following Zündel's bumbling and his reaction to the way his life seems to be falling apart.
       The teacher seems a bit young to be going through such an intense mid-life crisis, but then there's more to it than that. He bends Busch's ear deep into a night, but on the whole he's isolated and left to his own thoughts -- and even he has to admit:
     I'm so fed up with these thoughts, I wish I had a calmer brain.
       School starts in early August in Switzerland already, and Zündel at least goes through the motions of doing his job when it does, but by that time he's pretty much lost it. His exit is only a matter of time.
       There's a nice dry wit to how Werner captures and presents Zündel and his thoughts and ramblings, but the story feels a bit thin -- an excuse to present elements of a character- (and process-of-disintegration-)portrait without offering quite enough of a full picture of the man and the circumstances that drive him over the edge. A few biographical insights are offered -- including some detail about Zündel's father, who abandoned his mother after he got her pregnant -- but much of this, including especially his marriage, isn't adequately fleshed out or revealed. Perhaps it's appropriate, as Zündel's exit is as mysterious as his entrance, but it leaves the book feeling like the product of a writer enamored of a character and type, and specific aspects of that character -- the invention 'Zündel' -- and then struggling a bit to shape a story to fit him.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 December 2013

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Zündel's Exit: Reviews: Other books by Markus Werner under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Markus Werner lived 1944 to 2016.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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