The malaise of mid-century Germany and the early stirrings of disgust at the smooth machinations of postwar politics are startlingly fresh and vivid in this tour de force originally published in Germany in 1953 and only now translated into English. Koeppen (1906–1996) has been championed over the years by such luminaries as Günter Grass, Max Frisch and Hans Magnus Enzensberger, and their faith in this novel and the two that with it make up a loose trilogy (Pigeons on the Grass and Death in Rome) proves to be amply justified. Set over the course of two stormy August days in Bonn in the early 1950s, where the German Parliament is meeting alongside the Rhine, the novel follows the actions and deliberations of a member of the socialist opposition party. Brooding over his young wife's recent death, the once-idealistic Keetenheuve struggles to renew in himself a sense of purpose. He left the country in the 1930s, disgusted by Nazi rule, and returned only after the war. As a result, he observes his colleagues with weary detachment, amazed at their ability to recover from dubious wartime activity—"back at the center, eight years previously one had been in Nuremberg, eight years before that one had also been in Nuremberg"—but also with a certain outsider's wistfulness. As an important vote approaches, he must decide: will he speak up once more for peace and justice, or will he resign himself to some darker fate? Gloom pervades these pages, lighted from within by the fireworks of Koeppen's dazzling prose, rich with allusions to classical and German literature and masterfully translated by Hofmann. Almost eerily contemporary in its concerns, and remarkable as a sidelong, searing appraisal of the legacy of the Nazi years, it is a recovered masterpiece. (June)
Forecast:Wildfire word-of-mouth in literary circles and strong reviews will ensure respectable sales and maybe even breakout success. Either way, The Hothouse will be an essential backlist title for the foreseeable future. Death in Rome (Forecasts, June 4), first published in English in 1993, is being reissued simultaneously in paperback.