The Invention of Curried Sausage

Uwe Timm, Author, Leila Vennewitz, Translator, Leila Bennewitz, Translator
Uwe Timm, Author, Leila Vennewitz, Translator, Leila Bennewitz, Translator New Directions Publishing Corporation $19.95 (217p) ISBN 978-0-8112-1297-7
Paperback - 218 pages - 978-0-8112-1368-4
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German novelist Timm (Headhunter), who inserts himself as narrator and witness into the plot of this ambitious but flawed work, tracks down Lena Brucker, a blind old woman, in 1989 to verify the rumor that she ``invented'' curried sausage, a popular German food sold by street vendors. Lena's story, which takes up much of the narrative, goes back to April 1945: as Hitler's dreams of conquest collapse, Lena, then a humble 43-year-old food-service worker in Hamburg, has an affair with Hermann Bremer, 24, a German naval officer and deserter. Both are married. Lena's husband, a smuggler and a naval skipper, has been gone six years, while Hermann conceals the existence of his wife and infant son from his new lover. Writing in taut prose well served by Vennewitz's expert translation, Timm probes the moral ambiguity pervading daily life at a time when ordinary people struggled to survive amid chaos and ruin. Neighbors spy on Lena, whose negative remarks about the Nazis are kept in a Gestapo file (``The Jews are human beings too,'' reads one of her recorded comments). When Germany surrenders, she is surprised and appalled by newspaper photographs of concentration camp survivors. Timm is trying to tell the tale of Germany's transition from Nazi totalitarianism to the ``sweetly pungent anarchy'' of modern Germany. To some extent he succeeds, as when he playfully inverts images of blitzkrieg and conquest: ``Thus began the triumphal march of the curried sausage, starting from Grossneumarket, then to a stand on the Reeperbahn... Kiel, Cologne, Munster and Frankfurt, but strangely enough stopping at the River Main, where weisswurst held on to its territory.'' Still, modern German history is a lot of weight to lay on one spicy wurst. (May)
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