The Dog King

Christoph Ransmayr, Author, John Woods, Jr., Translator Alfred A. Knopf $24 (416p) ISBN 978-0-679-45057-3
American audiences may react to this highly stylized German novel the way they often react to a foreign film: impressed but puzzled. At times fierce and hallucinatory, at other times ponderous and cold, this look at post-WWII Germany presents a world where peacetime brings no relief from suffering and struggle, nor from the hovering, obliquely addressed shadow of the Holocaust. In the small town of Moor, which had harbored a concentration camp, Bering, the son of a blacksmith, has inherited his father's ability with machines, a skill much in demand due to the wreckage caused by Allied bombings and victorious marching armies. But after his mother succumbs to religious superstition, Bering leaves his family to live with the mysterious Ambras, aka the Dog King, who resides in an abandoned villa with a battalion of half-crazed hounds. Along with Lily, a young woman adept at weaponry and black marketeering, Bering and Ambras attempt to carve a life for themselves and, eventually, to leave Germany altogether. Bering suffers from an eye disease that causes his vision to darken gradually. Ransmayr's treatment of this element is emblematic of the book as a whole: it clearly bears allegorical intent, but the meaning remains murky. How complicit were the villagers in the killings that took place at the camp? Ably translated by Woods, this novel paints a convincing postapocalyptic world sent back into a nearly pre-civilized state. But Ransmayr (The Terrors of Ice and Darkness), though clearly probing the question of how Germany is to view itself in the wake of the Holocaust and WWII, never pulls his story out of his dark, expressionist atmospherics into the clear light of an answer. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/28/1997
Release date: 05/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-679-76860-9
Show other formats
Discover what to read next