cover image To the Back of Beyond

To the Back of Beyond

Peter Stamm, trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann. Other Press, $15.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-59051-828-1

Stamm (Agnes) takes readers on a dazzling journey through Switzerland and matrimony. Thomas, following his return from a family vacation, suddenly decides to exit his garden, leaving behind his wife, Astrid, and their small children, Ella and Konrad. Thinking about how his marriage has stagnated and unable to arrive at a solution, Thomas wanders without aim, barely stopping to eat and sleep and using limited resources to survive. His roaming takes him to a brothel, through miles of woods and forest, and from village to village. Back home, Astrid is left to tell her children their father has vanished and to cover for Thomas, lying to his employer and those in the community about his whereabouts. She eventually reports Thomas’s disappearance to police despite fears of being ostracized by the community. On the suggestion from one of the officers, she uses online statements of Thomas’s bank transactions to track his movements near Lake Zurich. Stamm’s superb descriptions of alpine nature and internal human conflict (Thomas, wandering through the Alps, often reflects on his wife and family fondly but doesn’t want to return home) are aided by Hofmann’s excellent translation. Even when Thomas’s actions cause pain for those he has promised to love, his introspection makes his impulse to walk away from everything less condemnable. This is a moving work about freedom and wanting. (Oct.)