cover image Zbinden’s Progress

Zbinden’s Progress

Christoph Simon, trans. from the German by Donal McLaughlin. And Other Stories (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (182p) ISBN 978-1-908276-10-0

The fourth book from Swiss novelist Simon (Planet Obrist) has a very simple setup: an elderly man, the titular Zbinden (his first name is Lukas) takes a long walk outside the old folks’ home where he lives, on the arm of a young man he has just met named Kazim, and tells his life’s story. The highlights are relatable and believable, but not exceptional. He loved his wife, Emilie, deeply until the end of her life, and has a difficult relationship with his son, Markus. The first-person narrative is pitch-perfect, capturing a slight formality indicative of Zbinden’s age and personality, as well as his natural yarn-spinner’s charm and desire to please. “Believe me, if you’ve been married for fifty years, it’s sometimes confusing to walk with someone else. Should you accompany me, Kazim, I’ll take care not to call you ‘Dearest’ suddenly or, with customary affection, to put my hand round your hips.” Zbinden and Kazim’s relationship is new but also profound, underscoring one of Simon’s major themes: living in the moment. Zbinden praises several times the benefits–physical, spiritual, emotional–of a good walk. He’s a fine companion to travel with. (Jan.)