cover image The Sleep of the Righteous

The Sleep of the Righteous

Wolfgang Hilbig, trans. from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole. Two Lines (PGW, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-931883-47-4

Hilbig’s stories trace a journey from childhood to adulthood and the decades-long partition of Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall. In a coal town coated in ash and the “drab devastation” of poverty where “there were no fathers... to make still littler children,” we see a boy grow up and manage to have a childhood reminiscent of Tom Sawyer. Whether it is the mud wars on the beaches of water-filled coal pits, or a boy’s imagination taking hold in a basement full of bottles, the sparks of curiosity and adventure thrive alongside arrests and persecutions. The middle of the book sees the stories transfer to middle age, via a meditation on a photograph in “The Afternoon.” From this point on, we see the same coal town, but now through the eyes of the boy turned adult. The last and longest story, “The Dark Man,” acts as an appropriate finale to the collection. After the Berlin Wall is down, the grown man goes back to his hometown to escape the rock-bottom relationship with his wife. Confronting the death of a former lover and an ex-Stasi agent who haunts him, Hilbig’s protagonist must navigate his own history and that of the childhood and country he thought he had outgrown. Hilbig’s prose is vivid and poetic, and a Kafkaesque touch gives these stories ample atmosphere. (Oct.)