cover image The Search for Heinrich Schlögel

The Search for Heinrich Schlögel

Martha Baillie. Tin House (PGW, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-935639-90-9

In the latest from Baillie (The Incident Report), written in beautiful prose, 20-year-old Heinrich Schlögel sets off on a hiking trip into the Arctic wilderness of Canada’s Baffin Island in 1908. He emerges two weeks later to find that, although he has not aged, 30 years have elapsed since he began the trip. An archivist, whose own motives and history we learn about primarily via footnotes, pieces together his mysterious life; she collects letters, diary entries, even a drawing of a map (included in the text), but reminds us that, given the same evidence, another narrator might “tell Heinrich’s story differently than I do, what they’d want from Heinrich would be different.” Heinrich is drawn from Germany to the Arctic by the diary of Samuel Hearne, an 18th-century British explorer, and by the urging of his polyglot sister, Inge, whose fascination with the Inuktitut language leads her to discoveries of appalling cases of aboriginal exploitation, sufferings to which Heinrich, on his dreamlike adventure, bears witness. Baillie delivers a work of magical realism that captures the experience of postcolonial guilt (as her archivist observes, “Soon we will all have to pay off our debts”) and gives voice to a silenced past. The temporal shift works perfectly, producing an effect of ghostly haunting alongside childlike wonder. (Sept.)