cover image Leonardo's Hands

Leonardo's Hands

Alois Hotsching. Bison Books, $12 (146pp) ISBN 978-0-8032-7317-7

Austrian writer Hotschnig's evocative, impressionistic novel begins when Kurt Weyrath, a 32-year-old engineer, is involved in a hit-and-run accident that kills a couple and leaves their 24-year-old daughter, Anna Kainz, in a coma. Overcome by guilt, Kurt abandons his former life--leaving behind his girlfriend, Gerda, and a promising career--to become an ambulance rescue worker, so that he can discover where Anna is hospitalized. Although rescue personnel are not supposed to have any private contact with accident victims, Kurt locates Anna and develops an overwhelming attachment to her, visiting her every day; assisting with her coma therapy; taking the art history classes she once took at university, walking down the block on which she used to live. His persistence hastens Anna's recovery and the two become lovers, but Kurt gradually discovers that Anna is not the person he had imagined her to be. His full exposure to her past--which includes a period of drug addiction and a stint in Florence with an elusive man, whose sinister influence on the couple is as shadowy as it is persistent--sets off a chain of events that culminate in another death. Hotschnig's true subject ultimately reveals itself to be consciousness--or, at least, the process of finding and losing one's identity. His indirect approach allows him to effectively blur the distinction between memory, reality and the associative world of the subconscious. Hotschnig, who has won several literary prizes in Germany, is a talented and provocative writer, and at its best this translation achieves an understated but sweeping musical power. (Feb.)