cover image The Beneficiary

The Beneficiary

Barbara Konig. Northwestern University Press, $19.95 (117pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-1105-9

``Have you been able to exist for 35 years knowing that you aren't really living your own life, but someone else's?'' That's the real question in German writer Konig's thought-provoking novel, her first to be translated into English. Toward the end of WW II, a man named Mommsen, an unwilling accomplice in a plot to blow up a bridge, was condemned to be executed. Unbeknownst to him, another prisoner, a chaplain, takes his place in front of the firing squad. Now 35 years later, the chaplain's sacrifice is being memorialized and reporters, citizens and even Mommsen's wife want to know: Was it worth it? But Mommsen, busy building the success of his real estate firm, never gave much thought at all to the chaplain's sacrifice, having seen himself less as a beneficiary, perhaps, than as ``the man who made another man a hero.'' Mommsen does eventually do his share of soul-searching but the Czech-born Konig has an ironic touch, neatly steering her terse, episodic narrative away from the maudlin and the simplistic. Readers willing to spend a little time and effort thinking about what makes a life worthwhile will be intrigued. (Sept.)