cover image In Times of Fading Light

In Times of Fading Light

Eugen Ruge, trans. from the German by Anthea Bell. Graywolf Press (FSG, dist.), $26 (328p) ISBN 978-1-55597-643-9

Ruge’s evocative family chronicle spans nearly 60 years, moving fluidly from 2001 to 1952, with several stops in between. In the small German town of Neuendorf in 2001, elderly Kurt Umnitzer is paid one last visit, before senility completely overtakes him, by his son Alexander, who himself has recently been diagnosed with cancer. As Alexander sorts through Kurt’s belongings and photographs, he delves into the family’s history. Alexander goes to Mexico to learn more about his father, while the story travels back to the 1950s, which find Alexander’s grandmother Charlotte and her husband, Wilhelm, living as loyal communists in East Berlin, along with Kurt and his wife, Irina. Cuba in the 1960s, Russia in the 1970s, and the fall of the Berlin Wall provide further backdrops and catalysts for the Umnitzer family’s troubled journey through the 20th century. Ruge tends to focus on his scenes, which are heavy on both seemingly insignificant detail (the opening sentence puts Alexander on “a buffalo leather sofa”) and plot, combining dense, full-bodied storytelling with an enlightening sense of modern history. Agent: Carolin Mungard, Rowohlt Verlag. (Jun.)