cover image The System of Vienna

The System of Vienna

Gert Jonke, , trans. from the Austrian by Vincent Kling. . Dalkey Archive, $12.95 (125pp) ISBN 978-1-56478-550-3

In these reconstituted, previously published stories, late experimental author Jonke (1946–2009) deploys a literary alter ego to take readers on a tortuous, playful journey through memories of Vienna, the author and hero's native city. Interlinked tales, crafted in ambling sentences, follow the protagonist (born, like Jonke, in 1946) recreating moments from his childhood and young adulthood with sensuous precision: riding the streetcars through Vienna's numerous districts; studying musicology at the University of Vienna; and meeting an array of city workers, from a sculptor who lectures on the deceptions of his craft to a wholesale fish dealer who claims to have more power than the chancellor. The narrator also communes, extensively, with caryatids and atlantes, human-shaped statuary that serves as support in prominent Viennese architecture. Often mimicking his hero's existential paralysis with circuitous text, Jonke strikes out in the direction of the fantastic and absurd, revealing unexpected meaning in the vibrancy of Viennese life. (Dec.)