cover image Time of Light

Time of Light

Gunnar Kopperud. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, $23.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-088-3

War and its consequences are the subjects of Norway-based journalist Kopperud's dreamlike first novel, set during a 10-day skirmish between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1994. As that conflict unfolds, it triggers the haunted memories of WWII vet Markus Wagner, a German expatriate who participated in the Nazi army's disastrous winter 1942-1943 battle and occupation of Stalingrad. Burdened by the weight of his past, Markus recounts his story to an old Armenian priest, in wide-ranging conversations that touch on everything from Bertrand Russell to the inevitability of war atrocities. Chief among these in Markus's recollection are the torching of a Russian church filled with civilians, and the rape and murder of a village girl. In both cases, Markus is tormented by his own conflicted role. Kopperud spaces the war scenes far apart, with lots of philosophy and history in between. When the memories do come, they are filled with microscopic detail and stark imagery, and they possess a veneer of shimmering beauty, thanks to Kopperud's lyrical descriptions of the most base savagery. ""Some stories must either never be told or be told only the way dreams are told,"" says one character, an Armenian survivor of Turkish brutality, and Kopperud obliges with fanciful, hallucinatory scenes such as one in which a musically gifted German sniper plays a duet in gunfire with his Russian counterpart. While Markus is the book's central figure, the third-person narrative encompasses other viewpoints as well--most successfully that of Rachel, the Jewish lover Markus left behind in Norway. Other characters include Manfred and Dieter, fellow soldiers in Markus's unit. Gracefully manipulating fragmented voices and a patchwork narrative, Kopperud crafts a moving modernist meditation on German war guilt and the fundamental nature of good and evil, light and dark. (July)