cover image Marrow and Bone

Marrow and Bone

Walter Kempowski, trans. from the German by Charlotte Collins. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-68137-435-2

Kempowski (All For Nothing) offers an astute and ever-surprising comedy of the cultural divide between East and West in 1988. At 43, war orphan Jonathan Fabrizius halfheartedly pursues a life of the mind in Hamburg, where he works as a sometime journalist. After Frau Winkelvoss, a representative of the Santubara car manufacturer, offers Jonathan an opportunity to document a trip across Poland for an upcoming rally, Jonathan readily accepts out of interest in his birthplace in former East Prussia. Jonathan takes ironic pride in a painful past (“As far as suffering was concerned, this guaranteed him an unparalleled advantage over his friends”) and adopts a wry attitude toward the way he’ll be perceived as a German abroad (“When you’d started a world war, murdered Jews and taken people’s bicycles away (in Holland) the cards were stacked against you”). On the road in Poland with Winkelvoss and a famous race car driver at the wheel of the flashy V8, Jonathan plays the part of arrogant Western intellectual as their adventure turns picaresque, complete with a car jacking. As Jonathan tunes in to the wreckage of war, Kempowski’s unsparing, dagger-sharp prose leads Jonathan to face the loss of his parents and homeland. This hilarious, deeply affecting exploration of postwar dichotomies successfully channels the satire of Confederacy of Dunces and the somber reflectiveness of Austerlitz. (Mar.)