cover image Before the Feast

Before the Feast

Sasa Stanisic, trans. from the German by Anthea Bell. Tin House (Norton, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-941040-39-3

Stanisic’s novel is a kaleidoscopic portrait of a fictional German village named Furstenfelde on the eve of an annual celebratory feast. Narrated collectively by the villagers, the story dips into each of their lives in poignant ways while also contributing short anecdotes from the village’s past, transcripts of which were previously locked away in an archive that has now been broken into. Readers meet a large cast of characters including a vixen in search of eggs for her cubs; the local bell ringer, who no longer wants to ring the bell; two young men who speak exclusively in rhyme; a former soldier from the National People’s Army who now aims to take his own life; and the men who drink at local bartender Ulli’s garage, where he serves them cheap beer and lets them “sit and tell tall tales.” The act of storytelling is at the heart of the novel. While the action in the present day sometimes lacks direction, the complex layering of older stories paints a larger and more cohesive picture of the village’s history, much like a canvas being painted throughout the course of the novel by Ana Kranz, a woman who since 1945 has been “painting exclusively Furstenfelde and its surroundings.” Serious subjects are raised throughout this impressive and sweeping portrait, including our relationship to history and the responsibility of remembering the past, but this comic novel never takes itself too seriously. The end result is both redemptive and hilarious. (June)