cover image Moss


Klaus Modick, trans. from the German by David Herman. Bellevue, $16.99 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-942658-73-3

German novelist and translator Modick’s thoughtful English-language debut takes the form of a journal discovered after the death of a retired botanist. At a rundown cabin in Ammerland, Germany, the body of Lukas Ohlburg is found covered in moss, as is the interior of the lodge. His final project, a tract criticizing the scientific terminology of modern botany, remains unfinished, as his efforts were instead channeled into a journal in which he links the life cycle of moss with final reflections on his own life. Modick meanders through the short tale, moving quietly and meditatively through the details of Ohlburg’s memory: his father’s relentless efforts to stop the encroaching forest from reclaiming their property, his first sexual experiences, his friendship with his younger brother, and their family’s flight from the Nazi regime. After each topic, Ohlburg returns to the condition of the moss. Modick skimps on story, but he’s a skilled prose stylist, and in the capable hands of Herman he conjures a graceful, thought-provoking portrait of memory and mortality. “One could say that [moss] is always only pondering its own past,” Ohlburg’s journal reads. “Its present, however, is pure, humble beauty.” Though the book might not stay with readers, Modick’s insightful tale is pleasant while it lasts. (Aug.)