COVER TO COVER
CHRISTIAN KRACHT: A NARRATOR IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR IN SEARCH OF A PROTAGONIST
July 9, 2021
Twenty-five years ago, Christian Kracht published his iconic debut novel, “Faserland.” Now he is back in his latest masterpiece, “Eurotrash,” and he has brought his mother along for the ride.
So, I remember going to Kiepert, the large bookstore in Berlin Charlottenburg, twenty-five years ago and buying a copy of Christian Kracht’s Faserland (1995). I left the bookshop and climbed into my dinky 1986 Saab 900. I looked at the dust jacket for at least an hour and then read the entire thing cover to cover, right there and then. As I closed the book and tossed it on the passenger seat, I realized that I would never look at literature the same way again—at least not German literature. Admittedly, there was a lot of Bret Easton Ellis, with the dense accumulations of pop-cultural references. A bit of Douglas Coupland in the descriptions of aimless twentysomethings during the 1990s. Even some David Foster Wallace toward the end, yet, no one had ever written like this in German before.
Barbour Ashby medium-weight wax cotton jacket
So, the book tells the story of an unnamed narrator, presumably a version of the author himself. He is in his late twenties and gives taxi drivers enormous tips in an attempt to anger them. He wears Kiton jackets and Barbour coats. We follow him on an odyssey from the far-north island of Sylt, Germany’s version of the Hamptons, all the way down to Zurich. While passing through Hamburg, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Munich, he observes the world around him, describing the zeitgeist of a wealthy coterie of young adults. In each city, he meets different characters, whom he often describes in fine detail. His experiences revolve around sexual encounters, drugs, alcohol, and life after dark, all of it an expression of help- and hopelessness since no one seems to enjoy the debauchery. Kracht outlines the downfall of his generation. One protagonist commits suicide. The narrator travels deeper and deeper into his own tragic childhood memories. His wanderings seem more like a long goodbye than a journey in search of more significant meaning. He finally boards a rowboat or ferry on Lake Zurich, gliding over the still water into the night. It is unclear if he drowns or makes it to the other side. References to Greek mythology suggest a suicide. But this theory turns out not to be true: the narrator is back a quarter of a century later in Kracht’s latest book, Eurotrash (2021).
Japanese Single Malt meets Eurotrash
I am sitting in New York. The book has arrived via Amazon. No more hunting it down in an actual bookshop; I looked for it at the Strand, but they do not carry German novels, and the only German bookshop in New York closed during the pandemic. So, it arrives, I open it, and I feel anxious. Will it live up to Faserland? In retrospect, Faserland became iconic because of the books Kracht published subsequently. It became clear he was capable of writing complex prose. He could have easily continued with the style he introduced in Faserland—humorous, arrogant, observational, snobbish, tragic, full of absurdity. Yet, he dug himself out of that corner. Upon its initial publication, Faserland divided the critics. Some praised its off-the-cuff approach, the ease with which Kracht told the story of a young man in search of himself. Other critics found it at best banal, jaded, decadent. Yet others went further and called it frivolous, morally bankrupt trash. Yet the skeptics were silenced when the author published one more great book after another, most quickly absorbed into the canon of contemporary German literature. The subsequent books had a more serious tone but continued to evince an anxious outlook on the world from the point of view of a white man in his thirties and forties.
Lake Zurich, Night Panorama
I felt certain, as did my friends, that the new one would again be some sort of masterpiece. There was no doubt. Crucially, we knew exactly, to the dot on each “i,” what Kracht was speaking about when he ventured deep into pages-long frenzies on music, fashion, nightlife spots. Deeper and deeper into a confusing abyss. The reaction to Faserland created real bonds. I have friends to this day who read it cover to cover in one go, just like I did. We’d call each other to discuss it passage by passage, line by line, for hours. Reading Faserland reminded me of my first viewing of Pulp Fiction, released one year before Kracht’s debut. I studied set design at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, a bastion of conservative culture and traditional education. After the film ended, the audience sat in their chairs, in silence, for some time, unable to comprehend what they had just seen. We knew that filmmaking and scriptwriting would never be the same.
Faserland, 1995 (Not Fatherland, not Sauerland, not Amerland)
In any case, here I was, now looking at Eurotrash, wondering if the story of Faserland could simply pick up where it left off. It starts with the same word Faserland begins with—“So”—and ends with the same last word, “soon.” Well, so far, so good. Yet what takes place between the “So” and the “soon” is not necessarily a sequel, even though the narrator introduces himself as Christian and as the author of Faserland.
Subjects are similar. Figures are similar. Anecdotes, peculiarities, and patterns reappear. One that I recognize right away is the narrator’s chain-smoking. He lights one cigarette after the other, just as he did twenty-five years ago. I start smelling the smoke of cigarettes and cough. He continues to speak of expensive fashion, and his preferred mode of transportation remains taxis. Yet this time, he is not traveling alone. He is in the company of his sick, alcoholic, drug-addicted, eighty-year-old mother. It is another road trip on another road to nowhere. Mother and son travel to sites of Kracht’s childhood but the narration, the storytelling, is more complex. The narrator loses the plot at various points. In a bit of a Charlie Kaufman turn of events, he and his mother speculate that they are perhaps only characters in someone else’s story. Characters from other Kracht books reappear and evidence an awareness of their own fictionality. It leads us to think about our role in reading Kracht’s lines, as it is easy to identify with him, his mother, the journey, and certain characters in his other books, for instance, 1979 (2001), set in revolutionary Iran; Imperium (2012), about a German colony in the century before last; or Japan in the 1930s in The Dead (2016). All seems so much more surreal and absurd than in Faserland. It reminds me of how Americans imagine Switzerland as a fairy-tale country with gigantic castles and snow-covered mountains. Kracht and his mother drift through this landscape and narrative, which seem to fuse and become one, in a taxi that seems to be always there, ready to take them to the next spot. The ferry has turned into a taxi automaton that cannot stop until it delivers our protagonists to the afterlife.
The young writer as an old man
Kracht crosses the borders of narration. As we proceed, the story becomes a psychedelic journey. Various times and realities overlap, all written by Kracht and narrated by another Kracht, who is simultaneously the Kracht who wrote all the other novels. There are multiple Krachts in Eurotrash: the real author, the fictitious narrator, and half a dozen others who wander between the lines. When he tells us about David Bowie, Jorge Luis Borges, and other historical figures, we are back in the world of Faserland. The biography of Kracht in the novel is similar to that of Kracht, the author: same date and place of birth, same family history. At some point, he looks himself up on Wikipedia to verify his own identity, to substantiate the truthfulness of his own life based on dates, places, and biographical lines that anyone can edit and alter. Taking things to another level, while writing Eurotrash, Kracht posted family pictures on his Instagram account intended to confuse us before the book was even published regarding what is fact and what is fiction.
Over tip the driver
In interviews, the author Kracht frequently speaks about having been sexually abused during his childhood by a priest. No one wanted to believe a twelve-year-old, and for a long time, Kracht was unsure if the incident indeed took place or was triggered by media stories of child abuse in the Catholic church that he read as a teenager. Yet finally, one day, he spoke to fellow students who also reported having been abused. It seems he remembered correctly. The question of remembering one’s own story and bringing it into one’s work of art is a theme that Kracht repeatedly revisits—the different ways that experiences, even the experience of writing, can enter into a piece of writing and how the facts transform along the way. Comedy, in particular, enables authentic storytelling, according to the author Kracht. The more a parody resembles the truth, the better.
So, Eurotrash is a parody of a sequel to Faserland. One that was and was not written. What we learn is that novels depict reality but are not reality, even if they contain truth. Thus, Eurotrash points to some seemingly insoluble contradictions of literature. Yet, the true star of the book is Ms. Kracht. She drinks, throws money around, and owns hundreds of furs and shoes she’s never worn and never will. This mother is the mother of Kracht, both the author and the narrator—twins who will meet soon.
How to pronounce Christian Kracht in German
Mark Darmstaedter studied at the faculty of architecture at the RWTH Aachen. He is the CEO of a German shoe manufacturer. He collects cars, has a one-year-old poodle, and does not wear Barbour jackets.
Cover Photo: An all nighter, Modern Talking playing “Brother Louie” 24/7 since 1986.