XFX: The Dog King at the NYT

There is an extensive review of The Dog King from the New York Times online. Published in 1997 when the Ransmayr novel was new, it presents a good view of both the novel and the novelist. One point I definitely agree on is, and for me it’s not a negative, that Ransmayr is cold, mechanical:  he gives us sensations, rather than feelings. One other point I can’t argue with is that Ransmayr is an amazing writer. I realize that with German I have to rely of a translation but John E. Woods has done a masterful job translating a very difficult author.

Here’s the start of that review and the link:

Deindustrializing the Nazis
By Gabriele Annan

A ‘what if’ novel in which the economic miracle worked the other way round

By Christoph Ransmayr.
Translated by John E. Woods.
355 pp. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf. $24.

“The Dog King” is Christoph Ransmayr’s third novel. He published it nine years after the previous one, ”The Last World,” which won prizes, went into huge editions and was translated into 20 languages. The long silence inclined German critics to regard the new novel as an important statement, not to say a solemn pronouncement, perhaps a warning. Ransmayr is a novelist concerned with the philosophy of history rather than the psychology of character. He is taken very seriously in German-speaking countries, where history, especially recent history, is an obsession.

In any case, there is no other way to take him; he is humorless and curiously cold. His protagonists have only a few characteristics each, like figures in a cartoon strip or a myth. They are opaque, not quite human, and Ransmayr himself shows no sign of being fond of any of them. But the action is gripping. He goes in for outdoor adventure and danger — his first novel was about Vitus Bering, the 18th-century navigator who gave his name to the Bering Straits. Ransmayr is brilliant at putting across in intricate, frightening detail the challenge of each cliffhanging predicament that faces his characters. Maybe his ideal reader would be a philosophically inclined schoolboy with a penchant for tinkering with machinery; a lot of that goes on in ”The Dog King.” There are also perilous Alpine crossings (Ransmayr’s hobby is climbing) and shipwrecks, explosions, conflagrations and an expedition through the Brazilian jungle. Many people get killed, including two of the three principal characters. …

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