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12 Swiss Books 2016

A Nobody

12 Swiss Books 2016A NOBODY


“This is Max Frisch’s novel I’m Not Stiller reloaded and turned inside out.”

12 Swiss Books 2016

DANIEL GOETSCH was born in 1968 in Zürich, where he studied jurisprudence. He now lives and writes in Berlin. He has several novels to his name, including Ben Kader (2006) and Herz aus Sand (2009), and has also written stage and radio plays.
PHOTO © Annette Hauschild




“My name’s Tom Kulisch. I’m German,” claims the man arrested by the airport police. But the duty psychologist at Tegel Airport, Berlin, has every reason not to believe him. “You’ll gather that, right now, we have our doubts… your passport says you’re a Romanian and you’re called Ion Rebreanu.” From this absurdist end-of-story opening, we flash back to the beginning, and to a case of mistaken identity…
Things aren’t going too well for Tom Kulisch: His girlfriend has just left him, his job translating instruction manuals is driving him crazy and keeping him up at night, and one morning he witnesses a fatal accident. Because of his striking resemblance to the victim, the emergency doctor mistakes Tom for the dead man’s brother and hands him his bag. It contains a ticket to Prague, the key to a flat there, a passport and a number of mysterious postcards. A brand new passport, he thinks, to a brand new existence; so he seizes the chance of slipping into a new identity and sets off on the road to his new life. Had he known, however, what lay in store for him, he might have steered clear of the whole venture. He sinks ever deeper into the life of Ion Rebreanu. He soon finds himself in a fix, which is difficult to escape from. He wants to be Tom Kulisch again: “I’m not Ion. I’m someone else. But who is Ion, if I’m someone else?” The novel has a certain similarity to Max Frisch’s I’m Not Stiller; only that this protagonist wants to turn it on its head, to be Stiller: that is, to be Tom Kulisch, again.

Daniel Goetsch tackles issues that go above and beyond just that of identity – and in a most entertaining way. A German, travelling with a Romanian passport in Prague – he develops this into an exciting tale about the ties that bind Europe.

Read ten pages from the book in German and English

TITLE Ein Niemand
PUBLISHER Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart
ISBN 978-3-608-98021-9
TRANSLATION RIGHTS Caroline Grafe, c.grafe@klett-cotta.de

German original

Der erste Eindruck täuschte. Eine Reihe von Klinkerbauten, Fabriken, Lagerhallen, dazwischen eine halb versteppte Brache hinter Drahtzaun und im Vordergrund eine ausgemusterte Tankstelle. Das war die Kulisse, die sich ihm bot, als er aus dem Bahnhof trat. Er wusste, in welcher Stadt er sich befand, aber er hatte keine Ahnung, wo er war. Er blickte den Leuten hinterher, die mit ihren Reisetaschen und Rollkoffern ausschwärmten. Bei einer zufälligen Frau erkundigte er sich nach der Straßenbahn in die Innenstadt. Vermutlich deutete er mit der Hand in die falsche Richtung. Dort drüben sei Troja, erklärte die Frau in einem Konsonanten betonten Englisch, bevor sie ihren Weg fortsetzte. Zumindest dieses Englisch kam ihm bekannt vor… Read more

Excerpt translated by Damion Searls

The first impression was deceptive. A row of brick buildings, factories, warehouses, an empty plot of land behind a wire fence, half waste-land, half returned to the steppe it once was, and what used to be a petrol station in the foreground. That was the scene that presented itself when he walked out of the train station. He knew which city he was in but had no idea where he was. He looked at the people streaming out with their overnight bags and wheelie-cases. He stopped a woman at random and asked her where to catch the tram to the city centre. Apparently he had gestured in the wrong direction. “That way’s Troja,” the woman explained, in an English stressing the consonants, before continuing on her way. At least this variety of English seemed familiar… Read more

A Nobody is a finely structured story of chaos and confusion, in which reality remains out of reach.”