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I don't know about you, but you may have on occasion found yourself at a bar, talking music and movies, literature and stuff, and then, somewhere on the better side of midnight asked somebody German enough to know: Hasn't there been any German writer worth reading since Hesse's Steppenwolf? Okay, there was Günter Grass' Tin Drum (as monumental as unreadable), there was Heinrich Böll with his post-war attacks on Catholicism, clouded in the grey of Cologne... but, you know... something that rocks? For ages there were few books worth talking about at that time of night, and even fewer that had been translated into English. Now a small London publisher has released the first novel by Jörg Fauser, and the talk can continue well into morning dew. The Snowman, Fauser's first novel, sucks you in like... like a line of Peruvian flake, uncut. "Ninety-eight per cent. The real McCoy" swiftly brings us bang into the action. After the first few pages, you're truly addicted. And as with the real McCoy you keep yearning for another hit. Blum, the book's anti-hero, is not prepared: "Flake? What does that mean?" Blum learns fast. How well he deals with it, how well he rids himself of five pounds of Cocaine is the crux of the "paranoia thriller", according to German crime writer -ky. It won't leave you cold, and yet the shakes seem to have only just left hell. And still there's more...
When the first chapters of Der Schneemann originally appeared in Tip magazine in 1981, its writer already had a cult following. Jörg Fauser had just moved to Berlin for the second time, now to take on a post as staff writer for Tip. First time around, roughly a decade earlier Fauser came to Berlin pretty much straight off the Midnight Express from Tophane/Istanbul and hung out at Kommune 1, a witness to what looked like revolution (#9, indeed). He got to know Andreas Baader, heard the theories of guerrilla warfare, the practise of power. The late 60's did not present us with New People, New Art etc, as much as they kick-started new revelations, on the edge of which Fauser hung. Hence his reputation in 1981 after his first novel and a move to Yorckstraße: He rejected the old order, especially when it came to literature and the likes of Grass, Lenz, Walser etc, all born well before the 1930s. Fauser, born in 1944, had spent long stretches of time in London, read the Beats, had a tête-à-tête with the Grim Reaper in Istanbul and abandoned Sister Morphine after meeting William S. Burroughs. He had hung-out with Charles Bukowski at the races, gambled and sold the experience to Playboy. Indeed, he wrote like a maniac, read like a manic and lived as if obsessed. He wrote about the worlds and the voices that spoke to him: amongst them that of Chandler, Ambler, Greene, and more obscurely the nutters in Nelson Algren's Chicago, Chester Himes' gangsters from Harlem, Gregory Mcdonald's take on massmarket writing, and many others.
The Snowman, Fauser's first novel, was anticipated with equal curiosity. It features a small-time salesman, failing at being a smaller-time crook, stranded in Malta. Blum, "no better than a shoelaces rep, the mere dust of the big city thrown up and cast aside by the rollers of the sweeping machines in the early morning", is trying to flog some semi-ancient Danish porn mags. He meets a colourful array of 'business men' of mixed backgrounds and morality, and happens across a ticket to the fast lane. Stashed away in a locker in Munich's train station is a box of Old Spice shaving foam with five pounds of Cocaine secreted inside. Whilst trying to flog it he checks out the Munich party scene, observing with an eye honed from years on the road and miles and miles of fast living. Blum stops at Frankfurt on his way up north, by now in the grip of the drug. It appears, everybody wants a cut off his ticket to fortune. Chasing his own tale, he just cannot abandon that dream of hitting the jackpot once and for all... The Snowman is actually less of a crime story than a modern variation of Dostoevski's Gambler. On another level it is a trip through Germany at the turn of the 1970's into the egomania decade, glitz and glam, surface over cold reality. Yet, there are also traces of James Joyce' Leopold Bloom...
A few months after its release The Snowman was made into a major motion picture featuring Marius Müller Westernhagen (then famous primarily as part-time actor). The book went on to sell over 200,000 copies, and met prominence again in 1990, when the 'Bochumer Krimi Archiv' prompted 36 writers, mainly critics and crime connoisseurs to vote for their all-time favourite thrillers: Fauser's debut made it into the Top 10, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Chandler, Hammett et al. Albeit it's a thriller with no corpse, no blood, and no investigation. Fauser, well heeled as writer of poems, scripts, songs etc, went on to write the autobiographical novel Rohstoff (covering 68's hair of the dog), followed by more thrillers.
When, on the heels of Reagan and Thatcher, Helmut Kohl became West-Germany's Bundeskanzler, Fauser focussed his rocket-fuelled energy increasingly towards politics. He portrayed politicians that fed hopes for some sanity after Kohl. At the time there was a newly formed party called Die Grünen, which alternately upset the old order at Bonn, or two strands within: They were split into the grass-roots oriented "Fundis" and the "Realos", the latter favoured by Fauser simply for their more pragmatic approach. The Greens were a party not really taken too seriously by serious observers, nevertheless as early as 1984 Fauser wrote an epic feature about one of the "Realos", Joschka Fischer, nowadays Germany's Foreign Minister. Two years on he portraied the SPD's candidate for Lower Saxony - "Der Kennedy aus Lippe," Fauser oracled, could be the guy to topple Kohl out of government. Sadly, Fauser never saw how true his prophecy was, he never saw Gerhard Schröder moving into the Kanzleramt, hell, he didn't even see the fall of the wall: At dawn, the day after his 43rd birthday, Jörg Fauser was hit by a lorry on the motorway outside of Munich and was killed instantly. Since then the literary establishment turned back to its old calm, droning on about how real writers are touched by genius, kissed by the muse - and yet,things are not the same any more... which takes us full circle to the beginning, a bar, another drink. So, for good time's sake, for the light of hope, let's just reopen that book and cast an eye on that opening: "Blum looks at his watch. High time to make a move. He drained his coffee cup, took a toothpick out of its plastic container and signalled to the waiter..."
© Matthias Penzel, 2005. Originally written for Ex-Berliner
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Buy Jörg Fauser: The Snowman at Amazon.com (USA)