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- Published on Amazon.com
Since two reviews (including a very complete one with plot summary and convincing interpretations of symbolism), have already been posted here, I will just add a few additional observations....
Eros blurs the lines between truth and lie, life and art, love and obsession. Examples:
-- The reliability of its original storyteller, industrialist Alexander von Bruecken is in question, and the unnamed novelist to whom von Bruecken relates his tale in eight days could be merely a fictional character author Helmut Krausser has conjured, or...not. In this EROS hall of mirrors, Krausser can't be ruled out as a man telling a veiled story he really heard from a tycoon.
-- Sofie Kurtz, the working class woman who is the object of von Bruecken's lifelong fixation undergoes identity changes, first when she is adopted by a friend's parents and later when her criminal activities in West German Marxist groups force her to accept a new name and a restrictive life in the German Democratic Republic. Alexander, in his intermittent, infrequent contacts with Sofie also dons various "disguises." First, he botches their initial adult reunion with her by hiding his real self behind a crass display of opulence. Later, he passes himself off as a man of her class. He, like the East German Stasi, also uses agents to covertly spy on (he would say watch over) her, and to shape aspects of her life. These interventions by power -- state and magnate -- herd Sofie to a degree, but she retains her desire for self-determination.
-- Then there is von Bruecken's trusty private secretary, Lukian Keferloher, who keeps deflecting the curious novelist back to von Bruecken, despite heavy hints that he (Keferloher) may have played a very important but unheralded part in the Sofie saga. It is he who says that works of art are lies and that "perhaps it would be best if the story were to stay a fragment" because "only fragments [retain] an option on the truth." Keferloher serves as the recondite intermediary (perhaps "glue") between power and proletariat. He chooses to serve without being fully known to anyone.
-- Von Bruecken wants to be known, but as a work of art. He wants the novelist to "create" him and the others in his story as fictional representations; this is why von Bruecken selected him instead of some noted biographer.
-- The novelist inside EROS responds with a book in which "I have reproduced almost everything he recorded on tape for me verbatim. I felt the way he DIDN'T describe some things, or refused to describe them, said more than any invention, however much embellished, could have done." The novelist desires to become the biographer (or recorder) after all, but still, of course, produces an ambiguous, incomplete portrait.
Moving to another subject: the averred symbolism (refer to other review) in which Alexander embodies "Germany's post WWII economic miracle" and Sofie "the dissatisfied youth" can also be interpreted slightly differently, namely as the old stand-by theme of much classic literature: class struggle and impermeability. Alexander, from an aristocratic family of "vons" and a captain of industry, wants to break the barrier, but he really doesn't know how. And Sofie casts about like a fish out of water trying to rise out of her blue collar state, but somehow can't. Additionally, there is also the capitalism/communism dynamic to be considered:
EROS's marvelous "Excursus" chapter (also mentioned by another reviewer) documents a memorable philosophical discussion between Sofie and the "taxi driver" who is really Alexander. They begin with a debate about whether Seneca ought to have assassinated Nero. Sofie says, ""Mankind would have been spared a lot of misery if he'd killed Nero, that's for sure. But then someone else would have had to make themselves available. Thinkers are there for thinking, you can't expect them to do everything." The parallel between Nero and Hitler is unspoken but the elephant in the room. Meanwhile, Sofie asserts Marxist determinism as her view on inevitability. Then as the discussion progresses, Alexander insists that "there's never just one truth." Sofie says on the the contrary, "There must be. One fundamental truth, the basic truth, the lowest common denominator of humanity." Again, she relies on Marxist theory. Alexander informs her that he wants the flexibility to change..."because every minute I become a different person. Which I find pretty exciting." She retorts that is 'drifting aimlessly, stumbling haphazardly...with no principles whatsoever. Fickle. Unpolitical." He answers, "I have no objection to that. We should be sparing with principles." He wants a world that doesn't turn to ideology (fascist, communist, you name it). He wants a world that operates on what works practically (a fundamental of capitalism).
Two other recently published novels by German authors might interest those who find EROS compelling: First, Me and Kaminski: A Novel, by Daniel Kehlmann, about a biographer who goes to interview an eccentric artist, Manuel Kaminski. There is inescapable similarity concerning broad subject matter, but the two authors' treatments diverge immensely. Not surprisingly though, Kehlmann wrote a blurb for EROS: "A book about the thin line that separates love, passion, and madness, about the anatomy of obsession and, almost in passing, about the twentieth century's major catastrophes." The other is Settlement: A Novel, by Christoph Hein, a fiction that sets scenes in a small East German village during the decades after World War II. It shares with EROS an attempt to clothe the German experience during that defining span and the use of characters as symbols. All are worthwhile, but EROS is the superior effort as literature and food for thought.
EROS is not perfect however. At times its shifts of focus from Alexander to Sofie suggest a structure wrought from impetuosity rather than disciplined planning. And although one might expect a finale of high drama, one gets less. That said, Krausser delivers a book I will read again for its poetic language; its complexly mysterious characters; and its myriad layers that play with the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, sanity and insanity, and truth and lies. 4.6 stars.