and that the writer who publishes is like the beggar who exhibits his sores.' These are but a few of the words from German expatriate Rudolf, a brilliant writer and teacher who has just committed suicide in Turin, Italy and has requested his best friend and former student roommate, the unnamed narrator, to be the executor of his literary estate. This relatively short novel is a finely wrought 'comedy of letters' - THE EXECUTOR - by German writer Michael Krüger and translated by John Hargraves. And while the subtitle suggests a comedy, the story is also a mystery and a meditation on literature, the life of a writer, and the inevitability of death with the associated question of what is fame and who will be remembered and for what reasons.
Rudolf was a cantankerous but brilliant writer, a man who was at odds with not only the literary and academic world, but equally out of sync with his personal life. Three women figured significantly in his time on earth: Elsa, his wife who wisely moved away for the sake of her own career; Marta, his secretary/confidant-bedmate; and Eva, his mistress from a distance. When Rudolf dies, the executor travels to Rudolf's Institute for Communications Research in Turin to gather all of Rudolf's writings and to search for the last great novel Rudolf left unfinished. The executor becomes at first fascinated with Rudolf's strange quarters (he lives on a rooftop terrace surrounded by strange plants and a menagerie of odd animals including his best 'friend', the old dog Caesar), with the bits of memorabilia that filled his study, and his encounters with Elsa (old and dying of cancer in the hospital), Marta (ready to take on the executor as lover), and Eva (whose writings are as strange and elusive as their author).
Over the course of the book the executor discovers many secrets about Rudolf and in attempting to piece together the life of an elusive literary genius, finds strange facts and turns and twists worthy of an Agatha Christie mystery: 'Once I had read his correspondence, I realized that Rudolf had been playing us all for fools. Put another way, he had betrayed all of us, and then, just in time, slipped away.' In the end it is the choice facing the executor as to whether or not to publish the strange magnum opus the executor discovers that brings this exhilarating novel to a surprising end.
Krüger is a sculptor of words and mixes philosophy with narrative story as well as any writer today. The references to literature tug at the mind to keep up with the thoughts and patterns of the friendship between Rudolf and the executor: moments of turning to the dictionary can slow the reading but enhance the appreciation of Krüger's writing. This is a novel that will appeal to lovers of fine writing, but it is also a very entertaining tale of a strange and fascinating friendship between two men of letters. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, April 08