A novel set in the Gulag, with German and Austrian protagonists. A retrospective view of Vienna in the 1920s. A novel that leads us to the heart of the 20th century.
Just a short while previously, Rafael Schermann had been a colourful figure in the Viennese coffeehouse scene, acquainted with all kinds of people such as Adolf Loos, Oskar Kokoschka, Magnus Hirschfeld and Else Lasker-Schüler, Herwarth Walden, Ehrenstein, Döblin, Bruckner, Eisenstein, Stanislawski, Piscator … Even the sharp-tongued Karl Kraus was hoping to profit from Schermann’s grapholigical expertise in the important task of interpreting handwritten letters in his courtship of Sidonie Nádhern…
And now this dazzling figure finds himself desolate and fatally ill, imprisoned in the Artek camp at the end of the world, a hundred and fifty kilometres east of Kotlas on the railway line to Workuta. This person who can predict the future on the basis of handwriting immediately attracts a great deal of interest – whether it be from the camp commander (for even he cannot be sure of his fate – he could be running a larger camp tomorrow, or he could be facing a firing squad) or from his fellow prisoners, »eight hundred men, two hundred women. A real extended Soviet family … everyone knows everything about his neighbour and wishes him a bout of scabies on his neck.« And then Schermann claims he cannot speak Russian, and demands a translator. Steffen Mensching places the young German communist Otto Haferkorn at his side. The mismatched pair, sometimes master and servant, sometimes Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, fight for survival under brutal, absurd conditions in the murderous cogwheel of the twentieth century. Steffen Mensching worked on his opus magnum for twelve years; it is a great success.
Steffen Mensching, born in 1958 in Berlin (East), studied cultural science at the HU Berlin and worked for many years as a freelance author, actor, clown and director. He was especially well known for the clown programmes he staged with his partner Hans-Eckardt Wenzel (including »Letztes aus der DaDaeR«, 1983 – 1989). Since the 2008/09 season, Steffen Mensching has been director of the theatre in Rudolstadt. In 1979 he made his debut with a volume of poetry, and last published the novels »Jacobs Leiter« (2003) and »Lustigs Flucht« (2005) with Aufbau Verlag, as well as »In derselben Nacht«, Rudolf Leonhard’s »Traumbuch des Exils« (2001).