Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Barbarian Spring: A Review

Jonas Lüscher's  Barbarian Spring (translation by: Peter Lewis) is the telling of events at a high flying group of young financier's Tunisian wedding escapades just as a financial bubble is popping.  The novel is short (132 pages) and satirical with intentionally apocalyptic overtone.
I am not sure what it means that there is an Asian two-hump camel, and not a single hump Dromedary on the cover. Is it a case of editorial ignorance, artistic license, or some sort of tweek at the audience?  I actually thought they were hills and didn't even really look that close at them when I was reading it.
Jonas Lüscher's (from (translated by Google Translate) German Wikipedia) grew up in Bern, Switzerland.  Graduating from the Munich School of Philosophy, he also wrote with Michael hamper a dissertation on the importance of narratives for the description of social complexity in the context of Richard Rorty's neopragmatism.  His novel, Barbarian Spring won the 2013 German Book Prize and Swiss Book Prize.
The story is of the mini-adventure of a small-time Swiss industrialist, Preising,  and his recent trip to Tunisia during what turns out to be a simultaneous economic collapse of Great Britain and some form of Arab Spring.  The narrator is a bit skeptical of the whole affair, and adds humorous asides at the expense of Preising As a number of folks have noted, it is a sort of "Where were you when 9-11 occurred,  when JFK was shot, etc. As an aside "Preise" in German can mean either a prize or a cost.
The whole story is slightly over the top farcical.  Not so ridiculous that you don't see where the author's point of view is coming from, but enough so that we are under no illusion that this is supposed to be the telling of a real occurrence.
The story was reasonable as a farce. Bits of it where pretty funny.  The foibles of not only the striving young financiers, but also their elders, who should presumably be a bit more sensible, does hit the target. 
But, even in a short novel it does get a little thin.  The over the top finally is a bit too ham fisted and trite to actually support the events of getting there.   Even with the poor behavior of the participants, I was more saddened by the ending than fulfilled.  What the final outcome of the Preise, our storyteller or the skeptical narrator, who both seem to be in some sort of sanatorium (?), is also a bit unclear.  What seems like a weak ending to me keeps me from recommending it.  Possibly those with a different sense of humor, or simply like the idea of the strivers getting their comeuppance will like it more.  Or maybe someone can explain that part of the story, and I will like it.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Comedic satire does not usually attempt to be particularly realistic.  So rather than start from the top and subtract, I'll simply note a few reasons (beyond the fact no elves show up) that it is not a one.  The story is accurate in showing how vulnerable folks are when the "ATM" breaks down and your in a foreign country.  As I write this, there are real stories of vacationers stuck in Greece with no money.  The Arabic Spring portion also has a nasty little twist to it.  So I will call it a high-for-satire 3.
Readability is fine.  There is obviously some double meanings spread throughout, and I likely didn't catch all of them, but it reads well enough as a straight up warning tale.  It is also short.  A bit chatty, not a page turner, we'll call it a literary 5.


PioneerPreppy said...

This one doesn't sound very interesting to me, but a good review as usual.

russell1200 said...

Pioneer: Yes, I can see why people like it, and getting a few laughs out of a book is o.k., but it just seemed to fade at the end.