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Kaltenburg

Overview

"Challenging, beautifully written "?Library Journal

Hailed by The New Yorker as one of the best young novelists and recipient of Germany?s most prestigious literary awards, Marcel Beyer returns with a brilliantly wrought novel that brings to life both an individual and a whole world: the zoologist Ludwig Kaltenburg, loosely based on Nobel Prize?winner Konrad Lorenz, and his institute for research into animal behavior.

Hermann Funk first meets ...

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Kaltenburg

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Overview

"Challenging, beautifully written "—Library Journal

Hailed by The New Yorker as one of the best young novelists and recipient of Germany’s most prestigious literary awards, Marcel Beyer returns with a brilliantly wrought novel that brings to life both an individual and a whole world: the zoologist Ludwig Kaltenburg, loosely based on Nobel Prize–winner Konrad Lorenz, and his institute for research into animal behavior.

Hermann Funk first meets Kaltenburg when still a child in Posen in the 1930s. Hermann’s father, a botanist, and Kaltenburg are close friends, but a rift occurs. In 1945, fleeing the war, the Funks perish in the Dresden bombing, and Hermann finds his way to Kaltenburg’s newly established institute. He becomes Kaltenburg’s protégé, embracing the Institute’s unconventional methods. Yet parts of Kaltenburg’s past life remain unclear. Was he a member of the Nazi Party? Does he believe his discoveries about aggression in animals also apply to humans? Why has he erased the years in Posen from his official biography?

Through layers of memory and experience Hermann struggles to reconcile affection and doubt, to make sense of his childhood, even as he meets a woman with family secrets of her own.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This mesmerizing foray into postwar Germany by celebrated author Beyer (Spies) is both a singularly researched work of historical fiction (with an ornithological bent), and a postmodern examination of the nature of memory. Falling under the wing of the famed ornithologist Ludwig Kaltenburg as a boy, Hermann Funk is randomly contacted years after his mentor’s death by translator Katharina Fischer, leading Funk to dissect the puzzle of Kaltenburg’s existence in East Germany as well as a mysterious period during WWII when the naturalist was a member of the Nazi party. Modeled after the controversial ethologist Konrad Lorenz, godfather of modern behavioral science, the towering figure of Kaltenburg is only one compelling character in Beyer’s cast. As Kaltenburg’s life intersects with those of other brilliant misfits, like artist Martin Spengler and Funk’s Proust-obsessed wife, Klara, who retreats into complicated literary fabrications at social occasions, Beyer paints an engrossing and terrifying picture of Dresden during the war and later under the Communist yoke. Yet it is Beyer’s complex interpolation of daily memories—sometimes fused or distorted in a Proustian vein—complete with highly detailed ornithological observations that give this work its exquisite flavor. (Apr. 17)
From the Publisher
"This mesmerizing foray into postwar Germany by celebrated author Beyer is both a singularly researched work of historical fiction (with an ornithological bent), and a postmodern examination of the nature of memory .... Beyer paints an engrossing and terrifying picture of Dresden during the war and later under the Communist yoke . Yet it is Beyer’s complex interpolation of daily memories—sometimes fused or distorted in a Proustian vein—complete with highly detailed ornithological observations that give this work its exquisite flavor."
Publishers Weekly, starred

"Challenging, beautifully written metafiction —to some extent based on the life of Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz—examines the workings of science and the nature of academic competition ...Beyer ranges over the decades from Nazism to communism to a reunited Germany to reveal our ability both to remember and to recast unpleasant memories in a more favorable light, and to show what people must hide in order to survive."
Library Journal

Library Journal
Dresden ornithologist Hermann Funk meets with a translator to whom he relates his long, complicated relationship with world-renowned zoologist Ludwig Kaltenburg. As their discussions continue, it becomes clear to the reader and to Hermann himself that his memories are unreliable. Why did Hermann's father break off his friendship with Kaltenburg during World War II? How did Hermann become one of Kaltenburg's disciples, and why did that relationship end? Even as he describes an episode, Hermann questions its veracity. And yet a portrait emerges of Kaltenburg as a driven scientist seeking answers about animals and birds that he will eventually apply to human behavior. VERDICT Like Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World and works by Carl Djerassi, this challenging, beautifully written metafiction—to some extent based on the life of Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz—examines the workings of science and the nature of academic competition. Award-winning German novelist Beyer (The Karnau Tapes) ranges over the decades from Nazism to communism to a reunited Germany to reveal our ability both to remember and to recast unpleasant memories in a more favorable light, and to show what people must hide in order to survive.—Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Kirkus Reviews
Ornithologists single-mindedly pursue their vocation in post–World War II East Germany; a sui generis third novel from the German author. Hermann Funk's destiny is ordained when the scared child notices that the bird, a swift, trapped in his living room has legs, contrary to popular belief; the future ornithologist has heeded the first rule of science: Observe. Hermann lives in Posen (today's Poznan), where his father is a botany professor. One day in 1942 his father brings home his Viennese friend Ludwig Kaltenburg, a charismatic zoology professor based on Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz; then overnight their friendship ends, a mystery only resolved years later. In 1945 Funk hustles his family out of town to escape the oppression of Nazi faculty members. It's their rotten luck to arrive in Dresden right before the Allies' notorious firebombing. Eleven-year-old Hermann survives; his parents die. Their bodies are never found. Beyer tells his story obliquely; it's a loosely chronological mosaic of memories. The omissions are disturbing. We are left to guess the extent of narrator's Hermann pain. His difficult years with a Dresden foster family are barely glimpsed. Deliverance comes in the '50s when father figure Kaltenburg installs him at his Dresden Institute and Hermann meets his future wife, the fearless Klara. While the primary focus is bird research, we are not allowed to forget that the ornithologists are working in the cross-currents of history; fear is pervasive in the East German police state. Kaltenburg's glory years end when a protégé accidentally alarms a tame raven. The bird attacks. The professor intervenes, disarming his protégé before banishing him. His favoring bird over man unsettles the Institute; then the oblivious professor is dislodged by his conniving deputy. (Obvious irony: Kaltenburg has failed at observation.) However, that striking raven scene has revealed more about Kaltenburg than all the skeletons of his World War II past, which come tumbling out at the end. This scattershot novel could have used some livelier scenes to ensure a richer presentation of its protagonist.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151013975
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/17/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

MARCEL BEYER was born and raised in Cologne. The author of several novels and collections of poems, he has received numerous awards and was named one of the best young novelists in the world by the New Yorker. He lives in Dresden.

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Read an Excerpt

1

Ludwig Kaltenburg is always waiting for the jackdaws to return, right up to his death in February 1989. Even in his last winter, he confidently tells visitors that one day a pair of the white-eyed corvids which he loves, which he admires, will choose his study chimney for their nesting site and found a new colony of jackdaws with their brood. “I know they won’t start building their nest for a few months yet,” he tells his guests, disciples, or journalists who have driven for nearly an hour from Vienna through the snowy landscape of Lower Austria. The future is clear to him, he says. Wrapped in a woolen rug, the great zoologist Ludwig Kaltenburg sits at the window, plaid pattern, full white hair. His hearing is very poor, but his mind has lost none of its sharpness.
   “Birds shy away from smoke,” he says, and that’s why he’s against keeping the small stove in his little annex burning all day long: electric heaters frame the late-period Kaltenburg. His mood is relaxed. “I’m fully aware that the young jackdaws will have to manage without me.”
   Before his guests can politely protest that the distinguished Herr Professor will outlive them all, Kaltenburg describes how a so-called chimney jackdaw makes its way down to its nest in complete darkness. After some hesitation and a few trial runs, the bird dives beak-first into the entrance of the artificial cave, rights itself, spreads its wings to get a hold on the rough chimney walls, stretches out its legs, and pushes off with its claws. Then on it goes cautiously, step by step so to speak, two meters or more down into the depths. Loud flapping, scraping, scrabbling. Snapshots of this procedure, taken many times over a day, give the impression that the jackdaw is plummeting helplessly from a great height, but the opposite is true: every movement demonstrates considered action and extreme skillfulness.
   Nobody dares contradict the professor. His last colony collapsed many years ago, but still no one knows as much about jackdaws as Ludwig Kaltenburg. In icy January he projects for himself and his guests the doings of future generations of jackdaws, and when he spins around in his wheelchair, many a visitor is uncertain whether he is actually hearing the sound of rubber tires on parquet or the quiet call of a jackdaw convincingly mimicking the squeak of wheels. Kaltenburg inclines his head as though listening. The radiators hum. In the chimney a jackdaw’s wing brushes across the sooty brickwork.

2

Birds shy away from smoke. Kaltenburg is eighty when he begins to part with his old papers: they feel to him more and more like lumber. Instead of burning all these memos, lecture notes, pocket diaries, essay drafts, and bits of correspondence, he entrusts the papers with relish to his charges, piece by piece. All the preparatory work for his 1964 publication Archetypes of Fear, after lying neglected for more than two decades, shut away in a Maria Theresa strongbox, is now put to new use.
   Over a few fine spring days Ludwig Kaltenburg distributes the manuscript pages of his draft copy among the resident rodents and waterfowl as nesting material. He hands over half a dozen pages of keyword lists to a young stoat with whom he feels a friendly affinity. Then, in the summer, Kaltenburg sits on the terrace behind the house, looking out over the spacious garden, the pond, the meadow, and eventually takes a handful of notes out of the shoebox on his knees. When the ducklings come home with their parents at sunset, they gratefully accept the activity provided by the woody paper.
   He has always regarded Archetypes of Fear as a kind of turning point in his life’s work. The first book produced back in his native Austria after a twelve-year absence. The first in which Kaltenburg draws openly on observations made during his time in Dresden, although the introduction emphasizes that the idea came to him while snorkeling off the coast of Florida. His first extended study since the end of the Second World War which is not immediately translated into Russian, apart from an incomplete summary that circulates in samizdat form. It is only in 1995, prompted by the sixth anniversary of his death, that a small specialist publisher in St. Petersburg brings out a complete edition, a reliable translation but unfortunately given a misleading title, which in English would read something like I, Ludwig Kaltenburg, and Fear. The Soviet Union has vanished from the map, and Russian readers are no longer interested in the writings of a zoologist called Kaltenburg.
   The book’s very existence was ignored. Its author was passed over in silence. He was loudly condemned. Harshly attacked. Ostentatiously shunned at conferences. Colleagues in the USA accused him of naiveté, colleagues in Europe of dubious methods. Educationalists and conflict studies experts alike were still up in arms in the 1980s about his statement that as a potential lifesaver, fear is a truly marvelous natural mechanism. During a televised discussion, a friend of Kaltenburg’s younger days is said to have turned straight to the camera—“Ludwig, I know you’re watching right now”—and strongly urged Kaltenburg to concentrate on his own field and put speculation about the nature of man behind him for good and all. With Archetypes of Fear, Ludwig Kaltenburg achieves worldwide recognition.

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