“Black Lilac”, by Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker: the pain of taking charge of the legacy of Nazism


In Upper Austria.

“Black Lilac” (Schwarzer Flieder), by Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker, translated from German (Austria) by Olivier Le Lay, Verdier, 288 p., €22.

Lying flat on his stomach on a bank of the Old Danube, the young Ferdinand contemplates his reflection in the water. From this eagle’s face emerges something dark: the mark of fate, the eternal return of a family curse that dates back to the time of his great-grandfather, Ferdinand Goldberger the Elder. Since the death of this section chief of the Nazi Party, a dilemma has arisen for each generation: who will ” to resume “ Rosental, the family farm? The last link in a line of endangered Upper Austrian peasants, the young employee of the Ministry of Agriculture will in turn have to choose between perpetuating an inheritance or liquidating it. black lilac is the final stage of this vertiginous odyssey of the origins, which Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker had begun in red lilac (Verdier, 2021) and of which he composes the final song here.

Dilate space, abolish time

Leaving Rosental to study in Vienna, Ferdinand wanted to undertake ” something new “. It was, he thought, the only way to break the chains. Vienna was that city where you could be nobody, walk whole nights along the canal and watch the “white light” dawn as if “stripped off all the weight of the past”. As in red lilac, Kaiser-Mühlecker excels in the art of expanding space, abolishing time to transform the experience of his character into a landscape. At the ministry’s office, Ferdinand is in charge of writing a “green report” on sustainable agriculture. The last tie that could still bind him to the “country” recently broke with the death of his grandmother, who raised him. He never knew his father, who fled to Bolivia. He still has his room at Rosental, but Ferdinand rarely returns there. Every time he thinks about it, however, he feels a “point to the heart”, due not to the loss of this last family link, but to a heartbreak. All he has to do is pronounce Susanne’s name to sink into a “dark and icy abyss”.

At Kaiser-Mühlecker, things happen “mutely”. Several times, Ferdinand thinks he sees Susanne, the movement of her ponytail disappearing in the crowd or that of the line of her neck on a subway platform. To capture this fleeing being, Kaiser-Mühlecker’s writing takes on a new sensuality. Their reunion passes without a word. Silently fingering his face, Susanne makes Ferdinand feel like she « touch(e) in his flesh places without a name”of the “areas buried deep somewhere within himself and that no one had yet touched”. But Susanne fled again, to drown in the waters of the Danube. So, like Gregor Keuschnig in True Feeling Hourby Peter Handke (Gallimard, 1977), Ferdinand feels anger, disgust, the violent manifestation of a total break with his past rising within him: “A membrane had torn. »

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