Gina, the only child of a widowed general, lives a cosseted and carefree existence in Budapest, even in the shadow of the Second World War. When the general sends her to girls’ boarding school in Debrecen, in the east of the country, she is devastated. Her belongings are taken away on arrival, and she is initiated into the peculiar rites of her peers. She soon finds herself ostracised and, desperately unhappy, tries to escape. When brought back to the school, all she can do is entrust her fate to the legendary and mysterious Abigail, a statue of a woman in the school grounds, to whom the pupils confide their troubles in handwritten messages. But who is the mystifying figure behind Abigail, who wishes her well? Eventually Gina achieves hard-won solidarity in a restrictive environment, and begins to discover her place in the world.
Marlene Wegener is on the run. She has stolen something from her husband, something priceless, irreplaceable. But she doesn’t get very far. When her car veers off a bleak midwinter road she takes refuge in the remote home of Simon Keller, a tough mountain man who lives alone with his demons. Here in her high mountain sanctuary, she begins to rekindle a sense of herself: tough, capable, no longer the trophy on a gangster’s arm. But Herr Wegener does not know how to forgive, and in his rage he makes a pact with the devil. The Trusted Man. He cannot be called off, he cannot be reasoned with and one way or another he will get the job done. Unless, of course, he’s beaten to it.
Judith Schalansky is a wholly original writer whose books articulate perfectly what she wishes to say. Each of the pieces, following the conventions of a different genre, considers something that is irretrievably lost to the world, including the paradisal pacific island of Tuanaki, the Caspian Tiger, the Villa Sacchetti in Rome, Sappho’s love poems, Greta Garbo’s fading beauty, a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, and the former East Germany’s Palace of the Republic. As a child of the former East Germany, it’s not surprising that the dominant emotion in Schalansky’s work should be ‘loss’ and its aftermath, but what is extraordinary is the thoroughly engaging mixture of intellectual curiosity, down-to-earth grasp of life’s pitiless vitality, ironic humour, stylistic elegance and intensity of feeling.
One wet and misty weekend in October, the Niemann family find a stranger in their garden. He is armed and tries to force his way into the house, but disappears as soon as the police are alerted. That night he’s back with an impossible ultimatum. Freiburg detective Louise Boni and her colleagues are put under enormous pressure. Traces of evidence lead her to a no-man’s-land, and to a ruthless criminal who brings with him the trauma of conflict in the Balkans.