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This report is taken from PN Review 75, Volume 17 Number 1, September - October 1990.

Letter from Germany Michael Hulse
Probably it will surprise no one to realize that when the Berlin Wall was opened, Literature was looking the other way. Good for Literature, you might say. In the two years since I last reported on current fiction in German (P·N·R 62-3), the two books German critics and readers were most excited by were Christoph Ransmayr's Die letzte Welt and Elfriede Jelinek's Lust - both of them Austrian books with their minds on other things.

Ransmayr's novel appeared in autumn 1988 in Enzensberger's andere Bibliothek, then published at Nördlingen by Franz Greno, a master hot-metal printer whose financial hubris has unfortunately reduced him to concentrating on the printing side of the business now. Earlier this year The Last World was issued in English translation by Chatto, and prompted Andrew Sinclair in The Times to hail 'a work of hallucination and magic and rare power'. Peter Levi in London Magazine found the book pretentious and frustrating, 'stronger on atmsosphere than on plot', and obviously 'a young man's book' in its foregrounding of 'cleverness'.

Ransmayr's story concerns the quest of a young Roman, Cotta, for his banished friend Ovid. In the coastal town of Tomi on the Black Sea, a place of iron and ash, he meets Tereus (a slaughterer), Fama (a shopkeeper), Echo (a prostitute) and Cyparis, a liliputian who screens creaking movies on Tereus's whitewashed wall. This metamorphosed cast from the Metamorphoses provide Cotta no leads or information. His quest fails.

Frank Schirrmacher in the ...

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