- Auf nach Hellas! Roman
In the past decade, three professors emeriti from the University of Toronto's German Department have published excellent books on topics other than German Studies. Hans Eichner's semiautobiographical novel Kahn & Engelmann (2000, English translation 2009) traces a family of Viennese Jews through four generations; Robert H. Farquharson's For Your Tomorrow: Canadians and the Burma Campaign 1941-1945 (2004) is a military history of the campaign in which he served as a pilot; and Heinz Wetzel's historical novel Auf nach Hellas! (2010) explores the attitudinal ambience of a freedom fighter in the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s.
Wetzel researched his novel in Athens, Berlin, Vienna, and Toronto with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The details are [End Page 692] authentic. Although it was obviously years in the making, the novel happens to have been published at a time when its contents are of immediate relevance to Canadians. As we find our country at war again for the first time in decades, as many Canadians are unclear about what we are doing in Afghanistan, Wetzel explores the enthusiasm and idealism required for a young person to choose the career of a soldier. He also portrays the main character's growing disillusionment.
When reading the novel, one is struck by the primitive nature of communications before modern technology, by the problems encountered in reconnoitring, and the breakdowns in logistics when it is unclear who is in charge. But aside from several situations that could have been cleared up now by a phone call or a satellite image, the experience of being a soldier was much the same then as it is today. There are times of waiting and inaction, there are respected and not-so-respected comrades in arms, and there is the delicate matter of communicating with and understanding the local people, some of whom are opposed to the foreign interference.
Wetzel's novel progresses with an evenness of tone and a clear structural overview that is rare in such a long work. Narrated in the first person by a freedom fighter from Berlin, it lets us see things through his eyes, begin to have doubts as he does, and wonder with him about others' inexplicable behaviour. As is always the way in life, the main character is seldom in possession of all the facts. Although it is clear from the start that the narrator survives the war and is writing his memoirs, the story has the immediacy of actual experience. Clearly, he remembers not only the details of the unfolding events, but also how he felt about them at the time. He is not judgmental; he has the wisdom that comes with age. And he expresses the doubts that must surface in the mind of an independent thinker.
While maintaining a steady pace in his narrative, Wetzel is a master at judiciously parcelling out information. There is no foreshadowing, so the reader experiences the same shocks as does the main character when certain long-missing pieces of information are suddenly supplied, usually with dire consequences. Wetzel's timing is perfect. He plays in crucial statistics so that they have a tremendous cognitive impact. One finds oneself not just reading for the details of the story, but also admiring the skilful way it is told.
The exemplary production of the hardcover book by Perigeo Verlag ("Der Kleinverlag für erlebte Geschichte und bewahrtes Wissen") complements the carefully written text. There is not a single typographic error, the paper is just the right thickness, the binding perfect, and the seventeen very effective black and white illustrations help draw us into the landscape and convey some of the drama of the events. In fact, the whole impact of Wetzel's novel proves that the past is in no way dull. Read, and be overwhelmed! This is a book with many messages. Wetzel does not preach, he presents, and his respectful handling of the characters shows an open-minded understanding of the difficult decisions made in every...