“Königsallee“ by Hans Pleschinski:
It is the summer of 1954 and Thomas Mann, Nobel laureate, 80 years old, out from his exile in Switzerland, Zürich, pays Düsseldorf a visit, together with his wife Katia and his daughter Erika. He intends a reading of his new novel “Felix Krull“ which is developing into a bestseller.
It is sheer chance that at the same time Klaus Heuser stays in the same hotel, together with his lover Anwar. Heuser is shortly back from his own exile in Indonesia to visit his aging parents.
Thomas Mann met Klaus Heuser back in 1927 at a beach on Sylt in Germany where he stayed for a holiday with his family and fell in love with the young man. He invited him to stay at his house in Munich and Heuser, who then was a handsome young man and beguiled many with his sweet looks and charms, became one of the great loves of Thomas Mann and served as model for the character in Mann’s Joseph novels.
Although they stayed in loose contact and wrote letters to each other, neither Mann nor Heuser know the other is staying at the same hotel. And the escort of Thomas Mann, namely Erika and Katia Mann, want to prevent a meeting of them at all costs for fear of unforeseen complications. Mann’s politically difficult visit in Düsseldorf and post-war Germany is already stress enough and the great magician's equilibrium shall not be disturbed further.
Out of this scenario, based on real events and research of manuscripts and journals, Pleschinski spins an atmospheric lively tale full of remarkable figures and encounters. We meet cameos of Erika Mann, the daughter, of Katia Mann, the wife, of Golo Mann, the son, of Ernst Bertram, former writer, poet, professor in the service of Nazi Germany. They all have their own agenda to follow and so do the dignitaries of the city of Düsseldorf.
The prose mirrors the times but also the depth and profundity the German language is capable of, a language which seems to be the only one possible to really be able to transport that which is so delightfully good in the German soul and at the same time so frighteningly bad.
It is not only a novel about an unlikely encounter between two former lovers, it is also a novel about life, about literature, about fame and abdication. It is about the responsibility of the artist and the prize one has to pay for life, for success or fame.
It is also a novel about the 50s in Germany. A very remarkable area, not necessarily a proud and acceptable one, saturated, soaked with falsehood, prudery, and a maybe, typical German righteousness and unwillingness to admit guilt and wrongdoing.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, for its surprising plot, for its lively, often humorous rendering of famous figures and its playfully great mastery of the German language.