“Love and death,” I said.
“That one’s easy, too,” the optician said. “You can’t practice for either one and you can’t escape them- both will befall you.”
“What’s befall?” I asked.
“When something bowls you over,” Selma explained.
An omen bowls over the villagers in a Western German town, the form it takes is that of an animal vision. Selma and her okapi dreams foretell death, for it has happened three times that when she has dreamed of the strange animal, death has opened its eyes and taken from them. They know that in the next twenty-four hours, someone will depart. Even if the least superstitious of them, the optician, attempts logic to shrug off this ‘loose’ connection to the dark angel, deep down he knows the reaper is only biding its time. Her ten-year-old granddaughter, Luisa, takes the premonition seriously and confides in her best friend, future weight lifting champion- Martin. Together, the two wonder who in the village will survive.
They are not backwards people who put stock in unfounded fears, and yet suddenly Luisa witnesses they unsettled energy surrounding them all. With the end snapping at their heels collectively, now is the time to ‘ward off death’, though uncertain whom it has come to call. They have seen first hand a death before, after one of Selma’s unwanted dreams, and have no intention of being chosen. Maybe if they throw their secrets to the wind, speak their truths, then death can be dodged? Some secrets are full of yearning and burn close to home. Other villagers visit Elsbeth’s shop for trinkets to ward off their unwelcome end. Who better than the person who has protection that wards off illnesses and deceased souls to help them hide from death? Sad Marlies is too bad tempered to be worried, living at the edge of the village in a cloud of negativity, visiting her is a chore for Martin and Luisa. Old before her time, she wishes death were coming for her, surely this fact makes her immune. Selma expects Luisa to behave as if it’s any other day, you can’t stop time, being afraid of her dream will accomplish nothing.
Luisa knows life is full of danger, like Martin’s cruel father, Palm. If only her busy mother could focus, listen to her woes instead of burying herself in her flower shop. Who needs to be afraid of dark things waiting to pounce on you when your Martin’s own father could snuff his lights out? At least Luisa can depend on her grandmother Selma, that her strength will put Palm in his place! She knew him before he soured, the person he once was almost sounds like a fiction to her young ears. Luisa’s own father wants them to ‘let more of the world in’ and calls her dreams “nonsense”, her mother struggles making a decision whether or not to leave him, and everything that is coming will teach Luisa about love and death.
It’s a wonderful cast of characters, there is lightness and love but it takes a turn, as life often does, into shocking grief. People come and go, out into ‘the creaking world’, desperate to escape the village not realizing the pain they cause, the beauty they leave behind but promising to come back. Luckily, Martin is always there to lift Luisa up! Unbalanced floors, drunks, hours watched by the suspicious eyes of villagers, the vastness of love, unbearable pain, regrets, illumination, and the wisdom of Buddhism. This novel encompasses life, how love and death will always invite itself in, welcome or not, and bowl us over. Nothing can be deflected, nor arranged, certainly not matters of the heart or mind. It’s the sort of tale that lingers, an unbearable ache. Beautiful and gut wrenching, yes read it!
Publication Date: June 22, 2021
Farrar, Straus and Giroux