Herr Brauxel operates a mine in which no ore is processed, yet Brauxel’s employees report for work daily. During morning shifts, Brauxel creates a map of the Vistula, Poland’s longest river, which empties into the Baltic Sea in Gdansk. As he shapes the course of the river on his desk out of various objects, Brauxel relates the story of two young friends, Walter Matern and Eduard “Eddi” Amsel, growing up along the Vistula from the mid-1920’s to mid-1930’s.
Walter is Roman Catholic and the son of a local miller with clairvoyant powers gained from listening to flour mealworms. Eddi is half-Jewish and the son of a prosperous merchant. The boys have exchanged oaths as blood brothers, and Walter, known as the Grinder for his habit of grinding his teeth, acts as protector of pudgy Eddi. The two comrades often play with Walter’s black dog, Senta—a German shepherd who is also part wolf—alongside the river where Eddi salvages debris to build lifelike, incredibly effective scarecrows that he rents or sells to local farmers. He invests the money he earns to make even more elaborate and grotesque scarecrows.
Poet-playwright Harry Liebenau, son of a carpenter, writes letters to his cousin Ursula “Tulla” Pokriefke, but he never sends them. Harry’s missives relate his memories from the mid-1930’s until the end of World War II in 1945. Like the older boys, Harry also has a black dog, Harras, the offspring of Senta.
Harry’s letters detail ominous signs of change: Germany has absorbed Danzig, flags with swastikas have blossomed, and Hitler Youth groups are beginning to appear. Harras sires a pup named Prinz, who is presented as a gift to Adolf Hitler. Meanwhile, Walter, after a stint with the communists and a fling as an actor, joins...
(The entire section is 727 words.)