Jakov Lind Essay - Lind, Jakov (Vol. 4)

Heinz Landwirth

Lind, Jakov (Vol. 4)

Lind, Jakov 1927–

Lind is a Viennese novelist and short story writer living in England. His brilliant fiction—and especially his keen sense of "gallows humor"—has reminded critics of work by Kafka and Grass. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

Lind writes like a devil (and don't forget that Lucifer was an angel), and he deals with the contemporary nightmare at its most desperate. As in Soul of Wood, his first book of short stories, Lind's actual material in his novel Landscape in Concrete is the Third Reich near the end of World War II. But the overtones are far-reaching. Lind's landscape is as violent, as unstructured as any modernist would wish. Yet there stands behind the lunatic horror a viewpoint, not summed up, only hinted at in imagery and allegory. It lends to Lind's picture of the abyss the stature of prophecy….

One of the extraordinary dimensions Lind brings to our understanding of the German nightmare is the element of fantasy. We have learned the hard lesson that very real dead bodies may be the result of unreal but driving inner fantasies. In tapping them and in relating them to human experience, although in the extreme, Lind is connecting us all to the violent horror in which our century's drama has taken place. Our idealistic ambitions and our passions have led us into hell. Lind seems to be suggesting. And by presenting ambition at its most extreme, as well as the wildest fantasies of murder and sexuality, in the cold light of realistic action, Lind is speaking directly to his reader: hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère.

To this end Jakov Lind's style serves him as an extraordinarily flexible instrument. The wildest flights of poetry are followed by passages of plain prose, like a dash of cold water in the face….

Landscape in Concrete is a mad, brilliant book that calls to mind Emily Dickinson's phrase "zero in the bone". In presenting one of the most piercing pictures of the nihilism of this century, Lind has gone beyond nihilism. (It is no accident, by the way, that his hero is fond of quoting Nietzsche.) God is deaf (or dead) in Lind's world, and Man is in imminent danger of turning into stone. But his man is a meaning-seeking animal. And in his own wild way he has not stopped seeking. Destined by his family tradition to create beautiful things out of precious metal, he destroys instead. Yet the other possibility is always there, and it makes this not merely a startling and shivery book but a valuable one.

Daniel Stern, "A Contemporary Nightmare," in Saturday Review/World (copyright © 1966 by Saturday Review/World, Inc.; reprinted with permission), June 25, 1966, pp. 25-6.

With "Soul of Wood," a collection of short stories …, Jakov Lind took his place among the important writers of postwar Germany. In the seven extraordinarily inventive stories of that volume he revealed an imagination obsessed with the horrors and the ultimate absurdity of human existence. Some critics compared him to Günter Grass, Gustav Meyrink or Franz Kafka; others found deficiencies in craftsmanship; but no one could deny the authenticity of his vision and the savagery of his assault. Lind writes the way an existentialist philosophizes, with no attention to canons and conventions. In another age, Lind, brilliant and untutored, would have been proclaimed an original genius….

Central to "Landscape in Concrete," it would seem, is the idea that men, whatever they do, enact a barbaric ritual demanding violence and death. References to Christ, Faust and Nietzsche underscore the allegorical structure of the work, and a wealth of symbols, some obtrusive and some very subtle, raise it far above fashionable variations on the theme of angst. It would be too easy to regard this novel as one more account of the perversity of the Germans. Theirs was the deed, but the questions raised by it have not been answered. Nazi Germany, Lind implies, and with brutal power, is a metaphor of universal validity.

J. P. Bauke, "There Is a Plague Called Bachmann," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1966 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 26, 1966, p. 4.

The same surreal atmosphere and wild imagination of Lind's first book, Soul of Wood, is evident in Landscape in Concrete. In Soul of Wood, the physical regeneration of the crippled Jewish youth, Barth, and his life tenacity may be interpreted as the symbol of the Jewish people. Complementing this, in Landscape in Concrete, the gigantic German soldier, former goldsmith Bachmann (Bach plus Mann, an ironic fusion of German culture's great names?) may represent the German who, despite appreciation for culture and civilized refinements, slavishly submits to evil….

Each scene is a surprise, rich in comic and savage invention, each told in Lind's succinct prose.

Neither Jews nor concentration camps appear in Landscape in Concrete. But these precisely are the moral burden of Lind's imaginative novel whose central scene is a symbolic metamorphosis of the genocide.

Curt Leviant, "The Landscape of Jakov Lind," in Congress Bi-Weekly, November 7, 1966, p. 29.

"Ergo" lacks almost all objective correlatives: the breakdown of European morality that Nazism precipitated has not, in Lind's view, been restored by the defeat of Hitler. Madness cannot be cured by force of arms, as the Anglo-American naiveté imagined; you cannot fight your way into people's minds. When Lind examines the way things are today, he finds no society worth anatomizing; he finds only a stratification of paranoid and psychopathic obsessions. He rips off the careful patches that have been so solemnly applied to the face of Germany and, somewhat gleefully, reopens the ulcers underneath.

In fictional terms, the consequences of his attitude are less than convenient or comfortable. "Ergo" is no easy read. There is, in a sense, neither prose nor dialogue in the book, nothing on which the reader can rely. The thing is unloaded in a curious amalgam of ranting confessions. Like Günter Grass, Lind can get to grips with his material only through the creation of grotesques. No normal person exists in his vision….

"Ergo" is less a novel than a case history, an attempt to explain an insane condition. It is often incomprehensible because the writer has no access, or denies himself access, to any common language; he can proceed only by analogy: his meaning is revealed in his meaninglessness.

Lind's determination not to falsify his vision leads him to be false to the notion of the conventional novel. This is, of course, an increasingly common predicament (it is to be observed in many novels by Negro writers who have become disillusioned with the "consensus" which the English language, metaphorically, represents), and while I sympathize with the esthetic schizophrenia which it induces, I cannot myself believe that English is a burnt-out medium. Moreover I cannot, with all the goodwill in the world, accept that books as opaque and as unrewarding as "Ergo" can long continue to have it both ways: to claim the status of fictional art without allowing the reader some foothold on their surface.

Frederic Raphael, "With Furious Contempt," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 22, 1967, pp. 8, 60.

Two books, Soul of Wood (1962) and Landscape in Concrete (1966) have sufficed to establish for Jakov Lind a most enviable reputation. Influenced distantly by Franz Kafka and very immediately by Günter Grass, Lind's imagination shows the bloody marks of the Hitler era. [Written] from London, his two books have centered more about the evil of executioners than the sufferings of victims. Nor is Lind one-sided in the treatment of Nazi crimes. In the title story of Soul of Wood he deals with the curiosities of evil, while in Landscape in Concrete he stresses its banality….

The author's vision is that of a man who can no longer weep over humanity but only laugh over its cruel and ludicrous ways. "Soul of Wood" deals with the machinations of an Austrian male nurse to whose care deported parents entrust the welfare of their crippled child. As a reward, they offer him their apartment. He in turn abandons the crippled youngster on a mountain top and sets off to negotiate for the sale of the apartment to a Nazi bigwig. The latter has him committed to an insane asylum where two maniacal doctors, in deadly competition with each other, seek his services as a spy and informer. With the end of the war, the crippled Jewish boy, miraculously alive, is needed by all as proof of their good-will toward Jews. Lind's irony is skillful in this story as, indeed, in most others.

Lothar Kahn, in his Mirrors of the Jewish Mind: A Gallery of Portraits of European Jewish Writers of Our Time, A. S. Barnes, 1968, pp. 231-32.

What comes out of Mr Lind's attempts to describe, enliven and justify his wanderings in a stricken postwar Europe is, unfortunately, a book [Numbers] which readers moved and entertained by Counting My Steps might well prefer to forget. The instinct for survival which carried him through the horrors of war is not positive enough to make these peacetime experiences either creditable or interesting. Mr Lind the husband becomes, in turn, father to a child whom he periodically abandons, and then the sexual conqueror of a long series of women of all nationalities during his restless European travels. He briefly trains for the stage, works spasmodically in a usual range of unsuitable jobs, and justifies his sad, picaresque jaunt with vague reference to the obsession of the writer in him with freedom…. The moral of this brief and banal let-down might be that the more candid and revealing increasing numbers of people are, the less absorbing the whole process becomes; in literature as in life.

"Over-Exposed," in The Times Literary Supplement (reproduced by permission), March 9, 1973, p. 261.

In [Soul of Wood and Landscape of Concrete], the first a collection of short stories, the second a short novel, Lind established a prose style somewhere between Kafka and Günter Grass that allowed him to recreate the banality and terror that were the twin components of the German catastrophe. Lind is at his best as a chronicler of nightmares and knew the historical one firsthand…. Europe in the age of the cannibal was Lind's hard-won subject, and in his early books of fiction he recorded it in the most bizarre throes of its derangement….

In his fictional books he had found highly original expression for such visions, but as he retreated from fiction and went back over the same ground of his war-time experiences in the form of first-person autobiographical narrative, the writing seemed lacklustre and without force. Counting My Steps was not a strong book, although some of its more unusual character sketches and anecdotes remain memorable. Numbers, its sequel, was even less impressive. In part, but only in part, the relative weakness of these two books may be owing to the fact that they were among the author's first writings in English; yet form was a more crucial factor than language, for while fantasy allowed Lind to relate his experiences from the built-in concealments provided by story, autobiographical narrative demanded a more naked exposure of the self. And the self, or several selves that Lind had put on and put off … he did not much like.

As his writing turned inward, it tended to turn brutal, this time not so much to reflect the brutality of outward circumstances but, more painfully, to register feelings of an inner self-loathing….

If the two previous installments of Lind's autobiography indicated a weakening of resources and a general confusion of aims, this third volume [The Trip to Jerusalem] carries us all the way into silence. And not the silence of the beatific vision, as the author would have it, but the silence of empty cisterns and exhausted wells….

The wrenching quality of Jakov Lind's writing grows out of [a] fundamental contradiction, and its note of stymied pathos results from his inability to resolve the split between his felt will towards Jewishness and the triviality and self-mockery with which he treats the subject. Ambivalence is too weak a word to indicate the weight of sadness and frustration that characterizes Lind's opposing self….

Alvin H. Rosenfeld, "Jakov Lind and the Trials of Jewishness," in Midstream, February, 1974, pp. 71-5.

It is the minor, the apparently irrelevant, the easily overlooked detail which stays with [Jakov Lind]; and this is one of [his] charms—and strengths—as a writer: to say much in deceptively casual ways. The Trip to Jerusalem is full of hints and nuances which accurately capture the sincere confusions of its author; it is occasionally rather moving and, just occasionally, wise, in a sly and humorous fashion. But it is all somewhat whimsically small-scale, and tantalizingly incomplete. One wishes that a writer of his background, intelligence and discernment had gone much more thoroughly to the heart of things, and given us his fullest possible picture of how Israel looks to a brilliant, articulate, yet not entirely committed, Occidental Jew: in other words, his own frank and explicit answer to the perennial Israeli question of the visitor, "Nu, what do you think?"

"The High Way Home," in The Times Literary Supplement (reproduced by permission), July 12, 1974, p. 745.