Jakov Lind Essay - Lind, Jakov (Vol. 2)

Heinz Landwirth

Lind, Jakov (Vol. 2)

Lind, Jakov 1927–

A Viennese writer, now living in England, Lind is best known for his nightmarish early fiction, Soul of Wood and Landscape in Concrete. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

Jakov Lind, who looks more like Günter Grass than Günter Grass does, has written a good expressionistic novel of World War II: Landscape in Concrete. The dialogue is often too intelligent to be real, in essentially the same style as that of certain detectives—from Poe's Dupin to Dürrenmatt's Bärlach—who think by putting their fingertips together; but the incidents are convincing in proportion as they are fantastic. The protagonist is a German soldier who has gone mad on the Russian front and been given an honorable psychiatric discharge, but who as a devout Nazi keeps trying to get back into the army. In his desperate zeal he volunteers for the foulest criminal assignments. He is a man of unlimited, bottomless faith: there is absolutely no floor under him. And he is completely credible. So, alas, are the embarrassed Nazi officers who think of themselves fondly as anti-Nazis while making use of him in the Nazi cause. Lind is not by any means as good as Grass, but he is not a trashy writer either. Landscape in Concrete can be recommended as an afternoon's reading.

J. Mitchell Morse, in Hudson Review, Autumn, 1966, p. 511.

For Lind, World War II was traumatic, inducing him to adopt a variety of aliases, but also useful in that it schooled him in an inventive duplicity akin to creativity. He survived, or rather all of his successive selves did, and his writing has tended to become a roll call of the pieces, a gathering-up of spent entities. In his fiction he seeks to exorcise horrors through expressionist hyperbole, in his nonfiction to make exorcism itself yield a code to go on surviving by, in the face of a different enemy.

But in vain. The horrors abide, more present for having been fixed in prose, and the self remains unstructured, a compound ghost lacking a wasteland and ineligible for the complacent snakes-and-ladders of peace. Counting My Steps [the first volume of his two-volume autobiography] is less a linear, consecutive narrative than an album of vicissitudes which permits thought to separate itself from events, from chronology even, its ultimate effect being more that of a mentality paraded than of a war-torn Europe exhumed. And Numbers, deliberately evoking the homelessness and faith-lost plaints of an identically titled book of the Bible, resumes the same mode, more extremely in fact, and should not be read without a preliminary training spell on Counting. Being about pax, anti-climax, and the inevitability of taxes, it sardonically swaps the earlier book's question—how to survive?—for another of less heat—what to do for a living?—which boils down to what living can there be which isn't a form of dying? Clearly, to survive is only to postpone. There's a music that's played while Rome cools down as well….

[We] do get to know this man well, almost as if all things happening to him happen at the same time. Anti-intellectual yet creative, dropout who justly claims he was never in, he makes love to his occupation of war orphan (as well as indefatigably to juicy sounding women from all over Europe). Like Jean Genet, he embraces a role thrust upon him….

Lind's novelties never displace him, never obscure his presence at the presiding demon. Of all his expressionistic images, though, the last is the most haunting, both realistic and strategically conjectural: He shovels snow for a living, one eight-hour shift earning him a good meal. Except when it rains. It rains in Lind's head as well, and Numbers is one of those books that exist only a bit more than they don't, and that is its appeal, why it's unnerving to read, like a shower cubicle turned into a Caligari cabinet. To come clean is to vanish, and to stay put is foul play.

Paul West, "To Survive is Only to Post-pone," in Book World (© The Washington Post), May 21, 1972, p. 12.

Jakov Lind, the once savage chronicler of nightmares who in his early fiction—notably [Landscape in Concrete] and [Soul of Wood]—provided poignant glimpses of man in the age of the cannibal, has of late been zooming in on himself in what promises to be a long-winded quest for identity. The autobiographical impulse is understandable enough in a man past 40 who feels, with some basis in fact, that the lives he lived were not his own; but it involves large risks, and on the evidence of [Numbers] it would seem that Lind's rather special gifts leave him peculiarly ill-equipped for the confrontations involved.

The strain was already apparent in the first volume of his memoirs, an account of childhood in Vienna and wartime adventures as an underground Jew in Nazi Germany, published here three years ago under the title of [Counting My Steps]; in contrast to the searing insights of his fiction, it proved a disconcertingly tepid and trivial effort. The same horrors so brilliantly exploded into fantasy reemerged, in this purported factual retelling, as banal anecdotes boiled in synthetic tough-guy prose. The most self-defeating aspect of the book, however, was Lind's very evident distaste for its principal subject. Self-hatred has inspired some great confessions and memorable flights of invective, but in his case it led to mere crabbiness and a pervasive shrinkage of vision.

The process unfortunately seems to have continued, with results little short of disastrous. [Numbers], the latest installment in this on-going identity crisis, is the self-portrait of a man determined at all cost to avoid looking at himself, a blank canvas framed by litanies about as inspiring as a laundry ticket.

Ernst Pawel, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 11, 1972, pp. 6, 22.