(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

As the book opens, Lucio is sailing toward Capri from Naples. On the island he intends to complete a translation of Heinrich von Kleist’s novella Michael Kohlaas (1810) and work on a story of his own in which the hero, like Kleist, commits suicide. By disposing of his character in this way, Lucio hopes to “stabilize” his own despair and so avoid killing himself. Among his fellow passengers on the boat is a German couple. The woman captures his interest, for in her eyes he reads a mood similar to his own. Without exchanging a word, they seem to carry on a conversation; by the time the boat docks, Lucio is in love.

He wonders how he will be able to continue this romance, since he knows neither the woman’s name nor her destination. Fate favors him when the husband tells him that they are staying at the Pensione Damecuta on Anacapri. Lucio follows them and continues his silent wooing at dinner by showing the woman two lines from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra: “But every pleasure wants eternity—/—wants deep, deep eternity.” Shortly afterward she replies silently with another book, Kleist’s letters, with a bookmark indicating Henriette Vogel’s last communication to Ernest Friedrich Peguilhen, dated November 21, 1811: “The loyal friendship you have always shown me till now awaits a wonderful test, for the two of us, namely Kleist, whom you know, and I, find ourselves here at Stimmung, on the Potsdam road... shot,” the...

(The entire section is 608 words.)