(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Devastated by the sudden and unexplained departure of his girlfriend, Hannah Beyl, from his Berlin apartment, Richard Schroubek quits his job in a bookstore and waits in vain for her return. After a few days of roaming around the divided city, Richard barricades himself in his apartment, closes the curtains, and begins writing a journal dedicated to her (hence the story’s German title, Die Widmung, “the dedication”). His notes are at first short and aphoristic, but as the weeks go by he writes more and more and eventually spends seven or eight hours a day writing. Regarding the separation as only temporary, he writes in the hope that she will return one day and read “his conscientious and terrible protocol of her absence.”

In order to pay off their accumulated bills, Richard sells an inherited etching by the German expressionist Max Beckmann, but very little money remains afterward. One morning, he is visited by a fat young man named Fritz, who claims that he has spent three days with Hannah. She has deserted him as well, and he comes hoping to find out why. Unnerved by someone who regards himself as Richard’s “companion in misery,” Richard locks himself in Hannah’s room, where he has been keeping the manuscript for her. The telephone, which was disconnected because of overdue bills, rings in another room. It is Hannah, who has apparently paid the telephone bills. She wants to talk to Richard, but Fritz answers and excitedly agrees to meet her. By the time Richard unlocks Hannah’s door, Fritz is gone, and there is only a dial tone on the telephone.

His money spent, Richard fires Frau N., the cleaning lady and his last living connection to the outside world. Having given up books for television, he watches intently the news accounts of the catastrophic heat wave that has enveloped Europe since the beginning of the summer. He begins to develop bad habits, such as not bothering to clean the apartment, wearing the same clothes every day, and not bathing. One day, he absentmindedly tips over the honey jar onto his papers. He notices the honey only...

(The entire section is 855 words.)