Characters Discussed

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Eduard “Sam” Scham

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Eduard “Sam” Scham, a railway official, poet, and world traveler. The character of Eduard is seen through the eyes of his son, Andi; the perceptions are necessarily subjective and biased. What comes through is a portrait of an eccentric, an incorrigible dreamer, and a man of many talents. He is a poet and a philosopher whose abilities are unfulfilled and squandered, partly because of his circumstances and his Jewish background, but partly because of his several character flaws. A railroad inspector, he is drawn to his profession by an insatiable urge to travel, which, in turn, reveals a basic instability and restlessness. As a Jew, he is persecuted, at first subtly but later, during World War II, openly. He also is a drunkard, a man who cannot hold on to steady relationships, whether with family members or with friends. Eduard’s aloofness to Andi is especially revealing. Despite his obvious love for his son, he frequently calls him “young man,” as if he were a stranger. Eduard also is aloof from his wife, without being unfaithful. An amateur philosopher, he adopts a fatalistic point of view that makes it somewhat easier for him to accept his final tragic fate. He lives his life as a free spirit, as a misplaced wanderer from some mysterious, exotic land. Even though he fades away into nothingness in the pogrom, he remains alive forever in his son’s memory and, even more poignantly, in his imagination.

Maria Scham

Maria Scham, Eduard’s wife, a perfect example of an understanding and forgiving wife. An intelligent and well-educated woman, she seems to know her husband better than he knows himself. She is thus able to tolerate many of his idiosyncrasies and weaknesses, weighing the pluses against the minuses and realizing that one’s personality cannot and should not be changed. Whatever she is missing in her relationship with her husband, Maria compensates for by devoting herself to her children, especially Andi. A rock of granite, she is often the only safe mooring onto which her family can hold. It is primarily through her tales of the past that Andi develops an artistic inclination and a sublime sense of beauty in life and nature, despite the accompanying ugliness and sorrow.

Andreas (Andi) Scham

Andreas (Andi) Scham, their eleven-year-old son, the narrator of the story. Although he is too young to understand fully the problems facing his parents, especially his father, he senses instinctively an almost mystical bond with his father. Moreover, Andi develops traits similar to those of his father, such as the inclination toward poetry and a desire to travel. On the other hand, he acts his age as he plays, fantasizes, suffers bouts of anxiety and insecurity, and lives in his own world. From his mother, he has inherited sensitivity and confidence; from his father, wild imagination and the desire to excel. Both parents have imbued him with an artistic inclination that results in his first attempts at writing poetry. What Andi loses through the physical absence of his father, he gains by developing a myth about Eduard that sustains him throughout his life.

Anna Scham

Anna Scham, Eduard and Maria’s daughter and Andi’s older sister. Although still a child herself, Anna is able to cope slightly better with the threatening events swirling around the family. She is apparently just as affected by the predicaments, yet Andi, preoccupied with his own perception of events, seems hardly to notice her presence. As a result, Anna is left undeveloped as a character and used primarily as a prop to bring Andi’s world into a sharper focus.

The Characters

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Although the novel is narrated by Andi, relating his childhood impressions, the true protagonist is his father, Eduard. Eduard occupies the central position in the rather diffused plot, and he is constantly on his son’s mind, an eccentric and incorrigible dreamer, a frustrated genius, a poet, a philosopher, a drunkard, a proud squanderer of his many gifts, a misplaced wanderer from some mysterious, exotic land. In real life, Eduard is a railroad inspector, as if to symbolize one of his constant urges—to disappear every now and then, to travel without any apparent goal or direction and without the knowledge of his family. (It was this urge which inspired him to write his magnum opus, A Railroad, Bus, and Airline Schedule, into which he infused his considerable poetic talent.) Eduard is always reaching for the stars, desiring the unattainable and setting his goals higher and higher; the more unlikely the achievement, the better. An amateur philosopher, he adopts a fatalistic point of view. In his words, “There are people who are born to be unhappy and to make others unhappy, who are the victims of celestial intrigues incomprehensible to us....I look at myself in the role forced on me by the heavens and by fate, conscious of my role at all times yet at the same time unable to resist it with the force of logic or will.”

Eduard’s relationship with his family is quite vague and similarly fatalistic. He acts as though he could live without them, yet he always returns from his wandering. He is aloof from his wife without being guilty of infidelity. He absentmindedly calls his son “young man,” yet he is anxious to secure Andi’s respect and admiration. Eduard’s premonition of his tragic fate makes him hide his feelings, as if to spare his family grief after his final departure. Above all, he is a victim of circumstances in the colossal dance of death that was World War II. As a Jew and an intelligent man, he cannot help but see what the future holds for him, and this vision saps his strength, no matter how much he struggles to accomplish his goals in his remaining time.

Andi is too young to understand fully his father’s predicament; nevertheless, he feels the magnitude of the loss, for he misses his father at the time when he needs him the most—in his formative years. Perhaps for this reason, father and son share an almost mystical bond, as may be seen in the early development of their similar, and at times identical, traits. At the end of the novel, Andi is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, to reach, through his poetry, the same star his father saw. In other respects, Andi shows the traits of any boy between the ages of five and eleven: playfulness, imagination, anxiety, and a tendency to live in a world of his own. His parents differ greatly, and Andi has inherited from them a remarkable balance of traits—from his mother, sensitivity and confidence, from his father, wild imagination and the desire to excel.

Maria is a rock of granite amid the surrounding misfortune. Her love for her husband is not clear from Andi’s reminiscences, although that can be assumed because she stands by him throughout the turmoil. She also has much to give to her son through her tales of her past, which are perhaps not as colorful as those of her husband, but which nevertheless nourish the young child’s imagination. Between the two of them, the parents give their boy a good start on the road to manhood.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 48

Czarny, Norbert. “Imaginary-Real Lives: On Danilo Ki,” in Cross-Currents. III (1984), pp. 279-284.

Mihailovich, Vasa D. “Serbian Fiction 1965,” in Books Abroad. XL (1966), pp. 281-283.

Pawel, Ernst. “Garden, Ashes,” in The Nation. CCVII (September 16, 1978), p. 246.

White, Edmund. “Danilo Ki: The Obligations of Form,” in Southwest Review. LXXI (Summer, 1986), pp. 363-377.

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