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Jakov Lind Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Jakov Lind’s short stories fall within the European tradition of the hallucinatory and the tragicomic grotesque brilliantly initiated by Gogol, pushed to paranoid extremes by Franz Kafka, and horrifyingly popularized by Jerzy Kosinski. Characteristic of this tradition, Lind focuses on gruesome acts of evil so extreme that the result is a kind of macabre comedy that puzzled a number of American reviewers. As one said about the title story of Soul of Wood, and Other Stories, “in a story so inherently sad, how can one laugh with such pleasure?” One admires the writer’s skill, but is baffled by his intentions. Lind’s intention, like Gogol and Kafka’s, is to push the reader’s awareness of humankind’s inhumanity to such appalling lengths that he or she must react; the fact that the reader laughs at such things magnifies the sense of horror.

“Soul of Wood”

In “Eine Seele aus Holz” (“Soul of Wood”), the novella-length title story of Lind’s most highly praised collection, a Viennese man named Hermann Wohlbrecht, a one-legged veteran of World War I, has been given the responsibility of caring for a paralytic boy named Anton Barth after the boy’s Jewish parents have been cremated by the Nazis. However, Wohlbrecht, a man with a “soul of wood”—his wooden leg—takes the boy to the country and leaves him alone on a mountain top; then returns to town to take over the Barth family apartment, which he tries to sell to a Nazi district leader.

Wohlbrecht is put in a sanatorium, which, in its absolute overall lunacy, represents the madness of the Nazi persecution. The story ends when Anton Barth, having been magically transformed into a deer, is found and Wohlbrecht is executed in the woods. The final image is of Wohlbrecht’s one-legged skeleton still lying there on the mountaintop, the wooden leg propped beside him against a tree, “waiting patiently for the resurrection of its master, which will surely happen some day. Any day.” Lind blends hallucination, fairy tale, realism, and nightmarish fantasy so thoroughly in this story that even as the characters and events seem to be abstract embodiments of satire, they convince the reader of their terrifying actuality.

“Hurrah for Freedom”

In this brief, hallucinatory story, “Es lebe die Freiheit” (“Hurrah for Freedom”), a medical student from Vienna named Leonard meets a three-hundred-pound Lithuanian man named Balthasar who has fled the Russians for refuge in Sweden, where he and his family have become (comically) nudists and (horrifyingly) cannibals. Invited to spend the night, the medical student is appalled by his host’s overweight, nude sisters and mother and shocked by the carcass of a horse hanging from the ceiling and by the fact that he is offered hog’s blood to drink. The family explain that they drink hog’s blood in memory of a shepherd who drank his children’s blood because he could not stand to see them starve; they say that they keep the dead horse in memory of the old country, believing that when only the skeleton is left, Lithuania will be free and the Russians will be gone. The stink, they say, reminds them that the Russian occupation stinks to heaven of corruption and slavery; “a dead horse in the house is the least we can do for our country.”

Because he is a medical student, the guest tries not to let anything upset him; however, when he realizes that he and his hosts are eating the bodies of children, he gets sick and tries to leave. The old mother justifies their cannibalism by saying they are just poor refugees who are reduced to eating their own children since they have been so deprived of food. The student, feeling like a well-dressed hunter on safari sympathetic to the savages he meets, thinks he is seeing for the first time real victims. However, when he leaves, he thinks, “that’s what insanity is like,” realizing that none of his friends, all medical men, will believe him. In this nightmarish, Kafkaesque...

(The entire section is 1,350 words.)