Jakov Lind

by Heinz Landwirth

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 470

Jakov Lind 1927–

(Pseudonym of Heinz Landwirth) Austrian novelist, short story writer, dramatist, and scriptwriter.

Lind is a powerfully expressive writer who is best known for his horrific portraits of human depravity. His is a bleak vision of the world, one in which there is no morality or reason and in which the bizarre is commonplace. As evidence for the truth of this vision, much of Lind's fiction points to and chronicles the Holocaust and the tragic events that occurred in Central Europe during World War II. He sees the mass extermination of the Jews and the horrors of the war as proof that cannibalism is basic to human nature and that humans crave violence and death. In works that are said to go "beyond nihilism," Lind combines realism with black humor and the grotesque to portray the modern individual as one who seeks neither to redeem or be redeemed.

Lind's own wartime experiences as a Jew form the basis of his vision and are recorded throughout his fiction. Born in Vienna, he lost his parents during the Nazi invasion of Austria and at the age of eleven was sent to Holland by a Zionist refugee group to escape persecution. After the Nazis invaded Holland, he obtained false documents and fled to Germany where he successfully masqueraded as a Nazi. After the war, Lind emigrated to Palestine. He returned to Europe in 1950 and wandered there for several years. Since the late 1950s, Lind has lived primarily in England. These travels and experiences weave their way in and out of Lind's work. His viewpoint is that of the alienated outsider, an exile forced by fate to witness a civilization devolving into madness. Fluent in six languages, Lind abandoned German to write in English in the late 1960s. Critics view this as evidence of the ambivalent feelings he has for Germany and for his past.

Lind's most renowned works are the short stories collected in Eines Seels aus Holz (1964; Soul of Wood and Other Stories) and his first novel, Landschaft in Beton (1966; Landscape in Concrete). In both of these works, Lind uses the grotesque in a Kafkaesque fashion in combination with realism to demonstrate the barbarism of the Nazis and the events of World War II. Lind's dark vision of the world is fully developed in these books which have cannibalism and perversity as their recurring themes. Critics praise the vivid imaginativeness of Soul of Wood and Landscape in Concrete and respect their depth of feeling. Lind's later work includes a three volume autobiography and the recent novel, Travels to the Enu (1982). The latter, the first of Lind's novels to be written in English, is reminiscent of Jonathon Swift's Gulliver's Travels. It satirizes postwar Western civilization.

(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 4; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.; and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 7.)

Frank Tuohy

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Travels to the Enu, Jakov Lind's first novel to be written in English, is described by his publishers as a "funny and fantastic satire on modern European life", and it is dedicated to "all seafaring travellers into unknown worlds, above all to our Master, Jonathan Swift." Claims like these encourage the reader to pull up his socks; even to get out his disbelief suspenders, dated and frayed though these may be, from the back of the drawer.

Jakov Lind's command of English is impressive though not impeccable. A native speaker would not have referred to "lapidary wisecracks". Like Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad, he makes use of the word "pal" (though not "chum")—which must reflect some felt inadequacy in our language. Where the dialogue sounds peculiar ("Cut the shit,...

(This entire section contains 530 words.)

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you alien devil") he has at least the excuse that it is being spoken by the half-human species he has invented. Of his powers of invention there can be no doubt.

Orlando, the narrator, signs up for a cheap cruise on the SS Katherine Medici, a true Narrenschiff whose surly and rebellious crew, gluts of food and periods of famine, mutinies and piracies, make her into an image of economic life as we know it. The ship blows up and our hero thinks, wrongly as it turns out, that he alone has survived to tell the tale.

Once on shore he is surrounded by the Enu, monstrous painted creatures whose heads are crowned with arrangements of hair which turn out to be birds' nests…. The sea is tabu to the Enu, and Orlando and the other survivors who turn up are denied the chance to build a boat. Instead they are transported to a city in the interior where Enu civilization is described in detail (mostly scatological, as with Lind's mentor Swift) and compared by implication with our own.

With fables like Travels to the Enu there is a conflict between the writer's concerns and those of his readers. The writer is fuelled by his own ideas or obsessions, but his readers are less interested in disentangling an allegory than in finding images which have a strong imaginative authority….

Travels to the Enu suffers from an absence of ground rules. Where reality could be easily established, it is ignored. The Enu were visited by a Portuguese explorer, but he writes incorrect Spanish: they were taught English, including recent slang, by two "newly-wed socialites" whose plane crashed there in 1937, and who were friends of D. H. Lawrence and Frieda. And who could walk about with the weight of a flamingo or a vulture on his head? Here, powerful vision collapses into arbitrary fantasy.

Modern European life offers rather too broad a target. Swift's contemporaries regarded themselves as highly civilized: he told them they stank. Orwell's Animal Farm was rejected because it went against current orthodoxy. Jakov Lind's imagination is in good order, his fable is intelligent and enjoyable. He has, unlike other younger writers, earned his pessimism. But he may be telling us something we already know.

Frank Tuohy, "Among Feather-Brains," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1982; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4119, March 12, 1982, p. 289.

Melvin Maddocks

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In 1938, when Jakov Lind was an eleven-year-old schoolboy, the Nazis goose-stepped into his home city of Vienna, sending him fleeing to Holland and a lifetime of Diaspora. Something more than a Jew without a country, Lind became a displaced artist as well, without a sure tradition or even a language. He wrote at first in German; now he uses English…. He has variously conducted his literary experiments in short stories (Soul of Wood), novels (Landscape in Concrete), autobiography (Counting My Steps) and even scores of radio plays. Yet few contemporary writers have been so single-minded. During all his wanderings he has clung obsessively to the original question from that day when Vienna became "one big swastika." How does a witness register the madness of his times without going mad himself?…

Lind has evolved less an answer to lunacy than a technique for exposing it. In every work he manages to reduce history to a wild nightmare from which one wakes up laughing. In his latest novel, with a nod to Jonathan Swift, grand master of the savage laugh and the surreal voyage, Lind sets sail on one of his most inspired trips.

A certain disgruntled writer, Orlando, and half a dozen other tourists find themselves shipwrecked on the island of the Enu, a very odd little South Pacific island….

[On Enu there] is no place to go, no work to do. Physical labor is a status symbol that an Enu pays to perform. An Enu need not raise a sweat even for food. The natives and their inadvertent guests eat excrement processed to look like conventional food. Ambrosia comes from the sewers. Guano is refined to an elixir of life.

Sex is free, abundant and pointless. Death has no sting. It is the custom for an Enu to go out of sight to die—conveniently underground. From sheer boredom the inhabitants invent their wars, like board games. They do not even care if they win. Winning can be a problem. "Win a war and you have to make the enemy do your will," the Enu Defense Minister complains. "What will? We have no will. We even lack a will to live. We no longer need it."…

The one unforgivable sin in any Lind world is logic. Are the Enu a race of mutants—survivors of a nuclear bomb experiment? Or are they the missing link—a throwback to the age of reptiles? Is the island paradise or purgatory? At different times, Lind has it both ways. Consistency, as he sees it, is the hobgoblin of those without other hobgoblins.

The only real drama on the Enu island is leaving it, and even that may not count. Orlando decides to return to London because it really does not matter whether he leaves or not. His companions decide to stay for the same reason. So the Lind anti-hero trudges on—a pilgrim making no progress, a permanent refugee moving from one no man's land to another. Bring on the next clowns! Bring on the next cannibals!

Lind is nothing if not uneven. Weirdness follows weirdness, vision succeeds vision, sometimes worthy of a Hebrew prophet, sometimes no more than a gag-writer's whimsy. But Travels to the Enu adds up to far more than a tour de force. It takes true stamina to be so profoundly lost. After all these years on the road, Lind is no more bitter and no less funny than when he started, an impressive feat given the course of history in the meantime. His mind may swarm with hoofed and steaming demons like a phantasmagoric painting by Pieter Bruegel, but he can still grin at the bared fangs of his own beasts. He has not become a beast.

"A writer," he says, "is someone who hates himself and loves the world." In Jakov Lind's game, one out of two is not bad.

Melvin Maddocks, "Tourist Trap," in Time (copyright 1982 Time Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission from Time), Vol. 119, No. 17, April 26, 1982, p. 84.

John Leonard

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Mr. Lind is playing Jonathan Swift. His original island was Vienna, and his own original speech was German. "Travels to the Enu" is the first book he has written in English. After all the jokes—at the expense of the Portuguese, logical positivists, thinking in French, "human engineering," Ionesco and the origin of the species—he is being very serious about language and literature. He is a Swift who, disconcertingly, giggles and then gargles.

Language is garbage; the Enu eat pages. Someone observed: "We are choking to death on verbs and nouns." Someone else reminds himself, "But I am talking to the wrong ears," Algebra is understood to consist of "incomprehensible numbers and letters no one can decipher." Nobody among the Enu can manufacture the paper on which he might write. These refugees are estranged from "the elementary prose of existence, like eating, drinking, and excreting." We are told, "Stupid thoughts may cost you your life."

You will want to know what happens in "Travels to the Enu," and I'm not going to tell you. Yes, there is sex, and yes, there are Nazis, and the ship that goes down is called Medici, and the American philosopher will astrologize, and when everybody grows paws we know for sure we are dipping our tongue in myth, but this book is really a romance with language. It is about finding "reasons and imagination" in a vocabulary that seems cannibalistic. It has its doubts about abstraction, and it may even object to culture. It wonders, who is fit to survive? It will marry the typewriter and the night. Every story is a small death; every word is a wound….

[Lind] is a writer—one of the best—who has chosen to speak in a different tongue. It is amazing that he is witty; it is not at all surprising that he is profound. One welcomes him to our island.

John Leonard, in a review of "Travels to the Enu," in The New York Times (© 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 14, 1982, p. C29.

The New Yorker

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In imitation of Jonathan Swift (as is acknowledged at the front of ["Travels to the Enu"], Jakov Lind shipwrecks his narrator on a remote island, where he is obliged to explain western civilization to the natives and the natives' civilization to his civilized Western reader. He suggests that mankind's prospects are pretty dim…. The narrator has a difficult time explaining to the islanders the power of the written word (that a scribble can trigger mass destruction boggles his own mind), while his account of the causes and effects of their chief affliction—boredom—seems unpleasantly familiar. The natives' treatment of the narrator, alternating between brutality and obeisance, and their own social rites (including the worship of birds, which roost in their coiffures, and the manufacture of edibles from excrement), as well as their earthy English, give Mr. Lind ample opportunity for sadistic and scatological digressions. Sometimes his narrator says something original and surprising—his description of a jet plane as a dangerous bird is good—but on the whole this is heavy-handed stuff. (pp. 139-40)

A review of "Travels to the Enu," in The New Yorker (© 1982 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LVIII, No. 13, May 17, 1982, pp. 139-40.

Thomas W. Gerrity

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A curious little fantasy, [Travels to the Enu]. Its plot is the merest peg from which hang the author's crowded thoughts on life's futility. The narrator, Orlando, recounts his adventures aboard an absurd, "no frills" cruise ship, S.S. Katherine Medici, out of Southampton bound for Sarawak. Once at sea, the crew of cutrate cutthroats set about robbing and murdering passengers, an amusement halted when this ship of fools suddenly founders. Orlando and several other passengers survive to reach an island in habited by naked cannibals who strongly resemble "hominid baboons"—the Enu….

The portrayal of the male Enu's easy life and the female's easier virtue affords occasionally clever swipes at just about everything and everybody, including the CIA, the KGB, Opus Dei, abortion, Margaret Thatcher, the Royal Navy, and of course, nuclear armament. With marvelous irony, the author quotes Von Clausewitz' sincere belief in the humaneness of modern warfare. After enduring at the hands of the Enu enough degradation to daunt even the heroine of L'Histoire d' "O", Orlando eventually escapes back to England.

Deep inside each artist … lurks the urge to perpetrate satire. A few succeed: e.g., Swift, Orwell, Waugh, and Firbank, whose spirits lightly echo, here and there, in Lind. But where in Lind are the real fun, the bits, the truth, and the humanity of these originals? Lacking in such glories, his effort often seems a ponderous pastiche, a scatalogical cheap shot, and, ultimately, heartless.

Thomas W. Gerrity, in a review of "Travels to the Enu," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1982 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 42, No. 3, June, 1982, p. 90.

Paul Zweig

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"Travels to the Enu" is not very long, yet somehow, after its brilliant beginning, it drags. The Enu are marvelously grotesque Swiftian creatures, but after a while the joke wears thin. Orlando's irony and King IT's jerky humor begin to sound like an angry tract. Lind starts out as Swift, and ends up on a soapbox complaining about skyscrapers, nuclear war, racial bigotry, international cartels and the cynical collaboration of the working classes. He calls this rotten state of affairs "the Fourth Reich." But by now the hard satirical edge is gone. This isn't satire anymore, it is bitching on a large scale, and we have heard it before. That is a shame, for there is an angry genius at work in "Travels to the Enu," although it doesn't quite manage to control its materials.

Paul Zweig, "Modest Proposals," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 20, 1982, p. 10.

Jay Tolson

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The plot [of Travels to the Enu] like that of Gulliver's Travels, is built around a sea journey, a shipwreck, a mysterious island and its even more mysterious inhabitants. Mr. Orlando, a London writer, unappreciated and therefore mildly bitter, signs up for a South Seas cruise on the S.S. Katherine Medici, a ship operated by Cosmic Ltd., "pioneers in social tourism." Once out of port, this little floating metaphor of the socialist experiment turns into a nightmare. Passengers are forced to serve the crew, possessions "disappear," and a few unfortunate souls are tried and executed for their most unsocial resistance. Through it all, Captain Gilbert Cook, convicted for gassing his entire family back in Jolly Old, exhorts the passengers to sacrifice everything for the good of the "entire community."

With a cruise like this, it seems like a positive stroke of good fortune when, late one night, the Medici enters "her final port of call, a permanent darkness eight thousand feet below the surface." The survivors—our narrator Orlando and a few others—are washed ashore and wake up the next morning to find themselves at the mercy of the Enu, the most outlandishly gotup crew of crazies to be found outside Andy Warhol's Factory….

[It] turns out that the natives speak English, several varieties in fact (though Cockney is the dialect of choice), picked up, we learn, from an English couple stranded on the island some years before. Talk is high sport among the Enu, and the banter in the initial interrogation of the survivors provides the comic high point of the novel. "What you and I speak here I won't call 'English,'" IT explains to Orlando. "You are strange to me and I am a stranger to you. We speak. Let's say we speak 'strange,' and let's see who can speak stranger, you or I?" Lewis Carroll would recognize his spiritual son in the maker of these sentences, with their weird, yet undeniable sense. (p. 6)

Lind's comic and satiric gifts are best deployed in the boat scenes and in these playful, oblique exchanges on the beach. By not trying so hard, by appearing to enjoy the strangeness of language itself, he says more than even he, perhaps, thinks he does. Unfortunately, Lind feels compelled to take on the Great Issues, and as the novel advances he abandons his strong suit in favor of a clunky symbolism. (pp. 6, 15)

One of the problems of this book, in addition to its polemical excess, is the character of Orlando. Characters in satire are traditionally thin creatures, attitudes on legs, roving preconceptions of how the world should be. The Gullivers and Candides of fiction are genial, trusting fellows who end up duly chastened by their experiences. But Orlando, in addition to being thin almost to the point of nonexistence, goes nowhere in his travels. He sets out disillusioned with the world and mankind, and he returns with his cynicism confirmed: a spiritual journey from A to A. And that might explain the dramatic slackness of this novel.

The question must be asked: Why did Lind bother to write this kind of book? He is a gifted storyteller (his Soul of Wood, a short-story collection, stands in my opinion as his best work to date) and an immensely interesting person. A Jew born in Vienna in 1927, he not only survived the Holocaust, he managed to work in the very heart of the beast, posing for a time as a simple (and properly Gentile) deckhand on a Rhine river barge. Unlike most other novelists who survived this horror, Lind …, has resisted writing thinly disguised novels about the experience. Indeed, in his actual autobiography, Counting My Steps, he makes relatively little of those years of danger and hardship; he seems, rather, to have enjoyed them—as though they confirmed his childhood sense of the absurdity of human affairs.

But that is precisely Lind's weakness as a satirist: There is no suggestion of disillusionment. He expects only stupidity, pettiness and evil of man. Always an outsider (he even disliked his fellow Jews in Vienna), he appears to view the holocausts of our century as vindication of his darkest suspicions. No one can fault Lind for believing what he believes; but one can fault him for attempting satire, which needs, at the center of all its "savage indignation," some little naive faith that man could—yes could—be better. (p. 15)

Jay Tolson, "Shipwrecked on the Island of the Bird People," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1982, The Washington Post), August 29, 1982, pp. 6, 15.


Lind, Jakov (Vol. 2)


Lind, Jakov (Vol. 4)