Joseph arrives by train in a small, strangely dark town to visit his father, who is staying at a hotel called the Sanatorium. From the beginning, however, the reality of everything is in question. The physical world itself is shaky, shifting, and fluid. The Sanatorium is run by Dr. Gotard, a difficult man to find. The only other visible member of the staff is a chambermaid, a hardly less elusive figure.
Joseph anxiously inquires whether his father is still alive. Dr. Gotard replies that from a certain perspective, his father is dead, and “This cannot be entirely remedied. That death throws a certain shadow on his existence here.” Nevertheless, in the Sanatorium, they have put back the clock. “Here your father’s death, the death that has already struck him in your country, has not occurred yet.”
Guests of the Sanatorium sleep most of the time. No one suggests to them that they are, so to speak, dead. Time itself is confused by the perpetual darkness, in which it is difficult to distinguish between night and day. Thus the guests are kept, in a certain sense, alive. Dr. Gotard invites Joseph to stay in Father’s room. There is only one bed in it, and Father is fast asleep, filling the room with “layers of snoring.” Joseph climbs in with him and falls asleep too. In the morning, he wakes to see Father sitting up, drinking tea, and making plans for the day.
Joseph’s father leaves briskly, telling Joseph to drop by later at a store that the old man has just opened in town. Left on his own, Joseph explores the town, struck by its remarkable resemblance to his own native city. He easily finds his father’s new dry-goods shop. Already, a parcel has been delivered to Joseph there (as his father informs him disapprovingly). Instead of the pornographic book that Joseph had expected, a folding telescope has been substituted. As Joseph gazes through the telescope, he has the sensation of sitting in a limousine. The slight touch of a lever causes the now-enormous black telescope-limousine, with Joseph seated in it, to roll out the door. Everyone watches disapprovingly.
Joseph stays in the Sanatorium, losing all sense of time. Mysteriously, his mother appears once but cannot speak and remains out of reach. Living conditions steadily deteriorate. The room is never cleaned. The other guests and the staff seem to have left. Food is to be had only in town.
The very landscape grows darker, and the country is overrun by packs of dogs. At the Sanatorium itself, one enormous, vicious dog is kept on a chain.
One day war breaks out, to universal consternation. “A war not preceded by diplomatic activity? A war amid blissful peace?” The enemy is greeted by discontented townspeople who now come out in the open to terrorize their neighbors. “We noticed, in fact, a group of these activists, in black civilian clothing with white straps across their breasts,...
(The entire section contains 783 words.)
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