Setting Free the Bears is peopled by an eccentric collection of historical and fictional characters. The background of history is manipulated and controlled by actual figures such as Kurt von Schuschnigg, Chancellor of Austria, who replaces the previous head of state when he is assassinated by Nazi sympathizers. While Hitler, Hermann Goring, and the Austrian Nazi Artur von Seyss-Inquart plan the Anschluss, Ernst Watzek-Trummer, a chicken farmer who lives on the outskirts of Vienna, dons a homemade suit of pie plates covered with feathers in order to protest the coming of the German troops by appearing as the Habsburg eagle in downtown Vienna. Gottlub Wut, leader of the scout outfit, Motorcycle Unit Balkan 4, helps Siggy’s father escape from the clutches of the Slivnica family: Dabrinka, the fair; Julka and Baba, the sulky and the squat; Bijelo, the eldest; Gavro and Lutvo, the idiot twins; and Todor, the leader. The names and characters are as loony as the events which make up the adventures which beset Siggy’s father as he wanders his way north out of Yugoslavia toward his meeting with Siggy’s mother in Vienna.
In the midst of this collection of hapless and often crazy people, the novel focuses on Hannes Graff, a conventional but historyless university dropout who is fascinated and finally seduced by the antics of Siegfried (Siggy) Javotnik, who supplies through his journal the central portion of the narrative and who plans the zoo break...
(The entire section is 457 words.)