(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Snail on the Slope actually consists of the two largely independent stories of Pepper and Kandid, which are nevertheless brought together by the forest, their continentwide silent antagonist. Whereas Pepper tries to understand this primal mass of foliage from the outside and is entrapped by the Kafkaesque superbureaucracy of the Directorate, Kandid is trapped inside the forest and tries to find a way back to his civilization. On a political level, both protagonists stand for the struggle of the intellectual to find his place in a bureaucratic mass society bent on progress and knowledge; in the end, each arrives at a different solution.

Pepper’s story begins with his unsuccessful attempts to leave the Directorate, an institution which has been set up to explore and exploit a gigantic forest. Pepper persuades driver Acey to smuggle him out of the compound after he is caught by the obnoxious, ever-snooping Claudius-Octavian Hausbotcher while sitting on a precipice and lobbing pebbles down into the green mass. Back at work, Pepper is again confronted with the hilarious meddling and inefficiency of a monstrous, self-sufficient bureaucracy, the work of which, like Pepper’s multiplications on a faulty machine, produces utterly meaningless results.

At night, Pepper is thrown out of his hostel because his visa has expired. He finds refuge in the compound’s library, where he is discovered by Acey and Alevtina, who unsuccessfully tries to entice him to come home with her. Spending a night in Acey’s parked truck, Pepper is awakened by the cheerful manager of the garage, who tells him of Acey’s punitive relocation to a biostation and keeps him busy with games of chess, until an address by the Director to all personnel distracts the manager. Because his office has been moved, Pepper is the only man without a telephone to hear the address; he is desperate to leave when he meets his superior, Kim, from Science Security, who promises to organize a meeting with the Director for the forlorn linguist.

In a scene reminiscent of Franz Kafka’s work, Pepper is ushered through a door labeled

(The entire section is 874 words.)