Grandfatherland

This summer in Berlin, I finally got around to reading Christian Kracht’s “pop” novel Faserland, which was originally published in 1995 – nearly 20 years ago. The novel – Kracht’s first – has been compared to Brett Easton Ellis’s Less than Zero. In some ways world that the unnamed narrator describes – one of rich kids obsessed with designer labels who lead empty lives – is one that could be in LA or almost anywhere. But Faserland is also apparently an attempt to say something specific about Germany. The title, which literally means “threadland”, is obviously a play on “Vaterland”, or fatherland. In the novel, the narrator travels, apparently aimlessly, from one end of Germany to the other – from Sylt in the north to Bodensee in the far south (and then, in the final chapter, to Switzerland). He frequently comments on Germany and the Germans. So what, if anything, does Faserland tell us about Germany?

What struck me above all as I read it is the shadow that the Nazi past seems to cast over the post-modern Germany of Kracht’s narrator in Faserland. The narrator says that all Germans beyond a certain age look like “complete Nazis” and on several occasions he imagines what people he meets might have done on the eastern front or behind a desk during the war. On the beach in Sylt, he thinks of the dagger that Hermann Goering is supposed to have lost there. When he visits Heidelberg, which he says was spared by the Americans during the war, he imagines it is “how Germany could have been if there had been no war and if the Jews had not been gassed”. While accusing older Germans of being Nazis, he is also himself accused by another young person of being an “apolitical” Nazi.

This picture of Germany is particularly interesting in generational terms. Kracht (born in 1966) and presumably his narrator belong to the third generation after the so-called “Auschwitz generation” and are thus the children of the so-called Achtundsechziger I write about in my book, Utopia or Auschwitz. This third generation is sometimes seen as rebelling against its parents’ generation. But the way the narrator in Faserland sees Germany, and in particular the way he sees old Nazis everywhere, is actually remarkably similar to the Achtundsechziger. The Achtundsechziger themselves are almost invisible in the novel – as in Brett Easton Ellis, parents seem to be largely absent. Kracht’s Germany therefore seems to be one that is still shaped by the wartime generation – not so much a fatherland as a grandfatherland.

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