Magazine article The Spectator

'The Old King in His Exile', by Arno Geiger, Translated by Stefan Tobler - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Old King in His Exile', by Arno Geiger, Translated by Stefan Tobler - Review

Article excerpt

August Geiger led an unremarkable life. Born in 1926, the third of ten children of a Catholic farming family in western Austria, the most unusual thing about him was his unwillingness ever to leave Wolfurt, the village where he had grown up. He built a house there, for his schoolteacher wife and their children, and refused ever to go on holiday. His wife had suggested that they go on a walk and call it their honeymoon, but August rejected even this slight change in his routine. It was, therefore, particularly poignant that when he developed Alzheimer's disease, August's dominant obsession became his desire to go home. Nothing could convince him that he was already there.

The novelist Arno Geiger wrote this book in an attempt to understand his father's dementia and the effect it had on the wider family. It resembles a writer's notebook, passages of narrative interspersed with snatches of dialogue and aperçus from Tolstoy, Kafka, Kundera, Derrida, Joyce and Proust. Stefan Tobler's delicate translation renders it absorbingly readable.

One of the unexpected delights of the Alzheimer's -- yes, there are a few -- is that August develops a new and original way with words. 'Things don't turn out well when you all meddle in my weather,' he admonishes his over-organising offspring. Of unwelcome carers, he says, 'It's the Swiss, shooting at us again.'When he moves into a care home, he describes the patients as 'Poor fellows, whose willpower shouldn't be measured by their results'. Of his cup and saucer, he asks: 'Are they related? …

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