A Sad Affair

Wolfgang Koeppen

translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
Granta 2003 [1934]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010 https://dannyreviews.com/
Friedrich leaves Germany for the first time to seek out his beloved Sibylle, in "a foreign city" where he spends an infatuated day and night before continuing to Italy. Interspersed with flashbacks to the earlier stages of their relationship, the narrative in A Sad Affair describes Friedrich's doomed attempts not just to fulfil his passion but to do so in the right way. It follows his stream of consciousness, with occasional narratorial commentary in square brackets.

Though he is an awkward figure, afflicted by romantic sensibilities about love, not particularly adept at anything practical, and subject to rapidly changing moods, Friedrich remains someone we can sympathise with, clinging to rationality and gentle despite the violence of his obsession. And Sibylle, worldly and promiscuous but at the same time child-like, is a surprisingly sympathetic femme fatale, so there is no jar when the narrative switches to her perspective several times towards the end. (Her character is based on a real actress of the same name, and Friedrich's story has significant autobiographical elements.)

A Sad Affair (Eine ungl├╝ckliche Liebe, 1934) begins with a boundary crossing and a passing vision of the flames of war and the lure of the high seas, but otherwise offers no hint of the political events of the early 1930s. Koeppen does, however, describe the more immediate setting to his intimate drama: the hotels and streets and night-life of the unnamed city that is clearly Zurich, the bohemian drama troupe Sibylle is working with, and so forth. The "decadence" here was enough to make A Sad Affair unpopular with the Nazis.

Koeppen's first novel is overshadowed by his three novels from the 1950s, dealing with the corruptions and compromises of post-war Germany, but the more personal A Sad Affair has a charm all of its own.

November 2010

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%T A Sad Affair
%A Koeppen, Wolfgang
%M German
%F Hofmann, Michael
%I Granta
%D 2003 [1934]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1862076014
%P 175pp