This book was short and sweet, translated from the original German by Anthea Bell and comprising of 3 parts; a short story by Maxim Biller about a period in the life of the author Bruno Schulz from his own, bizarre perspective and then two short stories from the original author Bruno Schulz himself.
This is a very difficult book to explain, I think that the short story at the beginning may have made a little more sense if it had been preceded by the two stories by Schulz first.
Maxim Biller writes his story from the angle of Bruno Schulz writing a letter to his fellow author, Thomas Mann, to warn him that a nazi spy has assumed his identity and is infiltrating his hometown of Drohobycz in Poland.
However….. Schulz is neurotic, paranoid and somewhat delusional. He is an art teacher in a local school and now sees all of his students and his nephews as birds, frequently referring to them as ‘doves’ and other less than subtle avian imagery.
As Schulz writes this letter and describes how this Nazi is taking over the town, he gradually descends into madness and you feel every dark, neurotic moment of it.
This story was linguistically beautiful but incredibly surreal – you have to read it with an attitude of ‘No Reason’ as it very confusing at times:
Reading the two stories at the end penned by Schulz, you can understand why Biller would pay homage to his work in this way – his stories are bizarre but utterly compelling and explain a lot of the imagery in Biller’s work.
In the short story, Birds, Schulz tell us about his father, who was also a very troubled and peculiar man, who began collecting and breeding birds. He kept them all in his room and isolated himself from his family, spending every waking moment with these birds until they’re finally released.
If Schulz snr neglected his son in favour of these birds, it makes some kind of sense that Schulz jnr would inversely see children as birds.
After reading this book, I would be intrigued to read some more of the work of Bruno Schulz but I’m unfortunately not convinced by the unexpected ‘Surreal Biography’ genre here.
“Do you see what kind of a madhouse this town of Drohobycz is now, Dr Mann? People here never think and act as they should!” – Maxim Biller. Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz (2015)