Abel Nema, a refugee from a not specified Balkan country and a linguistic genius, is found almost beaten to death and hanging by his feet in a park in an also not specified European city. How exactly he ended up there is explored over the course of the story.
There are so many interesting ideas in this book but all have at their heart the theme of human connection and how it is achieved. Abel, for instance, learns to speak ten languages perfectly and without an accent but it doesn’t help him connect with people, quite the contrary, the more languages he learns the less he can use his words. He floats through people’s lives and affects them deeply, but he himself is not affected by them. He thinks about being in the wrong place, or being in the right place but being the wrong person, or compares himself to an economical lifeform like an amoeba that only takes up the space it occupies at any single moment. His remoteness and otherness is fascinating and off-putting at the same time and the way it is resolved at the end of the book is harrowing.
This is not an easy book to read, since it is nonchronological and Mora likes to employ an unusual writing style and a particular use of language to bring some points across which can sometimes get quite confusing and challenging. It took me about a hundred pages to really get into the story but the further I progressed the less I could put it down, so patience is definitely a requirement and also just going with the flow because some parts can only be understood in hindsight.
Overall, I liked it a lot because it is such an unusual, but still touching story. To follow a protagonist that I could not get a handle on at all because it is intended like this by the author was a rather demanding endeavour for me. Abel is the centre of the story but instead of being the sun of this particular universe he is a black hole. I knew he was there but I could not quite grasp his existence. I think Mora handled this specific characteristic of the story admirably, and in the end, when Abel’s life changes completely, I was absolutely stunned by suddenly feeling so much for him because he finally was there for me to see.
CBR11 Bingo: Award Winner
Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair (Category: Fiction) in 2004