Der vergessliche Riese
A thematic book recommendation by Maren Jungclaus
For over two decades, father and son hardly saw each other; each was busy with his own life. The father with his second wife, his company and many business trips, the son with his new life in Berlin as a writer, husband and father of a daughter. Until the father becomes ill with dementia and David Wagner regularly travels from Berlin to Bonn to visit his father. Over three years, the book tells of his father’s progressive illness and change. About the gradual inability to cope with everyday life and also about the estrangement between father and son, which somewhere, however, is also a rapprochement. Each visit brings new surprises and irritations, each time the son has to adjust to a further change in his father’s attitude, which he does with admirable aplomb.
Polish caregivers come and go until Wagner and his siblings decide to place the father in a retirement home on the Rhine. Settling in is surprisingly easy for him, who has meanwhile established himself in a world of his own, just as the whole process of forgetting and losing seems to have a certain lightness to it. What remains despite all the losses is his attitude as a bon vivant, gigolo and seducer, which he displays to his Polish nurses as well as to his fellow residents in the senior citizens’ residence. He retains his dignity until the end of the book, and he also knows how to counteract his progressive oblivion with his own strategies.
Thus he calls his son, whom he can no longer classify and whose name he can no longer remember, at some point only friend: »Where are you from, friend?« he says, »What are you doing here, friend?« or »You never let anyone see you either, friend.« And while the world becomes a riddle and life a single uncertainty, the father is always left with the uniqueness of his character, with which he wriggles out of every situation. He does not appear as a pitiful victim of his illness, nor is it presented as a spectre; rather, the book is a study of the passing of time, a reflection on remembering and forgetting, on the relationship between father and son, which is reversed by old age, although the father remains a father and the son a son.
Thus, the novel is ultimately not just a description of progressive dementia, but more generally about aging in general.
Der vergessliche Riese
Rowohlt Verlag. 272 Pages.