Two steps in this book are meant to break hearts. Once Amadeus is in the playground. First day of school, next to him a girl. Two rows, because you take your hand. The problem: Amadeus does not even know how to take someone by the hand.
The second place is even sadder. The father dies. He returns home from the service and collapses dead in the bedroom. The mother hugs her children – for the first time.
"The Striking Strangeness of Life" is a family novel about extreme conditions: Amadeus' parents have so much in common with their precarious neighbors in the prefabricated buildings on the outskirts of Stockholm. The father is an atomic physicist who emigrated from Egypt. The mother comes from the lineage of Archduke Rudolf of Austria-Hungary.
She feels the unstable duke, who took her head in 1889 at Schloss Mayerling near Vienna, not only blood, but above all a soul mate, suffers from severe migraines, is in bed for days in her dark room and has a Above all: Frightened God, she believes, gave her this cross to bear. With two brothers, little Amadeus has to establish himself in this rather misanthropic environment.
Even apart from the lack of family affection, Amadeus' childhood seems to be quite cruel: in the French school, to which the mother attentive to the state has sent the boy (and allows him to quickly skip a lesson, because he is gifted) , he finds himself with his older classmates every day a beating, sometimes there is also a Kackwurst in his desk. The familiar German shepherd dog, after he has come to a drinker and almost kills him, is kept in the kitchen, where he goes to the ground, until the feces and the urine have not cut the linoleum and the bare concrete is visible.
A discussion, an accusation
That all this for the boy can not go out without mental scratches, one suspects soon, because on a second timeline he tells Grass from the present. Amadeus is now a very successful journalist. Meet Petra, the two buy an apartment, get two children from him. Dream of the bourgeoisie's dream. His biggest opponent is his insecurity. "I'm not meant to live a normal life, just like my mother," he once said.
The questions that Erba examines on 426 pages are the great questions of life. What does homeland mean? Can we escape from our own history? How does our childhood form? And how our education? The author is perfectly suited to all this. Above all in the first half of the book there is every story, every anecdote. Erba actually prepares evidence for an indictment. Against their parents, but also against classmates who play so much Agostino.
What sometimes annoys you is a certain imbalance. What happens to the young Amadeus is told with verve, often driven by melancholy, but also by a lot of humor. Erba works with a colorful and melodic language that also meets cruel moments with a distant look that always captures the wonderful, the surreal.
So it happens that as a reader from the first page is the accomplice of the little Amadeus. Suffering with him, but above all with him he triumphs when he finds new hiding places somewhere near the dining table, where he can make the disgusting maternal disappear, or after 1000 school fights thanks to his intelligence he suddenly reverses the situation: a bitter kick on the the incarnate toe of the opponent, two martial arts jacks scrupulously learned, and there is silence.
If Erba leaves his story in the first person of the present, it is different. So we end up in a story where failure is the central element that keeps bugs and complications pending until it hurts. Then the humor licks somewhere between reproaches and fears, the book turns gray. Striking are no longer quirks, but behaviors. The proximity to the Amadeus child suddenly vanished.
Augustin Erba, according to the publisher, is the son of an Egyptian father. His mother comes from the Habsburg-Lorraine house. His third name is Amadeus. God, do not let this novel be autobiographical!