Man kann vom Dichten leben erst, wenn man längst krepiert ist. (Gustav Meyrink)

The Mirror Box – English Review

New Books in Ger­man has selec­ted Der Spiegelkasten/The Mir­ror Box for its Autumn 2011 issue. See here for the full online fea­ture or here for a PDF ver­si­on. Also, a sam­ple trans­la­ti­on from the book is avail­ab­le as a PDF docu­ment.

»In this grip­ping and well-told novel, Poschen­rie­der takes a fresh approach to the Gre­at War which will have wide appeal. Con­ci­se and moving, The Mir­ror Box moves seam­less­ly bet­ween the hor­rors of trench war­fa­re and modern-day Munich, as the young nar­ra­tor beco­mes increa­singly immer­sed in pho­tos, let­ters and reports about the war left behind by his gre­at-uncle, Ismar Man­ne­berg, a Ger­man-Jewish offi­cer.

The gre­at-nephew is a like­ab­le but odd cha­rac­ter. He is employ­ed by a mys­te­rious orga­ni­sa­ti­on – a shield for the CIA, he belie­ves – to wri­te Eng­lish-lan­guage dos­siers on media coverage ‘of inte­rest to the US government’. He is awa­re of the ludi­crous natu­re of his role: the infor­ma­ti­on he is employ­ed to report on is alrea­dy pro­vi­ded by the news­pa­pers. Then his employ­er deci­des to go digi­tal, and his days of glee­ful­ly poring over the news­pa­pers with inkstai­ned fin­gers are a thing of the past. Increa­singly dejec­ted, he pon­ders the nega­ti­ve effec­ts of digi­tal tech­no­lo­gy and remem­bers the box of old papers and pho­tos from his gre­at-uncle. Loo­king through them, he finds a mys­te­rious pho­to­graph of the ‘mir­ror box’.
He dis­co­vers online forums for simi­lar Gre­at War enthu­si­asts and ends up ent­e­ring into a dia­lo­gue with WarGirl18, who seems to know a few things about the mys­te­rious mir­ror box and the doc­tor who crea­ted it, Karam­chand. At first, the nar­ra­tor is unsu­re whe­ther to trust her but he opens up and agrees to meet her after she tells him she has some let­ters sent by his gre­at-uncle.
Inter­sper­sed with his attempts to find out more about the mir­ror box are the pas­sa­ges about Ismar in the tren­ches. He pre­tends to have a fian­cée, and wri­tes a let­ter to this ima­gi­na­ry woman. A reply comes back. Sho­cked but touched, he enters into a cor­re­spon­dence with the mys­te­rious reci­pi­ent. Around the same time he begins to visit Karam­chand, who nur­sed him back to health after being woun­ded in the field, and beco­mes increa­singly intrigued by the ‘mir­ror box’ tre­at­ment the doc­tor is working on. All this enab­les him to keep a grip on his sen­ses amidst the cha­os of trench war­fa­re.
As this ori­gi­nal and tou­ch­ing novel pro­gres­ses, the tales of the pre­sent-day nar­ra­tor and Ismar run increa­singly par­al­lel until they reach an intri­guing, even chil­ling, con­clu­si­on.«

More on New Books in German in an article I published earlier on this blog.