Watch the book trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzkK-BqbhN8.
No, really. Watch the book trailer.
Jürgen Fauth’s snappy first novel, Kino, is a pastiche of genre: thriller, historical mystery, and even a sly bildungsroman, although, as is often the case in contemporary coming-of-age stories, the protagonist should be grown up by now. She was beginning to resent the long hours at the hospital, we are told, when Wilhemina “Mina” Koblitz returns home, from another day watching her husband wrestle with the dengue fever that spoiled their honeymoon. She trips over a parcel – wedding present? No, a print of Tulpendiebe (The Tulip Thief), the 1927 classic directed by her grandfather Klaus Koblitz, never seen outside of Germany and long presumed, like all his other films, to have been destroyed by the Nazis.
After a few calls to film scholars the next morning, Mina sprints off to Berlin (because of the size of the film, it can only be shown on an antique German projector), leaving behind her hospitalized husband and falling into a sometimes comic cloak-and-dagger, he-said-she-said discovery of the lives of her grandparents. Her grandfather, when he finally made it to Hollywood, committed suicide after the failure of his only American film. Mina’s father was just a boy at the time and is outraged at her exhumation of a painful past. Was Kino a coward, a madman, a brutal husband, a Nazi collaborator? A visionary of motion pictures? A grandiose hack? Certainly he had the ego to christen himself, while still a stuntman, “Kino,” which means “cinema.” Is he, as his granddaughter becomes, too obsessed by “Kino” to mind the world around him?
In Berlin, the print is stolen from Mina. A stranger gives her Kino’s diary, which includes this passage:
Watching a perfect movie is like climbing a smooth wall – there’s nowhere for your fingers to grab hold. I was always looking for something broken, a scar, a sign of struggle or damage, something that didn’t fit, a crack that would create a space for everything that wasn’t perfect.
The world saw later, in black-and-white footage from the liberated camps, the true face of German perfection. A vision of a rigid world without contradiction, where flaws and weaknesses were removed, suffocated, exterminated, and burned. My world would have all the freaks, homos and Jews in it, and all the gypsies and pimps, Tauntziengirls and Bonzen, too. The innocent were blessed along with the sinners, and that’s why everyone gets gold at the end of Tulpendiebe. Goebbels was no idiot, but he didn’t understand art or truth – he dealt only in death and control.
Chased out of Berlin, Mina flies to Hollywood to confront her grandmother (once the luminous star of Tulpendiebe, now a geriatric junkie) but continues to be stalked by shady characters who want the film for various nefarious reasons. Do Kino’s films haunt the dreams and even the waking life of those who see them? Can they be used as an instrument of torture? We stray into hyper-realist and even magic realist territory which is never satisfactorily addressed or resolved. Perhaps it is here that the novel, like the films of Kino, suffers slightly from trying to do too much.
But the resolution, in which Mina finds the family she was unable to create in her marriage, is a moving one. The depiction of the German film industry in the 30’s, told through Kino’s diary with appearances by Fritz Lang, Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich and the rest of the gang, will delight any student of film history or classic cinema.
Novel, Atticus Books, 2012