In this companion to Urs Widmer’s novel My Mother’s Lover, the narrator is again the
son who pieces together the fragments of his parents’ stories. Since the age of 12, Karl,
the father, has observed the family tradition of recording his life in a single notebook,
but when his book is lost soon after his death, his son resolves to rewrite it.
Here, we get to know Karl’s friends—a collection of anti-fascist painters and architects
known as Group 33. We learn of the early years of Karl’s marriage and follow his
military service as the Swiss fear a German invasion during the Second World War,
his political activity for the Communist Party and his brief career as a teacher. We are
told of Karl’s literary translations of his favourite French books, and, most important,
the eerie and ever-present coffins outside the houses in the home village of Karl’s father,
one reserved for each individual from the day he or she is born. Widmer brilliantly combines family history and historical events to tell the story of a
man more at home in the world of the imagination than in the real world, a father
who grows on the reader just as he grows on his son.
Urs Widmer is co-founder of Verlag der Autoren, an author-owned publishing house
focusing on texts related to the performing arts. His other works include My Mother’s
Lover, also published by Seagull Books. He lives and works in Zürich.
Donal McLaughlin specializes in translating Swiss fiction.