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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Götz and Meyer

David Albahari

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To purchase Götz and Meyer

Title: Götz and Meyer
Author: David Albahari
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: Serbian
Availability: Götz and Meyer - US
Götz and Meyer - UK
Götz and Meyer - Canada
Goetz et Meyer - France
Götz und Meyer - Deutschland
Goetz e Meyer - Italia
  • Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac

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Our Assessment:

A- : disconcerting, effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly C 20/12/2005 Gilbert Cruz
FAZ A 26/7/2003 Tilman Spreckelsen
The Guardian A+ 22/1/2005 Nicholas Lezard
The LA Times . 18/12/2005 Susan Salter Reynolds
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 20/3/2003 Andreas Breitenstein
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2006 Mark Axelrod
San Francisco Chronicle . 25/12/2005 Jason Thompson
The Telegraph A+ 16/2/2004 David Flusfeder
The Telegraph A 28/3/2004 Tamsin Dean
TLS A+ 26/3/2004 Alan Brownjohn
Die Zeit A 5/6/2003 Iris Radisch

  Review Consensus:

  Almost all find it extraordinary

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)s it too much to ask that such books be more readable ? (...) (S)ince it's composed of one continuous, often repititious paragraph that runs over 167 pages, the novel is ultimately an exercise in exhaustion." - Gilbert Cruz, Entertainment Weekly

  • "So gelingt Albahari das Kunststück, die Welt des Lagers und der Todesfahrten völlig glaubwürdig und gegenwärtig nachzuzeichnen, und gleichzeitig auf die Grundlagen hinzuweisen, denen sich seine Schilderung verdankt -- wo das Fundament seiner Erzählung ungefestigt ist, macht er immer deutlich, ohne daß dies der Wucht und Suggestionskraft seiner Bilder den geringsten Schaden zufügte. Denn die bedrückendsten und großartigsten Passagen des Buches sind die, in denen der Erzähler sich die Gespräche im Lager vorstellt" - Tilman Spreckelsen, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(U)nimprovable, astonishingly moving and intelligent (.....) And this is, in a way, all about imagination: the amount that the narrator has, the limits he has to place on it, and the absolute lack of imagination of the face-workers of the Final Solution." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "But what makes the novel compelling isn’t just the storyline, which is told in a wellcontrolled lyricism (with kudos to Ellen Elias-Bursac), but the fabric of the fiction reads in a manner not unlike a mixture of Thomas Bernhard and W.G.Sebald." - Mark Axelrod, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "At once a novel, fictional biography, history and meta-fictional commentary, Götz and Meyer, composed in a single hallucinatory paragraph without space breaks (stylistically redolent of W.G. Sebald), is simultaneously a masterful addition to the literature of the Holocaust and a fascinating philosophical meditation on that enormity." - Jason Thompson, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(T)his beautiful, soul-searching and, for once, genuinely tragi-comic novel (.....) This urge to imagine, in the service of absent memory, provides the impetus for this extraordinary book (...) The assiduous narrator falters, struggles and becomes increasingly unhinged in his comic, desperately sad and, indeed, heroic attempt to structure the past." - David Flusfeder, The Telegraph

  • "(T)his tragic, satirical evocation of iniquity is memorable, original and beautifully written (and translated). That said I admit that having forced myself to read another Holocaust novel I soon wished it unread." - Tamsin Dean, The Telegraph

  • "Is this more documentary than fiction ? Not so. The author's achievement is not just to present the known facts, but to reconstruct and reorder them with an imaginative sympathy that at least provides a degree of dignity for the victims. Past and present are integrated as David Albahari makes seamless transitions from one to the other, sustaining interest with the piecemeal disclosure of more and more small, yet appalling, aspects of the atrocity. (.....) (E)xtraordinary and gravely moving" - Alan Brownjohn, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Auch diese Geschichte ist stärker als der, der sie erzählt. Der Belgrader Lehrer, dessen Vorfahren von Götz und Meyer chauffiert wurden, wird über der Erzählung verrückt. Er kann das Erzählte nicht bändigen, er kann es nicht einmal in Absätze unterteilen." - Iris Radisch, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of Götz and Meyer was born in 1940 and lost most of his family in World War II. Having little information about and practically no contact with his now far-flung remaining distant relatives he revisits the events of the past. Unable to build up on handed down memories or the like he opts to reconstruct events from a different vantage point:

So, I figured, if I couldn't dive into life, perhaps I could dive into death. Hence Götz and Meyer.
       Götz and Meyer were parts of the horrific Nazi killing machine, dutiful actors who did not get their hands dirty in the same way as more obvious killers, but nevertheless were responsible for great numbers of deaths. They were responsible for driving truckloads of Jewish prisoners away from a camp near Belgrade in the specially adapted trucks that were hermetically sealed and which the carbon monoxide from the exhaust was pumped into -- efficient mobile gas chambers. (The book is based on historic facts; in all, the narrator notes, the Nazis used these trucks to kill some 700,000 people (mostly in the Soviet Union).)
       Götz and Meyer are everymen, average Joes who play their part without really thinking too hard about what they're doing, much less considering the moral implications of their actions. Albahari deliberately doesn't focus on a single individual: everything is Götz and Meyer, and if he's describing what one of them did he generally remains ambiguous about which one it might have been: "Götz, or Meyer, one of them", etc. Guilt, in this case, is collective -- and lies particularly in that very interchangeability of evildoers: anyone and everyone was willing to step forward and fill whatever shoes were needed and do their part.
       The narrator says that one of the things that drew him to this particular story was that Götz and Meyer: "were not little cogs in a vast mechanism, blissfully unaware of what the mechanism was for". Götz and Meyer understand that the people they load onto their truck will be dead upon arrival, and that the act of driving them is what will kill them. Yet he also treats them like cogs -- for one, in acknowledging that each action could have been done by either one (and, one can extrapolate, by anyone).
       The narrator imagines the lives of Götz and Meyer, a curious mix of understanding and wishful thinking as revulsion and a fascination with their sheer ordinariness vie in his mind's eye. They were real and yet also, as he points out, a void; uncertainty is the final measure (though one of the weaknesses in the book is his insistence on, occasionally, imposing certainty, which jars with the equivocacy prevalent in the narrative).
       Without paragraph breaks, in what is almost a drone of description, Albahari fashions a powerful text of confronting an almost unfathomable past. It's hardly a surprise -- and fitting -- that the process of imagining this past, fleshing it out and trying to make it real, destroys this man in the process

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Götz and Meyer: Reviews: David Albahari: Other books by David Albahari under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Serbian author David Albahari was born in 1948. He currently lives in Canada.

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