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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Das Rapportbuch

Dorothea Zeemann

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To purchase Das Rapportbuch

Title: Das Rapportbuch
Author: Dorothea Zeemann
Genre: Novel
Written: 1959
Length: 247 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Das Rapportbuch - Deutschland
  • Das Rapportbuch has not yet been translated into English
  • With an Afterword by Florian Pauer

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Our Assessment:

B : sharp, local novel of those times and experiences

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Books Abroad . 35:3 (Summer/1961) Walter Fleischmann
Die Furche . 27/10/1999 Sabine E. Selzer
Die Zeit . 6/5/1999 Franz Schuh

  From the Reviews:
  • "The main characters, an aristocratic nurse and an ambitious doctor, come to life as the plot unfolds. The writing is somewhat uneven. (...) The author has obviously studied the techniques of Heimito von Doderer with great care." - Walter Fleischmann, Books Abroad

  • "Die Autorin erliegt aber nicht der Versuchung, besserwisserische oder naiv allgemeingültige Erklärungsmuster anzubieten. Sie versucht nur, die Sinne des Lesers für die Abgründe der Seele zu schärfen - und für die vielfältigen Erscheinungsformen des Wahnsinns. Minutiös und expressionistisch angehaucht schildert sie etwa die Drogenphantasien einer alternden Krankenschwester, die, abgesehen von ihrer Sucht, eine imposante Erscheinung und die geheime Heldin des Romans ist. (...) Das Rapportbuch ist ein faszinierender Roman, der seine Neuauflage redlich verdient hat und Lust macht, andere vergessene Werke von Dorothea Zeemann kennenzulernen." - Sabine E. Selzer, Die Furche

  • "Mit dem Rapportbuch hat das deutschsprachige Publikum etwas, wonach es angeblich lechzt: einen seriösen Unterhaltungsroman. Erzählt wird, wie im (Innen-)Leben medizinisch gebildeter und anderer Persönlichkeiten sich jene welthistorische Zerstörung vorbereitet und abspielt, die mit dem Namen "Hitler" verbunden ist. (...) Das Rapportbuch ist jedoch spannend, es entwickelt einen Sog wie ein besserer Fernsehfilm, zum Beispiel wie einer von Dieter Wedel. Die Stärke des Buches, nämlich der Wink mit dem Zaunpfahl, daß kein Mensch seiner Leibhaftigkeit, die ihm manchmal auch Lust bereitet, am Ende entrinnt, wird -- für mein Gefühl -- zu wenig ausgespielt" - Franz Schuh, 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:

       Dorothea Zeemann's Das Rapportbuch is very much a book of its place and time; Zeemann even spells it out on occasion, an early section, for example, opening with the concise declarative paragraph: "Austria 1937 !" She reminds readers repeatedly of the cloud hanging over the characters and the country with the words: "Hitler ante portas", the Anschluß looming and the characters facing the inevitable in their different ways -- including, not least, in denial.
       Das Rapportbuch is an ensemble-novel, set around the staff and some of the patients of a psychiatric wing of a hospital in Vienna as Hitler's vise closes crushingly in on them. The cast of characters includes Concha Maria Countess Monterossi, the head nurse of the department, who actually lives in an apartment in the hospital; she was unmoored by the overthrow of the old world order some two decades earlier -- "Concha sagt, 1918 ist die Welt untergegangen", one of the characters notes ('Concha says, the world went under in 1918') -- and has become dependent on narcotics for some sort of hold in the new. She's known the head of the department, the ambitious Professor Medler, since he graduated from medical school; the son of a lowly police officer, he is proud of what he has achieved, and settled comfortably into the role. The charming, cheerful fifty-year-old man devotes himself to his work -- at the expense of his private life and wife -- and is widely admired. Jewish Dr. Weiner is relatively new to the department, and the specter of Hitler worries the twenty-six-year-old greatly; his brother and mother have already fled for Uruguay; Weiner still hangs on in Vienna, admitting he too might have to flee but still not yet willing to do so.
       It is Weiner who encounters actor Max Karrer in the audience at the theater and calms him when Karrer has a panic attack; Karrer is checking out the theater where he has an offer to play in their next production. This one, of Hebbel's Gyges and his Ring -- provocatively staged as: "beer-opera and political sketch" -- is surprisingly sold out -- but it turns out many in the audience are Nazi agitators who came in a coördinated action to sabotage the performance, an early indication of how widespread Nazi-infiltration already is, and how, at the drop of a hat, it can transform the calm-everyday into ugly, mindless -- but very targeted -- violence.
       The high-strung Karrer lives alone with a factotum who had long been in the family (and the man's ninety-six year-old alcoholic mother); he knows Professor Medler, and looks to professional help for his imagined ailments, visiting the hospital. There he is taken by a young nurse, the ingenue Leni -- twenty-three, but easily passing for seventeen -- and courts her -- acknowledging (or bragging) that he is: "a neurotic, a psychopath, a fool". He needs a love-object -- a person at his side -- and the happy-go-lucky Leni obliges, even as she senses the roles are not quite right. Typically, the adaptable girl was just as comfortable in the hospital dormitory, sharing a room with the nasty Flora -- the one staffer who happily embraces the coming of the Nazis, enthusiastically hanging Hitler-portraits all over the hospital as soon as she can.
       Much of the novel is practically stage-setting, introducing the characters, their different backgrounds, and their present-day lives in a time when the pretense of normality can still, just, almost be sustained. With a character who is close to Concha, Zeemann veers into light (but dark) thriller territory, the man a gentleman-spy who is professionally dispatched; his death pushes Concha to the very edge. (Medler eventually tries to help her kick her habit; the always accommodating Flora is naturally the one who slips her drugs behind his back.) And when the German troops enter the country, 13 March 1938, many others' positions become more difficult as well.
       Weiner claws himself fast, refusing to accept how quickly the situation is changing around him, and how dangerous it is for him, as if by sheer willpower he could deny Hitler: "Ich laufe nicht vor einem Phantom davon, und sollte es mein Ende sein" ('I won't run away from a specter, even if it's the end of me'); unsurprisingly, it does not go well for him. Karrer imagines playing Hamlet, but is then convinced that opportunities are greater in Germany, where Nazism has already thoroughly established itself and he convinces Leni to accompany him. Karrer's pregnant sister, Bettina, safely married in Switzerland, comes to Vienna to try to convince him to join her in that safety but he lets himself be convinced that his future is in Germany. And Medler, traveling with his wife to the provinces when she inherits the family business, is confronted with how quickly Nazism seeps through and takes hold of everyday life.
       There are suicide attempts and violence; there is death. Many of the characters travel away from Vienna, with varying urgency, but a centripetal force also seems to hold many back to the original locale; Bettina and her husband are among the few who truly break free, and even though they have little to worry about, even their drive away is surprisingly suspenseful.
       Zeemann is sometimes very obvious here -- a late chapter opens with: "Der Wellensittich verließ seinen Käfig nicht mehr" ('The budgie didn't leave its cage any more'), despite the open cage door ... -- but overall presents a fine picture of Austria around the Anschluß, specifically in Vienna but also looking somewhat beyond. Her setting allows her to mix characters from various social classes, and it's an interesting cast of characters -- if spread a bit thin. The fallen noble Concha, and Medler's formative experiences in the First World War, give glimpses of a past that made for these present-day conditions -- with brief nostalgic glimpses of even farther back, as with the one character who looks back to the heyday of the Habsburg Empire:

Wie schön war dagegen unsere junge Verzweiflung in den achtziger-neunziger-Jahren ! Mit wieviel Elan haben wir damals gelitten. Es hat den traurigen Verdi gegeben, Schnitzler, Ibsen, Hauptmann, Strindberg, Maupassant ! Heute hat der junge Mensch dafür Hitler, Marx und Freud.

[How delightful, in contrast, was our youthful despair in the '80s and '90s ! With what elan did we suffer ! We had sad Verdi, and Schnitzler, Ibsen, Hauptmann, Strindberg, Maupassant ! Meanwhile, today's youth has Hitler, Marx, and Freud.]
       Midway through the novel Leni quotes Concha -- the words put in her mouth so that it's clear they registered with the young woman, and that she is not quite as naïve as those around her take her for -- and its fatalism sums up the feel of the novel:
     Concha sagt, es gibt immer wieder eine Zukunft, aber nicht für alle.

     [Concha says that, time and again, there's a future -- but not for everyone.]
       Titled Das Rapportbuch, the novel does have a documentary feel: it is a report -- a case study, though not one of clinical detachment -- of that time of radical transition, in that specific locale, the Viennese-Austrian experience of a world being subsumed by this horrible ideology. Zeemann herself trained as a nurse, and her depiction of hospital life in those times is convincing; so too life beyond it -- though this does stretch the novel a bit thin. Stylistically, the novel also has something of the feel of an exercise piece, as she experiments with different approaches. (Her writing is also distinctively Austrian -- and shows the influence of Heimito von Doderer, whom she had met (and begun a relationship with) a few years earlier; among the small examples: the beautiful description of Leni in one scene as: "patschierlich, graziös, aber sehr bestimmt in allen ihren Bewegungen" ('dainty, graceful, but very sure in all her movements'); 'patschierlich' (which isn't quite 'dainty', but in this context ...) is a readily recognizable Austrian term, but a rare turn of the word; amusingly, among the very few other examples of the word being used in a work of fiction is in Doderer's (later) novel, Die Wasserfälle von Slunj.)
       A solid, atmospheric novel of that specific time and those events, Das Rapportbuch works particularly well on the smaller scale and has an interesting (if ultimately slightly overfull) cast of characters/examples and remains a worthwhile read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 February 2020

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Das Rapportbuch: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German-language literature

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Dorothea Zeemann lived 1909 to 1993.

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