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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Eugen Ruge

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To purchase Follower

Title: Follower
Author: Eugen Ruge
Genre: Novel
Written: 2016
Length: 320 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Follower - Deutschland
Il disperso - Italia
  • Vierzehn Sätze über einen fiktiven Enkel
  • Follower is not yet available in English translation

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Our Assessment:

B : odd mix, but kind of mesmerizing

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 1/9/2016 Thomas Thiel
Die Welt C 24/12/2016 Katja Belousova
Die Zeit . 1/9/2016 Burkhard Müller

  From the Reviews:
  • "Der Tod des Großvaters, zu dem Whatsapp Nio Schulz herzlich gratuliert, motiviert den Erzähler zu einem weit ins Kosmologische ausholenden Exkurs, mit dem spärlichen Erkenntnisgewinn, das Leben in seiner Unwahrscheinlichkeit und Kontingenz begreifbar werden zu lassen -- als hätte das erst deutlich werden müssen. Der historische Notausgang aus der vernagelten Welt ist in der Idee überzeugend, gerät bei Ruge aber zur wutentbrannten Elegie." - Thomas Thiel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(V)or lauter futuristischen Beschreibungen geht die eigentliche Handlung völlig unter. (...) Doch der Text wird so nicht zum Medium einer überzeugenden Kulturkritik, sondern zu einem Kauderwelsch, das sich zwischen stakkatohafter Prosa und postmoderner Lyrik bewegt. Das mag zwar Ausdruck einer vernetzten Welt von morgen sein. Ein sprachlicher Sog wird für den Leser so nicht aufgebaut." - Katja Belousova, Die Welt

  • "Eugen Ruge (...) hat mit Follower eigentlich zwei Bücher in einem geschrieben. Das erste ist das umfangreichere, aber erst das zweite liefert die entscheidende Perspektive. (...) Der Leser bleibt zuletzt etwas ratlos zurück. Aus den beiden so ungleichen Hälften ein Ganzes zu machen, ist ihm selbst überlassen." - Burkhard Müller, 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:

       Follower is largely set in 2055, and focused on Nio Schulz, who is in China on business -- specifically in 'HTUA-China', one of the economic sectors China has been divided into (others include HSBC, Toyota, and Alibaba). The project he's working on for his company is the marketing of their new concept of True-Barefoot-Running: as his boss says: 'We don't sell things [...], we don't sell ideas' -- or style or knowledge; instead they've found the ticket to profits in selling a ticket to: 'collective identity'. 'True-Barefoot-Running' isn't fashion, anything technical, or indeed anything of any real substance; it's simply a symbol of belonging -- the perfect product for this postpostmaterial age Ruge envisions (which, otherwise, is nevertheless still quite product- and consumption-oriented).
       Ruge describes Schulz's Chinese adventure -- a business trip that he stumbles slowly through, with much attention devoted, in considerable attentive detail, simply to his going through the motions of everyday life in this futuristic world. It gives Ruge opportunity to describe the technical changes he imagines for that time, where not that much is too different from today: Schulz still 'googles' for information but when Google-results drown in advertising he opts for pay-search-engine Smoogle, for example; he also wears and uses a form of Google Glass, for example. There have been more political and social changes, including the widespread use of surrogacy to have children and gender-changing (including back and forth) being more widespread; sexual harassment is still a big issue, to the point of having sex-segregated elevators (which make for an entertainingly absurd scene when a woman gets in the elevator with Schulz that he thought was designated for males: so scared is he of getting ensnared in a sexual harassment complaint that he: 'instinctively backed into the furthest corner and turned around to face the wall').
       Schulz has a lot on his mind -- and difficulty staying focused. It's his birthday -- he's turning thirty-nine --, he had a big confrontation with his girlfriend before he left, and then he learns his grandfather died. On the phone, he talks to his colleagues, his mother, his (maybe still) girlfriend -- but his attention tends to drift and wander. His encounters as he goes through his everyday motions in China add to his confusion: he's not sure what he's misinterpreting, or how to act or react -- including with the woman from the elevator, who crosses his path several more times.
       Readers also learn what eventually happens to Schulz on his China trip: he vanishes. Interspersed with the account of his day are later official reports from the German police and the European Security and Anti-Terror Facilities, which are investigating his mysterious disappearance. The reports give few clues as to what might have happened; instead, they offer inventories, interviews with and detailed assessments of those he was in contact with, and the like, as they try to determine what might have happened. The accounts -- those focused on Schulz and the reports on his disappearance -- eventually converge (though of course chronologically the reports are all from after the time Schulz has vanished).
       Late in the novel, Follower takes an unusual turn, in one more separate section. While most of the novel is set in China and focused on this brief period in 2055, the author suddenly emerges, announcing: 'I don't want to recount the story beginning with the Big Bang'. (Previously, the narrative was all in the third person.) In fact, he gives it a go: in essence, for the next fifty pages, he gives the entire history of the story that had been the focus of the novel -- centered around Schulz in 2055 --, backstory which, for him, involves history. That includes a quick overview of how the earth came to be; how there came to be life on earth; how, repeatedly, life was almost wiped out on earth. Eventually he gets to man, and then civilization, and eventually he gets more precise and slows down, when he gets to the ten generations leading up to Schulz. Part of the point in this whole account -- from the Big Bang to life in modern Europe -- is just how much chance and luck are involved: the tiniest changes in circumstances or conditions and this particular chain would have been broken long ago, the odds leading up to Schulz's existence beyond minuscule.
       The novel is subtitled: Vierzehn Sätze über einen fiktiven Enkel -- 'fourteen sentences about a fictional grandson' -- and so it doesn't come entirely as a surprise that when he gets to the generations and the near-present-day a character is born in 1954, here named Alexander Umnitzer, who grows up in the German Democratic Republic and then moves to West Germany, who reveals himself to be the author. (His biography is essentially identical to Ruge's own unusual one.) Earlier, readers had already learned that Schulz's grandfather had written a book titled Follower, and here the connection is finally fully made, as the author goes on to describe the next generation -- illegitimate son Markus, whom Alexander was in little contact with, and then how Markus' son, Nio, came to be.
       This section comes just before the resolution in the novel, involving Schulz's disappearance -- which, itself, then becomes the final step in this long family chain (the grandfather-author having killed himself off at the start, in a sort of handing over of the reins).
       The bulk of the novel -- leaving aside the bureaucratic form-reports, as well as the set-apart account of Schulz's (and humanity's and the world's) backstory -- consists of fourteen numbered chapters -- and, as the subtitle promised, indeed just fourteen sentences. Ruge's run-on sentences are, however, not simply blocks of text: while there are no full-stop breaks in the text, he does employ paragraph breaks -- often much like one would with regular paragraphs, but occasionally also simply with much shorter parts of his sentences; in the final scene, the look of the text on the page is that of free verse. This breaking up of the text does make it relatively easy to follow, while also allowing Ruge to give his narrative a certain rhythm, and to highlight actions and events. For example, Schulz often loses attention, and Ruge nicely pulls the reader into the character's easy distraction -- and then out of it, with the next jarring event or realization.
       Ruge's leisurely, detailed account of having Schulz wander through everyday 2055 allows him to describe how the world has changed in various ways -- quite well done, if hardly very visionary; it's not a radically different future, especially technologically. The (future) world is, to Ruge, annoyingly politically correct, and personal, intimate details are more exposed and factor into far more things, but Ruge's vision is pretty run-of-the-mill as far as future expectations go. The from-the-(very-)beginnings section is a nice set-piece that does also function well as a complementary narrative to the novel, while the very different -- in style and tone -- succinct reports interspersed throughout help break up a narrative that might otherwise begin to seem too droning.
       Follower is a strange novel, but actually quite captivating -- less so for any suspense about what will happen to Schulz than in the oddly mesmerizing presentation. If at times too annoying in the digs at what the future might hold, with its twists on political correctness and societal decline (in particularly regarding family), there's still enough of a larger fictional vision -- the emphasis on fiction, and literary expression -- to make it an intriguing read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 April 2019

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Follower: Reviews: Other books by Eugen Ruge under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Eugen Ruge was born in the Soviet Union in 1954. He grew up in East Germany, which he left in 1988.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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