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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Man: Klaus Klump

Gonçalo M. Tavares

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To purchase A Man: Klaus Klump

Title: A Man: Klaus Klump
Author: Gonçalo M. Tavares
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 93 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: A Man: Klaus Klump - US
A Man: Klaus Klump - UK
A Man: Klaus Klump - Canada
A Man: Klaus Klump - India
Un homme: Klaus Klump - France
Un hombre: Klaus Klump - España
  • Portuguese title: Um Homem: Klaus Klump
  • Translated by Rhett McNeil

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well done, but a cold, cold vision

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 28/4/2014 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "This absurdist Portuguese novella is full of non-sequiturs, narrative curlicues, offbeat observations, as well as vivid characters. (...) Tavares's portrait of this man comes together as a mosaic, like the fragments of a news report, not a proper character study." - Publishers Weekly

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:

       A Man: Klaus Klump is the first in Gonçalo M. Tavares' 'O Reino' ('Kingdom') tetralogy (though the ... quirks, shall we call them ? of American publishing-in-translation find it the last of the four volumes to make its way into English ...). It is a compact study -- less of a man than of a society pushed to and held at the edge for many years, with Klaus Klump only one of several representative figures.
       The voice of the omniscient narrator is cool, detached, analytic. There is little overt judgment -- even as the author/narrator acknowledges that much that is described here is beyond the pale. What one character notes goes for the text as a whole:

     I'm not out to demonstrate a pleasant fact, he said. I'm demonstrating a mere fact.
       Late in the novel it is suggested that:
A nation's philosophy should be assessed based on the everyday cruelties of its most ordinary people.
       Many of the characters in A Man: Klaus Klump are among the leaders of society and industry in the unnamed country the story is set in. Extraordinary circumstances -- much of the novel takes place during wartime -- naturally lead to cruelty, but in his neutral descriptions Tavares barely seems to differentiate between the most brutal, physical cruelties (and there are several very nasty incidents) and the very different kind of 'everyday cruelty' of the powers that be -- less the political leaders here (who remain practically invisible) than the representatives of the capitalist class, whose structures and strictures seem to be the framework for the larger and more lasting (beyond the war) ills of this society.
       Klaus Klump, "a tall man who had read books", is introduced as a publisher, of: "books that contested the economic and political systems of the time" (and also as someone who: "published perverse books" -- Tavares neatly leaving it unexplained whether both descriptions refer to the same titles ...), but he is also a scion of a wealthy family and, after his youthful rebellion and years of incarceration during and after wartime, not only returns to the fold but comes to lead the family business-empire. There is rebellion -- against the system, or against the enemy, during the war -- here, but there is also a great deal of collaboration and betrayal: Klump may hold out more demonstratively and longer than most, but ultimately he too is compromised.
       War comes to the country. Klaus steers clear of it at first, but war imposes itself on everything, horribly. Klaus is betrayed, captured, and imprisoned. His family stands by him -- influential enough to ensure that execution is off the table -- even as he takes a last symbolic stand against it. The family seems to know what they're doing: ultimately, after all, they win him back.
       Typical of the figures populating this story is Ortho, an officer in the army:
     Ortho was a sensible man. A reader of philosophy, and a man who disemboweled animals with his own hand, with just the blade of a pocketknife a few centimeters long. He knew that there was a time to interpret and a time to slice open the neck of an animal with a single slash.
       Similar cold -- so cold -- reason is behind many of the actions taken by many of the characters. So too those of Herthe, who betrayed Klaus, was set to marry Ortho, and eventually marries the country's leading industrialist, Leo Vast. She, like others, may seem an opportunist, but Tavares seems to suggest a society as deeply-rotted as this one is will come to little else.
       What Tavares chronicles is not so much moral decay as a world in which morality barely figures. War makes for extremes, but peace does not remedy the situation. Yes, democracy comes:
But democracy is the establishment of mutual cowardice, and such a system is never dissevered from a powerful will, from an original intention
       And the characters soon find:
It was as if political change only affected the society's bottom tier, never reaching the higher levels.
       The man, Klaus Klump, is perhaps representative for this particular society. He is not necessarily dislikable, but Tavares makes little effort to present him sympathetically. Tavares' tale emphatically has no heroes: everything, everyone can be called into question -- yet Tavares also leaves all condemnation to the reader, withholding judgment almost entirely.
       The power of the tale, and the message, comes with the calm, neutral tone -- the same tone that makes the horrors that are described so unsettling, and the novel as a whole often hard reading.
       Tavares writes simply, starkly, succinctly. Much here is striking, sometimes brilliantly captured: Klaus has a girlfriend, Johana, at the start of the story:
Their love was incomplete because war had begun in the midst of it. War interrupts.
       A Man: Klaus Klump is not a comfortable read. There's little that is pleasant here -- there's barely a shift in tone or feel as the story moves from wartime to peace -- and Tavares' vision is cold and bleak. He makes almost no effort to win the reader over; he doesn't play to them. This is political fiction, too, -- very much so -- but of the Brechtian sort (Brecht seems one of the clearest influences here).
       An impressive work, but a bleak reading experience.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 August 2014

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A Man: Klaus Klump: Reviews: Gonçalo M. Tavares: Other books by Gonçalo M. Tavares under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Portuguese author Gonçalo M. Tavares was born in 1970.

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