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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Walaschek's Dream

Giovanni Orelli

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To purchase Walaschek's Dream

Title: Walaschek's Dream
Author: Giovanni Orelli
Genre: Novel
Written: 1991 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 157 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Walaschek's Dream - US
Walaschek's Dream - UK
Walaschek's Dream - Canada
Walaschek's Dream - India
Le rêve de Walacek - France
Walaceks Traum - Deutschland
Il sogno di Walacek - Italia
  • Italian title: Il sogno di Walacek
  • Translated by Jamie Richards
  • With an Introduction by Daniel Rothenbühler

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a fascinating, bizarre exercise

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ A 30/10/2008 Roman Bucheli

  From the Reviews:
  • "Orelli hat mit dem Buch ein brillantes Stück subversiv-staatstragender Literatur geschrieben. Es ist eine Liebeserklärung an das Land und seine Leute (vornehmlich die einfachen Menschen abgelegener Dörfer) und eine aufwühlende Reflexion auf die dunklen Regionen seiner Geschichte." - Roman Bucheli, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

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 jacket-copy describes Giovanni Orelli's Walaschek's Dream as a "docufictional phantasmagoria", which sounds about right. The narrative takes as its starting point Paul Klee's Alphabet I:

Alphabet I - Paul Klee

       This art-work consists of a page (13) from the sports section of the 19 April 1938 National Zeitung that Klee took and on which he painted ... well, the alphabet. The top left hand corner of the page features an article on the draw in the previous day's Swiss football (soccer) Cup-final between Grasshoppers and Servette. One of the players was Eugène 'Génia' Walaschek, and half his name is obscured by Klee's 'O':
     Walaschek's name, split in half. You can see all of him from the waist down. With his eagle-soul flown away. The inside right number 8 split in half and reduced to a 0.
       Much of the novel is given to speculation of what exactly Klee had in mind with this perhaps symbolic O and its positioning. That includes everything from the notion that it resembles: "the circle that they cut in the ice, when the Balaton, or all those lakes like the Balaton, freeze" to reading some Ovid into it -- with the slight rewriting of his Tristia suggesting:
Walaschek si Maeonium uatem sortita fuisses,
     Penelopes esset fama secunda tuae

If you, Walaschek, had been assigned to Homer,
Penelope's fame would be second to yours
       Is it coincidence how and where Klee put his O, or was it done on purpose ? Everyone weighs in -- and, yes, a scribe named Orelli figures in the tale eventually too.
       The date and match aren't insignificant: as is noted right at the opening, just a little more than a week earlier the Austrian plebiscite ratifying the Anschluss with Germany had taken place, and the specter of Nazi Germany hangs heavily over Switzerland at this time too; longtime German resident Klee too had already had his art declared 'degenerate' by the Nazis. Among Walaschek's memorable games was one in which he played for the Swiss national side less than two months later against Germany (now fielding many players from the great Austrian Wunderteam) at that year's World Cup, knocking Germany out of the competition.
       The contrast between artist and athlete is also repeatedly addressed, as, for example:
The artist is generally a fire that burns slowly and can singe anyone who comes near for centuries. Not so the soccer player -- he has to do whatever he can in a hurry, burning with a bright but short-lived flame, like the bonfires on Swiss National Day, August 1st, made with tree branches and dry twigs -- fleeting.
       One interpretation of Alphabet I that's offered: "Klee wanted to paint death". It's Klee that dies soon later, in 1940; Walaschek, in fact, only died in 2007 -- but as already noted here, was largely long forgotten. Selective memory and an unwillingness to address parts of the past are another of the novel's themes: as one history teacher notes (keeping with the football-theme, but of course implying more):
     Why is it that in this country, which began in long-ago 1291, a country completely shorn of its memories, why is it that nobody talks about Lempen, Walaschek, Vonlanthen, anymore ?
       History is also re-presented in, for example, the form of imagined football team line-ups (such as the degenerate team (of artists) against the "Beelzebub Krauts of the swastika crew"), as Orelli spins endless variations out from his simple premise.
       One person insists:
     - You blind fools, don't you realize that Klee's O is just an O ?
       But Orelli's inspired fantasia suggests the value of reading more (and less) into it. Not insisting on any one, specific answer, Orelli uses Klee's picture as a springboard for a work that reflects on Swiss history and identity (Walaschek himself was a naturalized citizen, born in Moscow); as Orelli mentions in his Author's Note, the work was: "written on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation".
       Playful, endlessly referential (the Translator's Notes offer a bit of insight, but make for -- as noted -- only "an informal guide to some of the quotations and references" that Orelli packs in), is a most unusual work of fiction, interpretation, and commentary. There's a lot to it -- making it, in part, quite challenging -- but it's also very good fun. Recommended (though readers should be aware of what they're getting themselves into).

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 April 2012

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Walaschek's Dream: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian-writing Swiss author Giovanni Orelli was born in 1928 and died in 2016.

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