Landscape in Concrete (Landschaft in Beton)

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LANDSCAPE IN CONCRETE (Landschaft in Beton)

Novel by Jakov Lind, 1963

Jakov Lind's literary work Landscape in Concrete (1966; Landschaft in Beton, 1963) clearly shows the imprint of his personal history, which has been shaped by his experience of the Holocaust and World War II. In 1938, 11-year-old Lind left his native Austria for the perceived safety of The Netherlands. Following the Nazi occupation in 1942 Lind escaped deportation, and after assuming the identity of the fictitious young Dutchman Jan Overbeek he lived out the war in Nazi Germany. Not surprisingly his experiences during the war emerged as his primary topic. In his autobiographical text Crossing: TheDiscovery of Two Islands, published in 1991, Lind asserts, "my theme was the war, my war, what it meant to me and what had happened. This was the theme with many variations I must write about." Lind's literary works are not only unified by their subject matter but also by the author's consistent choice of the grotesque, the absurd, and the fantastic as a literary means to re-create the atmosphere of terror inherent in his experience of National Socialism and war.

Originally published in German, Landscape in Concrete is Lind's first full-length novel. It tells the story of Gauthier Bachmann, a German soldier who wanders through Nazi-occupied Europe in search of a new regiment after his own perishes in a mud slide in Russia. Fearing discharge for a mental disorder and eager to prove himself worthy as a soldier, he is duped into carrying out atrocious acts of revenge for two other men. After he murders a Norwegian family at the command of a Nazi collaborator, Bachmann seems to regain some understanding of his situation and seeks medical treatment, only to be told that he is fit to serve. Losing his last grip on reality, Bachmann gruesomely murders the young woman he loves and embarks again on his search for his regiment.

Gauthier Bachmann embodies the average German soldier whose lack of identity and low self-esteem make him a perfect tool for the Nazis. He is not a Nazi himself—he is just eager to serve his country. In addition, being a soldier has provided him with an identity and a place within a collective that he desperately seeks to reclaim: "I'd like to feel human again, that's what I'm really after, I'm sick of being an outcast, see what I mean?" The need to prove himself worthy of both his country and the collective makes him the perfect tool to carry out the brutalities of war or rather the atrocities of the Nazis as is indicated by Bachmann's memory of his killing all prisoners taken at a Russian village. Bachmann's willingness to kill does not remain limited to the battlefield. He easily falls for the Norwegian Nazi collaborator's promises that the murder of the Norwegian family will gain him renewed respect. Finally killing becomes an almost unconscious response to his environment. Bachmann has, in Lind's words in Crossing, turned into the "military Golem, which we created out of fear and must now live in fear of."

As in his first published work, "Soul of Wood" (1962), Lind employs the stylistic means of grotesque alienation to recreate the horrors of war. It is a world of violence in which the lines between victim and perpetrator become increasingly indistinguishable, as is demonstrated in the character of Bachmann. Already mentally destabilized by the horrors of the war, Bachmann's longing for a secure identity as a soldier makes him a willing victim of the manipulations of others, but a victim nevertheless. He commits his last murder in a hallucinatory daze following a bombing attack. The circular structure of the novel indicates that Bachmann is irretrievably caught in the insane world of war and anticipates his future acts of violence. The title, Landscape in Concrete, refers not only to the natural landscape covered with the concrete remains of buildings destroyed by bombs but to Bachmann's humanity, which was also buried in the atrocities of war.

—Helga Schreckenberger