The Truth About Sascha Knisch

Written by Aris Fioretos
Review by Doug Kemp

Set in the oppressively hot summer of 1928 Berlin, this is a fascinating, though often obscure novel. The eponymous Sascha is an occasional cross-dresser with an intimate friendship with Dora, a similarly part-time prostitute. There are multiple time changes throughout the novel, but the essence of the story concerns the apparent murder of Dora by an unknown visitor, while Sascha is hiding in her closet in her flat (whilst also enjoying the proximity of her hanging clothes!) and the subsequent requirement for Sascha to exonerate himself from police suspicion and find out who did it. Unfortunately for the reader, however, Sascha is the archetypal unreliable narrator, and leads us down various blind alleys flinging in our direction a variety of red herrings along the way. The other major theme of the novel is a wide variety of (then) legally dubious theories of sexual-culture and research in decadent Weimar Germany, which emerges, according to Sascha, as the key to the mystery. The reader is shown sufficient glimpses of the emerging nationalist and intolerant right-wing movement in Berlin that was soon in the following decade to sweep off the streets those such as Sascha and others involved in what it considered as perverted and decidedly un-German activities.

Such is the overall fog of the plot that at the end the reader is not totally sure what happened and who was responsible, though the epilogue either solves the conundrum or just adds another possible interpretation. The story demands effort and certainly there is no clear conclusion, but I enjoyed the ride.