Walaschek’s Dream

Written by Giovanni Orelli Jamie Richards (trans.)
Review by Adelaida Lower

Forget structure; forget run-of-the-mill plots, and logic. Think James Joyce and then, if that doesn’t scare you, plunge into Walaschek’s Dream. I wager Swiss writer and poet Giovanni Orelli will make you wonder why he has not been translated into English before. Witty, profound, mordant, humorous, his voice is unique.

The setting is Nazi Europe; the locale a tavern where a motley assembly of historical and contemporary characters meet to debate. The likes of Bertrand Russell, Van Gogh and Schopenhauer rub elbows with a baker, a blacksmith, a worker at the Wind Factory—a school teacher—and with painter Paul Klee and footballer Eugene Walaschek. The topic is one of Klee’s lesser-known works: a collage entitled Alphabet I, which Klee created by painting symbols and letters on a newspaper page relating the 1938 final match of the Swiss soccer cup. At the tavern, the discussion waxes philosophical; soccer becomes a metaphor for the fleetingness of life versus the permanence of art. What is the meaning of the ‘O’ Klee put over Walaschek’s name, splitting it in half? The O is “the oval idea of a cosmos, the annual ring on a traversal section of a tree trunk,” a magnifying lens, God’s signature, a navel…There are wonderful digressions, Wunderteams of footballers, degenerate artists, concentration camps, doctors of the church, even as Orelli tells the melancholy story of what happened to those footballers after the heyday.

Reading Walaschek’s Dream is as spellbinding as watching a meteor shower. This is one of the best novels I have read in years.