This brief and poignant novel from Germany explores existential questions as its 46-year-old narrator reflects on broken relationships and other failures, and struggles to come to terms with life.
The Shoe Tester of Frankfurt by Wilhelm Genazino, 2004 recipient of the Georg-Büchner-Preis, Germany's highest literary honor, is finally available to English-speaking readers in a pitch-perfect translation by Philip Boehm.
Employed by a high-end shoe manufacturer to test new products, the narrator spends his days wandering through his native city, encountering faces from his past (primarily female) and experiencing anew the many manifestations of the mystery of life. In the grand tradition of literary flâneurs, he takes note of his surroundings, from the significant to the mundane, and assembles them into a sort of mental collage that is at once self-portrait and cityscape.
Most remarkable in Genazino's work is the humor with which he invests this melancholic character. Though at times he fears that he teeters on the brink of insanity, he good-naturedly pursues the strange twists of fate that land him variously behind a table at the flea market, in a newspaper office, by the banks of a flooded river, or in a friend's bed. As Peter von Matt wrote in Der Spiegel, "Indeed, there is hardly a subtler humorist among today's writers than Genazino."