In my German class, we once studied a page out of Max Frisch’s Mein Name sei Gantenbein. A man is returning home after a long time, and on his way, in the airplane he sees the news of his own death in the newspaper. He then goes home to attend his own funeral. On seeing his own family accepting his death, he leaves without letting anyone know he’s there.
I was very curious to put this story in context, and I really wanted to read the book ever since. Published in 1964, Mein Name sei Gantenbein is a book by Swiss author Max Frisch. After a failed relationship, the author is trying to put himself and the woman in a number of scenarios, trying to picture what would have worked out. He says, “I try on stories like clothes.” (Ich probiere Geschichten an wie Kleider.)
The stories revolve around the two main characters – the man and the woman, Lila. There are three identities of the man – that is, Theo Gantenbein (the narrator himself), Enderlin and Svoboda. The narrator slips into the roles of the characters, each of whom is in some way related to Lila. The stories don’t follow a sequence. The narrator says: A man has had an experience. And now he seeks the story of his experience. The underlying themes of the novel are existence, identity and social roles.
The incidents in the novel are all as fascinating as that of the man who attended his own funeral. Like the man who pretends to be blind and sees the world in a different light.. The plot is complicated and inconsistent – so it requires some getting used to. But the book is long, and once you do get used to the curious, slightly confusing writing style, it is quite enjoyable. I think it’s a must read – and if not anything else, I did improve my German drastically, while reading this one.