Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten [I’ll Be Here in Sunshine and in Shadow] (Christian Kracht)

Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten is a novel by Christian Kracht.
Finished on: 12.5.2016

Plot:
The world has been at war for decades. Ever since the Swiss Socialist Republic was declared after Lenin’s revolution there, they have used their colonies in Africa to replenish their ranks of soldiers in their fight against German and British fascists. One of those soldiers, a political commissar, is tasked with finding the jewish Colonel Brazhinsky whose behavior has become increasingly suspicious. But before he can be arrested, Brazhinsky disappears and his trail leads the commissar deep into the heart of the country.

Despite its slim size, Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und Schatten is many things at once: alternate history, fantasy, post-colonial critique, political commentary, and another take on Heart of Darkness. It isn’t equally successful with all of those things, but it is a very interesting attempt.

kracht_ichwerdehiersein

I read Heart of Darkness many years ago (when I was in Kinshasa myself) and I wasn’t particularly taken with it. The prose was beautiful, but the racism in it was striking, despite its good intentions. “Racism despite good intentions” is what I encounter most often when I see white people attempting post-colonial critique, especially when they recur over and over again to Heart of Darkness, as if in an attempt to vindicate it after all (see, for example, Die lächerliche Finsternis).

Ich werde hier sein… is too clever to fall into the most obvious pitfalls of postcolonial critique. It’s not simply reversing things by having a black man hunting a white man in Europe’s heart, but Kracht also has an ear for othering language and turns it upside down as well: when the protagonist (who remains nameless throughout) talks about the mwanas (children) in Switzerland, he sounds exactly like Europeans discussing the poor, starving children of Africa – and there are many more examples like that in the novel.

But nevertheless the critique fell a little flat for me. Role reversal can be an intriguing tool to make structures visible, but for me, things only really get interesting when those structures themselves are questioned. And Ich werde hier sein… doesn’t quite get there. There are moments here and there – when the protagonist climbs a mountain in Africa and comes out in Switzerland, for example – that hint at a deeper interconnectedness between Europe and Africa, but for the most part, the novel is comforably settled in an us vs them take on the world. The fact alone that the protagonist doesn’t get a name and thus remains a un-individual stand-in for collective Africa on a certain level speaks to the novels shortcomings in that regard. That being said, it is a thought provoking attempt that can prompt much discussion.

Kracht is extremely successful when it comes to conjuring up a feverish atmosphere. Things unravel quickly in the novel and it isn’t always clear and rational how and why. Instead things follow the logic of a nightmare, which makes it easy for Kracht to include more outlandish concepts like the new language Brazhinsky found with the help of drugs. It helps to further distort the reality Kracht established with its alternate history, removing it further, but also making it more vivid in its details.

Even when I didn’t like parts of the novel, that atmosphere kept me hooked. For that alone I’d say it’s worth reading.

Summarizing: it’s a quick read, so just give it a go and see how you like it.

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