Hommage à Bournonville (Peter Høeg)

Hommage à Bournonville collects two short stories by Peter Høeg that were originally published in the collection Fortællinger om natten. Those stories are Traveling into a Dark Heart [my translation of the German title] and the titular Hommage à Bournonville. I read the translation from Danish into German by Monika Wesemann.
Finished on: 5.12.2016

Both stories take place on the same night – March 19, 1929 – but in very different circumstances and places. Both were written beautifully, but I had my problems with both, especially Hommage that I pretty much hated.

After the jump, I’ll talk about both stories individually.

Reise in ein Dunkles Herz [Traveling into a Dark Heart]

A train ride through Central Africa. David Rehn is on board, a mathematician looking for a new way of living after Kurt Gödel took his belief in mathematics. He gets to talking with his travel companions: a German general, and a journalist, Joseph K. As their train takes them deeper into Africa, they discuss big questions.

I really don’t get the world’s fascination with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (I read it 15 years ago before I went to Kinshasa myself and I thought it was beautifully written but otherwise dreary and not really as insightful as people seemed to feel it was about colonialism), but here we go again, this time with a bit of Kafka thrown into the mix. And I guess your enjoyment of the text will probably depend on how ironic you think the text is being, as the white men discuss Philosophy(TM) while the Africans revolt against their colonialism. But it would have been so much more effective if it hadn’t centered the white, male perspective once again.

Hommage à Bournonville

Two social outcasts sit in Lissabon and wait for the police to arrest them. As they wait, Jakob decides to tell Rumi how he came to be there: it is a story of two beautiful dancers and their complicated relationship.

This story made me sigh and not in a good way. It starts with the constant referring of Rumi as “The Mohammedan” which I’m pretty certain was supposed to reflect the language of the time but simply felt strange. And then the story Jakob tells which is full of veiled misogyny and ableism made me even crankier. It’s so obviously supposed to be poignant, and it just comes off as an entitled asshole’s whining. And then it takes us to a Life of Pi-like ending to completely put me off it. It’s lucky that Høeg’s prose is beautiful, otherwise there would have been nothing not to hate about it.

Summarizing: Maybe I should re-visit the novels he wrote and that I loved (at least about 15 years ago), but these stories were not for me.

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