Love and Death in a White Desert

Gerhard Jäger: Der Schnee, das Feuer, die Schuld und der Tod. ISBN 978-3-89667-571-2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Know thyself – the famous inscription at a Greek temple in Delphi was meant as a warning against man’s vanity. Man is weak, prone to errors, vulnerable and mortal. Plato, the ancient philosopher, went a step further and exhorted man to acknowledge his ignorance and to strive for a better understanding of himself and of the universe. The quest of oneself’s identity, the search for the origin of one’s beliefs is one of oldest challenges of mankind and a constant subject in literature.

The Austrian novelist Gerhard Jäger has written a gripping story of a historian spending the winter in a remote mountain village to write a book about a witch hunt. It takes time to bridge the gap between him, the academic, the city dweller, and the village folks, he remains an outsider at the beginning. As time goes by, a slow process of social integration starts until he reveals the subject of his book. Many a secret lie dormant in the village and the villagers have no intention to let a foreigner disturb the fragile peace. Nevertheless, the man makes a few friends until a girl enters the game. Maria, a mute girl with a tragic past. The historian falls in love and his first friend in the village becomes his strongest enemy. At some point, an avalanche destroys half of the village and in the middle of this emergency the constellation of the three main characters is heading to its climax. Death is the air – and I will say no more otherwise you won’t read this riveting book.

Jäger beautifully draws the psychogram of the historian and his search for himself. Who is he? What does he expect from life? Which truth is he to believe, which choices does he want to make? Besides the plot and the psychological dimension of the book I was impressed by Jäger’s suggestive language and I was often tempted to draw a parallel to Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain”. And the obvious piece of music to go along with this book is Franz Schubert’s string quartet “Death and the Maiden”:

Composing while death is knocking on the door