Likely Stories : A Whole Life, by Robert Seethaler

Jun 24, 2021

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Robert Seethaler, a German novelist, has written a transcendent novel of a young man who is wounded when an effort to fix his damaged legs leaves him partially crippled.  As he grows, he rebuilds his body, and enables himself to work harder than most of his coworkers on a snowy mountain.  Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life is unforgettable.  He was born in Vienna in 1966.  He now lives in Berlin.

The story revolves around Andreas Egger.  Robert begins, “He arrived in the village as a small boy in the summer of [nineteen] ’02.  Brought by a horse-drawn carriage from a town far beyond the mountains.  When he was lifted out, he stood there, speechless, eyes wide, gazing up into astonishment at the shimmering white peaks.  He must have been about four years old at the time, perhaps a little younger or older.  No one knew exactly, and no one was interested, least of all the farmer Hubert Kranzstocker, who reluctantly took receipt of little Egger and gave the carriage driver the measly tip of two groschen and a crust of hard bread” (14).  Egger rarely talked.

The story continues, “In his next memory he saw himself as a boy of about eight, skinny, naked, hanging over the yoke of the plow.  His legs and head dangled just above the ground, which stank of horse piss, while his small white bottom jutted up into the winter air and he received Kranzstocker’s blows with the hazel rod. […] Egger never screamed, which only spurred the farmer on to thrash him harder” (15). […] Andreas Egger’ regained his strength.  His leg, though, remained crooked and from then on he went through life with a limp” (19).  One day, Egger spilled a bowl of milk soup.  He ordered the farmer to meet him in the shed. […] “‘I want to be left alone, that’s all,’” said Egger. […]  “[The farmer] stepped forward and raised his arm” //“‘If you hit me, I’ll kill you!’ said Egger” (25). This gentile giant finally threw of the bonds of the farmer.

Time passes, and Egger has become a trusted, hard-working, patient, and an all-around good person.  Seethaler writes, “In the autumn Egger was overcome with restlessness.  He believed the time had finally come for him to ask Marie for her hand, but he still had no idea how to go about it” (39).  He enlists some of his co-workers to help him put out a message to Marie.  He was unable to put his feelings into words.  “Ideally he would have liked to inscribe his love on the mountain, in huge letters, visible for miles around to everyone in the valley” (39).  His friends lit a fire in letters all across the valley.

This enchanting story of perseverance, love, hard work, and friendship is one every reader will—of course--shed a few tears!  Even beyond all that, it is touching and true to life.  Robert Seethaler’s wonderful novel, A Whole Life is simply that.  10 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!