Der Kaiser von China by Tilman Rammstedt

Published 2008 by DUMONT Literatur und Kunst Verlag, 192 pages

My parents-in-law gave me this one for Christmas. The author won the prestigious Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis in 2008 and the abstract on the over sounded promising.

The protagonist is a young man who has promised his grandfather to join him on a trip to China (a present to the grandfather by his siblings and himself) but does not really want to go on that journey (partly due to the fact that he lost the money for the trip gambling one night, partly due to the difficult relationship to his grandfather). His stubborn grandfather leaves anyway, insisting on driving there by car but passes away on this trip. The protagonist does not dare to tell his siblings. They assume that he and the grandfather have left for China, and he is hiding in his apartment from where he starts writing letters in which he tells them about the trip to China and what he and his grandfather are experiencing.

It is an entertaining book which makes you smile a lot. The letters from their imaginary China travel are drawing a fascinating picture of that country.

The first three sentences:

“Dass mein Großvater zu dem Zeitpunkt, als mich seine vorletzte Postkarte erreichte, bereits tot war, konnte ich nicht wissen. Ich hatte sie ungelesen beiseite gelegt, so wie ich auch die vorangegangenen Postkarten ungelesen beiseite gelegt hatte. Gemeinsam mit den Rechnungen und Wurfsendungen, zwischen denen sie fast täglich lauerten, bildeteten sie unter dem Schreibtisch einen immer waghalsigeren Stapel, den ich mit einer alten Zeitung abdeckte, auch wenn das wenig half, ich wusste schließlich, was sich darunter verbarg.”

It took me a little while to finish the book which is not the author’s fault at all: In the beginning I was just so not in the mood to read about someone messing up his life. Especially when the protagonist gambled and lost all the money I wanted to shake him. I put the book aside for a while and picked it up again a couple of days later, so I cannot really state how long it took me to read it.