Synopses & Reviews
An astonishing and fantastical autobiographical novel--reminiscent of Italo Calvino and Laurence Sterne--The System of Vienna details Jonke's travels through Vienna by streetcar, reporting the bizarre and frustrating encounters he experiences as he progresses--and meanwhile moving not just from trolley-stop to trolley-stop, but through life as well, from innocence to disillusionment, birth to death. Jonke meets a paranoiac fish wholesaler who believes he is directing all of Austrian politics from his little stall, a stamp collector in such deadly earnest he hopes to be appointed to a professorship in philately, and a compulsive talker who has developed a rigorous economic philosophy out of the most common objects to be found in a Vienna neighborhood. Slowly increasing the comic and fantastic elements in his story until they overwhelm all pretense to autobiography--culminating in a strangely touching love scene between Jonke and a caryatid--The System of Vienna reminds us that the very act of describing a life turns it into fiction.
"In these reconstituted, previously published stories, late experimental author Jonke (1946 2009) deploys a literary alter ego to take readers on a tortuous, playful journey through memories of Vienna, the author and hero's native city. Interlinked tales, crafted in ambling sentences, follow the protagonist (born, like Jonke, in 1946) recreating moments from his childhood and young adulthood with sensuous precision: riding the streetcars through Vienna's numerous districts; studying musicology at the University of Vienna; and meeting an array of city workers, from a sculptor who lectures on the deceptions of his craft to a wholesale fish dealer who claims to have more power than the chancellor. The narrator also communes, extensively, with caryatids and atlantes, human-shaped statuary that serves as support in prominent Viennese architecture. Often mimicking his hero's existential paralysis with circuitous text, Jonke strikes out in the direction of the fantastic and absurd, revealing unexpected meaning in the vibrancy of Viennese life." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"He played with language like a child with soap bubbles, but the bubbles contained extremely refined and precise thought instead of air." Elfriede Jelinek, author of < em=""> The Piano Teacher < m=""> and < em=""> Greed < m="">
"In wild thunderstorms of language Jonke released a nearly indescribable energy with power enough to topple the whole world . . . He was the heir to such disparate ancestors as Borges and Robert Walser." Ronald Pohl
"The System of Vienna, with its commanding cadences, self-absorbed insistence, and entrancing repetitions, not to mention its childlike surrender to fantasy, is boundless fiction that both puzzles and entertains." John Madera
"Gert Jonke was one of the great innovators of late 20th and early 21st Century literature and, for the English-speaking world, each additional translated work is more supporting evidence that Jonke's place is secure." The Millions
"This richly imaginative book fits fifteen chapters into ninety-eight pages (minus an elegant afterword by Kling). Most chapters in this autobiographical novella focus on a spot in Vienna, and they're recalled in sequence from the narrator's birth through adulthood as he meets odd people who strive to convey knowledge about politics, society, love, and human perception. Jonke's writing isn't difficult, though his sentences can stretch on into multi-page masterpieces, and he's a fan of word games and surreal imagery." Matthew Jakubowski, The Quarterly Conversation
(read the entire Quarterly Conversation review
Half philosopher and half clown-prince, Gert Jonke is Austria's comic gift to contemporary fiction.
About the Author
Gert Jonke is counted among Austria's most important authors and dramatists. Among other prizes, he received the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, the Erich Fried Prize, and the Grand Austrian State Prize for Literature. He died in 2009 at the age of 62.Vincent Kling is professor of German and comparative literature at La Salle University in Philadelphia.