The Room written by Andreas Maier and translated from German by Jamie Lee Searle is a story about a day in the life of “Uncle J” told by his writer nephew after J’s death. The Boll family lives in Wetterau, a beautiful and fertile agricultural area with a long conservative cultural history near the industrial city of Frankfurt, Germany. Writing from the room in the family home where J once lived, the nephew narrator describes the history of his uncle who was “mentally-impaired-at-birth” and the post WWII period in which he lived. Damaged by the delivering doctor’s forceps, J can feel no physical pain and has a fast decaying memory of any psychological pain inflicted on him by others. The absence of these experiences leaves him completely without guilt living in the decades in Germany of cultural rebuilding.
J’s childhood consists of physical and mental abuse and rejection by family and Wetterau residents. The only person who cares for him is his mother who takes a patient approach to controlling her son. He responds only to her gentle guidance that requires her constant vigilance and acceptance. In Wetterau society a model of Western culture, all can be forgiven in life except stupidity. As he goes about his daily activities, with the exception of his mother, J has no one to accept him as a person. As a child, J is beaten almost daily by fellow students, made to walk long distances to and from the family masonry business, and ridiculed by his lawyer brother’s children (including the narrator). In spite of her great sacrifice, J’s Mother will never send him away.
The description of J’s day as an adult (similar in many ways to Leopold Bloom’s day in Dublin) involves a trip from Wetterau to Frankfurt. He has a job at the Frankfurt train station (arranged by a family member to get him out of Wetterau) moving shipping boxes. J awakens in the early morning and takes the train to work. Everything has to be in order for J to feel comfortable, and he is very resistant to change. He drinks beer and smokes cigarettes on the job in Frankfurt, a common practice among blue collar workers in the 1960s. He is tolerated and not abused by his fellow workers who are mostly Gastarbeiters, foreign workers especially Muslim Turks. After work, J is tempted by the prostitutes in Frankfurt’s red light district near the train station, but this day he does not succumb to the working girls’ contemptuous beckoning. His desire to go home and visit old fashioned inns wins out over his impulse to experience sexual “paradise.” J’s routine when he gets home from work involves drinking beer and listening to the conservative chatter of patrons inn patrons. He buys rounds of beer and talks to them about his wonderful father, a wealthy owner of a long standing German business.
So, J gets on the train and returns home. He becomes angry when his mother cajoles him into washing himself temporarily eliminating his chronic offensive odor. Then she has run family errands in his “Nazi brown” Volkswagen Variant. J resents these activities because he wants to go into the hilly countryside to visit his favorite inn, Forsthaus Winterstein to be with “hunters” who frequent the place and accept J’s beer buying company. J always stops on his way to the inn and walks by himself in the forest. He experiences the peace associated with a communication with nature, an emotion that requires no symbolic language. On this day in the forest, J must stop his car to allow the occupying Americans to drive their tanks down the road. J does not like the Americans but loves all things mechanical and the organization of the military, including his memory of the old Wehrmacht. J is the embodiment of German tradition, tolerated but despised by many as Western society pushes toward a new avoidance of history.
As the portrait of J is completed, the reader understands and identifies with the narrator’s shame, guilt, and compassion associated with the burden of having a stupid, putrid smelling, degrading hedonistic man that his family. Like the remnants of the German traditions of the fatherland bastardized by world wars, J is shunned but tolerated ultimately fading from view when his mother dies. J dies shortly after his mother but his legacy does not disappear. The narrator believes as an “artist” that it is necessary to keep repressed personal and cultural emotions alive. J’s life and the history of Germany are what they are and guilt is not inherent in the records. The effort to “bypass” the personal and collective memories, as a bypass is constructed in Wetterau to divert Frankfurt traffic from the region, may only lead to an unsettled short term memory loss. Long term cultural traditions, memories, and emotions may be dealt with most meaningfully by the novelists in the 21st Century.