Read Panorama Online

Authors: H. G. Adler



The Journey

is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Translation and introduction copyright © 2011 by Peter Filkins

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint of The Random House
Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This work, excluding the afterword, was originally published in Germany as
by Walter-Verlag in 1968 and by Paul Zsolnay Verlag in 2010. Copyright © 2010 by Paul Zsolnay Verlag, Vienna. This edition published by arrangement with Paul Zsolnay Verlag.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to Zephyr Press for permission to reprint an excerpt from “Bohemia Lies by the Sea” from
Darkness Spoken: The Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann
, copyright © 2000 by Piper Verlag GmbH, Munchen. English translation copyright © 2006 by Peter Filkins. Reprinted by permission of Zephyr Press,

The afterword by Peter Demetz was originally published, in the German language, in
by H. G. Adler by Piper Verlag in 1988 and is reprinted here, in translation, by permission of the author. Copyright © 1988 by Peter Demetz.

Adler, H. G.

[Panorama. English]
Panorama : a novel / H.G. Adler ; translated from German by Peter Filkins.
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-79446-8
1. Jews—Czech Republic—Fiction. 2. Prague (Czech Republic)—Fiction. 3. Bohemia (Czech Republic)—Fiction. 4. Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)—Czech Republic—Fiction. I. Filkins, Peter. II. Title.
PT2601.D614P313     2010
833′.914—dc22      2010015079



published by Walter-Verlag, which was awarded the Charles Veillon Prize the following year.

I am deeply grateful to the American Academy in Berlin for a Berlin Prize Fellowship, which was key to my initial work on Adler while translating his second novel,
The Journey, Panorama
being his first. Particular thanks goes to my colleague Chris Callanan for his immensely resourceful knowledge of German, and for his willingness to respond to and debate numerous questions on the text. I am also grateful to Jeremy Adler for his many patient replies to questions, to Philip Bohlman for his support and friendship, and to Peter Demetz for granting permission to reprint his excellent afterword. As ever, Susan Roeper has been there throughout, helping me to think through so many choices, while my editor at Random House, Paul Taunton, remains a guiding intelligence to this day.


I still border on a word and on another land,

I border, like little else, on everything more and more,

A Bohemian, a wandering minstrel, who has nothing, who

Is held by nothing, gifted only at seeing, by a doubtful sea, the land of my choice.


                                                          “Bohemia Lies by the Sea”

H. G. A
within him the remains of a time and place that was no more, and that would never exist again. Exhausted, nearly dead from the two months’ trek back from the Langenstein camp outside Buchenwald, where he had been liberated by American troops in April, Adler returned to Prague by way of Theresienstadt, retrieving from Leo Baeck the voluminous notes he had taken during his two and a half years there. A decade later, these would become his monumental study
Theresienstadt 1941–1945
, his first significant publication, earning him the Leo Baeck Prize and early, yet fleeting acclaim. In that same ten-year period, however, Adler also wrote five novels, the first of which,
, was produced in 1948, in the white heat of a survivor’s fervor, Adler having moved to London and permanent exile the year before.

is Adler’s elegy to a world that was no more. Pastoral, even comic in its rendering of the Prague and the Bohemia in which Adler grew up after World War I, it harks back to the past not out of mere nostalgia but, rather, to show how even amid the innocence of childhood and a world
steeped in a history and a tradition that could be traced to the Romans, the seeds of its own destruction were planted, resting invisible and unknown beneath the surface but destined to blossom in the full terror and violence that would wipe out not only a people but also a language and a culture that had produced the likes of Franz Kafka and so much more.

For what is perhaps most important to appreciate about Adler and
is that in many ways it is the culminating product of what is known as the Prague Circle of German letters, a distinct milieu whose writers and audience were primarily German-speaking Jews of the Hapsburg Empire, and who considered themselves citizens of that empire until its dissolution in 1918, their primary identification resting with the ancient kingdom of Bohemia throughout. After that came the formulation of Czechoslovakia, though even then Bohemia remained its largest and most populated region. Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 marked the first time that Bohemia’s territory had been divided in nearly a thousand years. As we know, this annexation also set off the cataclysm that extinguished not only the writers of the Prague Circle but also their readers, not to mention every trace of the German language from the streets of Kafka’s Prague. Born there in 1910, Adler was at the tail end of the generation that could count Kafka as its immediate ancestor and whose literary style had been shaped by him and by the distinct sentence structure and diction that were native to the Prague Circle.

It requires no great leap, then, to see that Josef Kramer, whose life is depicted in
, and whose biography mirrors Adler’s, is a clear manifestation of that other Josef K. of certain renown. Indeed, whereas Kafka’s object is largely to illuminate the nightmarish unreality of the everyday world that Josef K. finds himself trapped within, Adler’s is to create a mirror image of that world, in which he explores the everyday nature of the nightmare that he himself came to experience and to survive. At the start of the novel, the reader has no idea that Josef will end up in the Langenstein camp, or that, like Adler, he will end the book as an exile in England who cannot look forward without looking back. But the unknowable nature of such events is very much to the point, for neither could the young Adler, or the culture that bore him, see it coming. From the first page of
The Trial
, we know that Josef K. has woken to a world that will probably not allow him to
survive. At the start of
, however, we are immersed in the everyday charms of a milieu that, from the point of view of Josef Kramer, looking back through the panorama of his experience and memory, is all the more poignant for its unanticipated, yet inescapable, demise.

The consciousness at work formulating this past is also a key reason that
is neither an autobiographical novel nor a bildungsroman meant to trace a certain kind of development and upbringing. For, indeed, the very conceit of formulating the novel as a panorama by structuring it as ten separate and distinct “scenes” from Josef Kramer’s life with no plot development between them is itself an augmentation of the autobiographical mode. Yes, all the principle moments of Josef’s life stem from Adler’s own, and yes, Adler saw his life as emblematic of the experience of an entire generation. And yet it is
he writes that life which distinguishes the true nature and intent of the book as a novel bent more on capturing a consciousness as it reflects on experience than on depicting that experience in any sort of pedestrian or naturalistic way.

Consider, for instance, the book’s style—the way its long, streaming sentences build clause upon clause in order to render the consciousness at work narrating the novel as much as the events themselves. Here, for instance, is Josef at around the age of eleven, living as a foster child on a farm in Umlowitz, a region and an experience that he loves through and through:

Other books

Once Upon a Family by Margaret Daley
The Ex by John Lutz
Bodies of Light by Lisabet Sarai
Blood Law by Jeannie Holmes
Sparks by McCoy, RS
In Name Only by Ellen Gable
Empire of the Worm by Conner, Jack