Doomed – In her novel “At Sea” Theresia Enzensberger narrates the failure of a real and imaginary social utopia:

In her novel “Auf See,” Theresia Enzensberger recounts the failure of imaginary and real social utopias.

Written by Stephen Kreutzig

Book review / references

Finally, in the bibliography of her second novel at sea Theresia Enzensberger refers to a biography of Ada Lovelace, mathematician and daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron. Also in Sharon Duduwa Otto’s widely discussed novel Ada’s room (2021) featuring Ada Lovelace. Otoo and Enzensberger connect historical characters to fictional novels, jumping through time and space in their texts in different ways.

Enzensburgers at sea happen in the near future. In short chapters, 17-year-old Yada tells about her monotonous life on an artificial island in the Baltic Sea. Her novels alternate from a first-person perspective with episodes from the life of the artist Berlin Helena written from an author’s perspective – in the context of the novel, the temporal levels of both narrative threads converge until they come into contact after about two-thirds and the novel ends Dedicated in individual chapters to other, mostly female characters, you got to know the story earlier. This quick change of chapters speeds up your reading speed – even if the content can’t always keep up. Among them are eight short essays called “The Archives”, which speak of the failure of true social utopias from past centuries, the roots of neoliberalism or the destructive effects of human action in general – they are always paranoid men. The last of these intrusive articles deals with Yada’s father, blurring fiction and reality.

Whether it’s environmental devastation or the huge gap between rich and poor—many little examples, often tangentially combined, make the New World generally acceptable. (Tempelhofer Feld is now developed with high-rise office buildings, but these are empty as investment ruins, while the homeless live in tents in Tiergarten.) The motives of the people involved are less compelling. Why didn’t Yada die until 10 years later on the man-made ‘Sistat’ island known to be, in fact, her father’s captive? Experts from all over the world have been teaching it online for hours every day, couldn’t you ever guess something? What does Yada’s father intend to do with her? Why is not the same on the island? Why does he bring Rebecca with him to “Seestatt” whom Yada falls in love with and who helps her escape?

Other characters also look like extras that are only there to take on a small job at a certain point in time and then disappear again. At the same time, the stories that one would like to know more about appear: Helena’s life as an artist, followers gathered around her as a kind of teacher, reminiscent of the late work of the theater artist Marina Abramović. A more detailed description of both Helena as a (anti) artist, her work and her followers* would be intriguing, as the sometimes absurd mechanics of capitalism can be well illustrated in a frenetic art market. Unfortunately, much of the level of work in the novel remains very superficial.

at sea Standing in the tradition of classic science fiction books. Even Jules Verne had one built by billionaires Fan Island (1895) Overseas – and of course eventually unraveled. In H.G. Wells’ Time Machine (also 1895) The Morlocks lived underground in a rough symbiosis with Elois on the surface. This two-tier society also reminds us at sea: Enzensberger’s “Seestatt” is supposed to be just that self-sufficient. An abandoned cruise ship is floating in a place not far away, where women mostly live in inhumane conditions. They just managed to run “Seestatt”. By the way, in the canteen there, Soylent is presented, be it in a science fiction movie Soylent Green (1973) Human Flesh, fortunately still open.

Finding references, updates, and reinterpretations like this one is fun. But when real events, especially in “archive” articles, justify the plot of the novel, the message becomes very clear. For example, the story of Valeska Paris, who was held on a Scientology ship for 12 years to work hard every day in a restaurant, was unnecessary in the novel. The message to us readers is clear anyway: “The island’s fragile systems depend on the exploitation of people whose lives have occurred in a parallel world. And everyone knows it—just haven’t done anything.” The novel wields loud social criticism and unequivocally calls for action. . This is probably where the skepticism expressed in other reviews comes from, at sea Mainly targeting young people?

Despite the many interesting approaches related to the complex content and concept, the spark doesn’t really jump out. In addition to the faded characters, this is also due to the indefinite language, which is often journalistic language. Sybil Berg’s dystopia GMR. brain fuck (2019) has such strength and energy mainly because solid sound suits dark content. Or a different modern example of at sea Unfortunately, it was not longlisted for this year’s German Book Prize: Contemporary and Modern Language in Julia von Locados’ Great Novel. time is passing (2022) holds and reinforces the plot. With both books can at sea Unfortunately not keep up.

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