Devotion by Hernán Diaz: Four Versions of the Story

Compared to Jay Gatsby, you have to think of Andrew Bevel as a lucky guy. The main character in Hernan Diaz’s second novel, Loyalty, is much richer than Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby as he marries the love of his life.

Diaz’s cool theme is to talk about two weird obsessions: it’s about love — and investing. In both, sanity and madness, success and loss and failure are convergent. In the USA, his book was praised, and it was decided to adapt the film with Kate Winslet. With a similar roar, the “Treue” was thrown into the German market. Unfortunately, the German title does not reflect everything in it: the English word “Trust” actually means trust – and also leads directly to the financial sector.

Roman is set in the United States in the 1920s

Taras Diaz’s novel unfolds in four layers of time and viewpoints: Under the title “Obligations,” the first part tells the story of the life of New York investor Benjamin Rusk and his wife Helen; Without sympathy, but with the will for the accuracy of a natural drawing. The fact that the whole thing is a Roman key is explained by the author of the book on the real Rask – Andrew Bevel – is explained in Part Two.

The USA from the 1920s to the Great Crash provides the historical framework for this – a time when the wealthy Andrew Bevel became astoundingly wealthy through discreet market surveillance, extensive investments, massive short sales and perfect timing.

The second version of the story comes from Bevel himself, who wants to put some things into perspective – and here the money man becomes a man – praises his beloved wife and inspires Mildred in the loudest tones: a being who is not of this world. Dedicated to the true, the good and the beautiful, as a patroness and benefactor, she did endless goodness with her money.

But he also explains the laws of the market, revealing the “secret” of his success on Wall Street – and his own view of himself as a philanthropist and even a savior of the US economy. The most interesting thing about the character is that he puts something of morality into his dealings, which by their nature are immoral. A feature of these notes are sometimes bulleted notes with incomplete notes, which are characterized by a hard struggle for inner honesty.

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Imagination and reality slip away deliberately

“If you collect fifty billion dollar bills, you will reach the moon ten times. And come back.” It wasn’t that ridiculous calculation that surprised me. It was Bevel himself. He’s never said anything so ridiculous before.” This third voice belongs to the young Ida Partenza, the daughter of a communist who wants to be a writer hired by Bevel as a ghost writer. She meets his copy of Mildred without ever seeing the real one.

Finally, Ida becomes a real person whose fateful experiences open up another narrative level. While the first two versions written by men are characterized by distance, the characters here seem friendly. This is the brightest and most profound part of Loyalty, where the characters materialize — and Diaz is deliberately out of fantasy and reality.

Finally, the fourth and final part consists of Mildred’s notes, which Ida came across during her research. Here the author places himself in the mental state of a terminally ill woman and searches for the words that should characterize her final weeks: feelings and spirituality in the face of death. The result is a bearish death.

The unconditional will to strike a genius

Due to the artistic interweaving of the construction of “loyalty,” the book suffers from its construction: the first part, the “novel” within the novel, contains neither a lifeline nor a sense of humor – after all, it is the work of a third-rate writer – neither tension nor rhythm. But in order for you to be interested in the biography described in it, something should grab you. The author’s confidence in the public’s curiosity that this cannot be all great.

The question remains: What does the artist want to tell us about this? Why did Hernan Diaz write this polished and allusive novel? Ambitious in form but not innovative, old master of style? Because he can. He shows us his trick. He is shown to have mastered different temperaments from narrative to sensual. There is no deeper truth in it – in the end what remains is the unconditional will to achieve a stroke of genius.


Hernan Diaz presents “Treue” (Hanser, 411 pages, €27) on September 15 at 7 pm at Literaturhaus

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