Excerpt from The Research Report (Part 5 in a series)

Chapter 5

Friday, February 8th, 1980

Irma and Jäcki woke just before the alarm rang.

Jäcki took the bottle of whiskey out of the suitcase.

At three-thirty the two of them cautiously crept down the front steps of the hotel, armed with whiskey, photography books, and cameras.

The outside door propped open.

A mannequin on the concrete floor came to with a start.

–The night watchman.

So there was a night watchman.

Jäcki told the night watchman about the dugu and about the fishermen who rowed out to the realm of the gods, and left the room key on the counter.

The night watchman had curled up and gone back to sleep.

The dogs failed to notice their departure.

They passed Black Caribs who greeted them nonchalantly.

–It’s perfectly reasonable for us to be out walking at three-thirty in the morning.

–Black Caribs aren’t frightened of white people out in the middle of the night. In Haiti they’d think we were zombies.

–Maybe in Dangriga they’re used to tourists showing up on their day off, at all hours of the day, filling the streets whenever they have a dugu.

–Out on the Heide, in Holstein, I’d already be finished with the milking by now.

–No sign of Frank.

They reached the temple.

Three old men with drums approaching from the opposite direction.

They ignored Irma and Jäcki.

A woman standing under the canopy said, “Nice to see you. Just go into the temple.”

Jäcki was wary. The woman was just making fun of them.

Jäcki looked through the hole.

The elderly spirit-helpers brushing their teeth in their underwear.

Irma lingering by the entrance.

Jostled by the holy women, puffing their cheeks and spitting out mouthwash in front of the barn.

The little old woman appeared in an undershirt, her breasts showing.

Looking past Irma and Jäcki.

Everything swept and tidied up.

When they were all assembled the old woman brought them two calabashes of coffee.

Jäcki making a ceremonial gesture of thanks to reformat the transaction into something supra-individual.

Without success.

The old woman just got wanted to get away from him.

–It’s not a drink offered as welcome. It’s just rote fulfillment of the laws of hospitality. When you leave you won’t be able to say we didn’t offer you chicory coffee.

Jäcki offered her the bottle of whiskey.

The old woman didn’t understand the gesture.

She took the bottle away as though Jäcki had tried to hand it to her for safekeeping.

Inside: the drumming, the puffing, the swaying.

Crossed oars on top of the offering.

A fire-red woman with one human eye and one grass snake’s eye–

–The parrot-woman from Tuesday!

Jumping out of the temple waving her hands.

The worshippers descended upon the package, the oars.

The old men running carrying the drums on their heads.

Down the clay path and around the corner before Irma could focus.

They hurried to the shore.

The anointed wading out, with oars on their heads, drums, provisions, offerings, into the shallow water out toward the boats.

The ones on the shore taking thin white strips of cloth from their pockets, waving to the sailors against the lead-colored horizon.

Toward St. Vincent.

Toward Bluefields, Nicaragua.

Toward Africa.

The gathering slowly headed back to the barn.

Irma took a couple of telephoto shots.

–The best ones I got with the wide-angle lens while they were waving.

–What about the little white boats, limp sails set against open ocean?

–Of course. That too.


When Irma and Jäcki got back to the temple, twenty-five old women were bobbing around two girls wailing and dancing.

The one hanging on the other as if her legs were broken. They danced around the room and then pushed past the thick curtain, behind the altar.

The old women bobbing behind.

One by one they shuffled back, holding canning jars.

Sticking their fingers in and sucking them clean.

–What’s in there?

–It looks like a urine sample. We should get going.


The waitress awaited Irma and Jäcki in triumph. She said quietly:

–It’s ten after nine. Breakfast is over.

How happy Jäcki would have been to yield to a fit of rage right there in the dining room, as deserted at ten after nine as it had been at ten before nine.

But he was hungry.

And as the girls had slipped into the role of servants of mass tourism, Jäcki slipped into the role of an American he’d seen in Rio, in the elevator of the Copacabana Palace.

Walking through the lobby in a bathing suit was forbidden. One had to take a different elevator and another exit to get to the pool.

The American in a bathing suit had boarded the clothing-only elevator for the lobby, saying:


The Portuguese elevator operator said:

–Take the other elevator, please.

The American said quietly, without changing his expression:


And the great-great-grandson of Prince Henry the Navigator took the naked American to the lobby.

The tactic from the overbooked Copacabana Palace was just as effective in the deserted hotel in the swamps of Dangriga.

Jäcki said:

–I want breakfast now.

Emphasis on Now.

Which meant nothing.

Chastened, the Carib girls served them breakfast–more nimbly than usual.

Once more the tiny athlete strode through the dining room, flirting with the girls as they skipped him morsels from the grill. Yobi was waiting on the front steps again.

–Did you talk to Frank?


–And? His wife died, Yobi said.


–No. Six months ago. Nine days of praying, Catholic, I think. On the ninth day there’s cakes and rice. Corn beer and coffee. But no beans.

–I know. I drank it.


–At the dugu.

–You were at the dugu?

The friendliness in Yobi’s face evaporated.

–You saw them going out in the boats?


–They catch sea turtles for the offering.

–Turtles? What else do they have to sacrifice?

–Nine days after the person dies they have the drumming. Just crates and cartons.

–So Schneider got it right. The dugu drums aren’t supposed to come into contact with the dead.

–They might have a little dugu drumming.

–The taboo has gotten weaker.

Jäcki pictured the short athlete in a bath of herbs, in the convulsions of labor, that deep voice, in bed for fourteen days, giving birth to a spotted mushroom or a wooden post.

Jäcki didn’t want to start up with that again.

–Tomorrow is the ninth day of the wake. You should come, Yobi said. I’ll take you there.

Proceeding as if everything had been set up for them.

Frank’s wife had died just in time, the dugu starting three days after their arrival.

–Frank was seeing off his wife’s body at the same time he was telling me about his flight, about his mother’s aggrieved spirit, about the ruination of his feet. Would the widower really offer such an encoded invitation?


–The maid brought back my underwear, Irma said. She got them mixed up. I guess she’s not a thieving magpie after all. She kept blinking at me, and she wanted to tell me about the dugu, the potions, the poison they give their enemies. It takes years to kill you.

–She talks too much.

–You said no one lies.

–That’s true. Telling the truth is easier. I’d trust her stories more if she hadn’t brought your underwear back.


–It shows she’s confused. I’m going to the beach, Jäcki said: To read Washington Square.


Frank waved him over from the boat launch.

Jäcki wanted to set a trap for him. But he didn’t want to interrupt Frank while he was working in the water.

He waited until Frank came over to the beach on his break.

He said: –Frank, you’ve really helped me. Everything went so well at the dugu. How can I compensate you? What would you rather drink tomorrow night? Whiskey or strong rum?

Jäcki had read in Schneider that the dead need strong rum.

Frank was adamant.


–So Frank’s lying.

–Frank’s not talking.

–Or Schneider got it wrong, and the dead do it for whiskey too.

–Or the widower has to keep quiet.

Frank talking without pause.

–On Thursday, yesterday, the sick woman comes to the temple.

–She sleeps in a hammock in the main room or in a mesh tent in the altar room, it depends.

–Her family comes with her.

–Whoever puts the dugu together is called the owner.

–On Friday morning some people leave.

–That’s what we saw, Jäcki said: –What happens behind the curtain?

–Nothing. Praying. Blowing.

–Washing up? Jäcki asked.

Frank paused.

–No. The bathing comes later.

–Damn, Jäcki thought: –I forgot about that urine sample, and he didn’t want to talk about the herbal bath.

–On Saturday they have the drumming.

–On Sunday too?

–On Sunday the sailors return from the reef. At night they sneak back onto land. They spend the night in hiding, away from their boats. On Monday morning they go back out to the boats and make another trip, and when they come back there’s a celebration, and they take all the fish, the lobster, and the sea turtles back to the temple for the feast.

–He said celebration, feast.

–No one sleeps from Monday to Wednesday, Frank said.

–The spirit, the dead man, the grandfather, he tells them how to do it.

–After Wednesday they do the bathing.

Jäcki waited to see if Frank was going to say something about the baths.


Now Jäcki tried what he’d used in Haiti and Dahomey. He asked about American rituals in the Old World, and African ones in the New.

–Does the sick person have to say the name of the dead person afflicting her?

–Always the same gestures, Jäcki thought. Only the place and time are different.

–No, Frank said. –You know the name of your tormenter. He tells you how what you have to do.

–Are there other rites for the dead?

–Yes. There are wakes.


–Yes. One right after they go to sleep. The second one’s later…a year later…later. Nine days long. On the ninth day the main wake.

–When I broke my feet, Frank said, I had to take three baths.

–I was in the hospital for three months and my feet did not heal.

–I had to get around on crutches.

–My niece dreamed the reason.

–I’m very strong, Frank said.

–I should have been the buyei.

–My family is a buyei family.

–I’m so strong I never dream.

–The dead can’t make me dream.

–My niece dreams for me.

–The buyei said my niece needed to bring white underwear to the temple. The buyei gave her a glass of strong rum. I washed my broken heels with it, and in three days I could walk again. Once the dead are propitiated they can never torment us again.

–If someone from a buyei family puts on a dugu we all have to go into a trace….


–…and dance, then the dead go back down below.

–My dugu lasted nine days.

–It wasn’t just my dead mother holding me up in the air for five minutes and throwing me onto the ladder.

–It was my dead father!


–Laius! Jäcki thought.

–Io! Dark cloud surrounding me!


Jäcki had odd bouts of whimsy that he was unable to justify ethnographically.

Sophocles and Herodotus come to Dangriga; they sit down by the wooden house.

Antonio lures them into the mangroves, and the two travelers give him rare Attic and Carian coins.

Antonio hurries off in the wrong toga. Sophocles emerges from the bushes wearing Antonio’s toga, which is too short.

Herodotus tells Frank’s story to Sophocles:

–In a matrifocal society, an enmity develops between two priestly families. The mother in the first family designates her son to be buyei. The father is off working for the Pomona Corporation orange groves, or as an elevator operator in New York, and when he dies he leaves his son his name, nothing else. Then the mother dies. She dies, her goal unrealized. The son is a handyman in a hotel. A woman from the rival clan becomes the priestess, and flies around out into world history. The son, Frank, tries to do it too. He jumps off the roof, into the air which is ruled by the rival shaman and his dead feather. His dead mother holds him fast and then dashes him onto the rungs of the ladder.

–An interesting account, Sophocles says.

–Do you think he really flew? the scientist asks the playwright.

–Nonsense, Sophocles says.

–Why did he say he did?

–How long could a jump from the roof last?

–Three seconds? Five? Herodotus wonders.

–Can you jump from the hotel roof?

–Pedro Claver’s mother sitting in her rocking chair at the auto in Haiti.

Herodotus saying hello to her every time he passes by on his way to interview the voodoo priest.

Rocking back and forth.

–The mother sitting in the rocking chair until the very end. After the third murder the police commissioner turns her around, Sophocles says.

–Just a skull in a wig.


–This is how the son of the woman who owned Bagshot House in Trinidad explained the film to me: the son had stuffed his mother. While I was watching the film I started to sob hysterically. Claver claimed to have been living underwater for months or years. The water-mother gave him a fish as a parting gift. He swam to the surface, fish in hand, and everyone in Port-au-Prince had grown old.

–Medea flew through the air.

–Yes. Terrible, Herodotus says. –Quirinus Kuhlmann did too. Frank said Mister Borggrave saw it.  I’d be interested in talking to the owner.

–You’d sound ridiculous: Good morning, Mister Borggrave, my name is Herodotus. I’d like to ask you a few questions about your handyman Frank, who claims he hovered in the air for five minutes on August 19, 1977.

–Why would Frank say it?

–Because he knows you’d never ask Mister Borggrave.

–So he knows I’m as skeptical of his levitation as that of St. Ignatius.

–It’s a rhetorical device that gets used whether or not it seems plausible.

–You’re separating form and content? Herodotus says: –That means Frank doesn’t believe he really flew either. I saw his crippled feet myself.

–All you saw, Sophocles says, was something that looked like clips and lumps, underneath a clean, tight-fitting sock. He might have had a bicycle accident, or Black Caribs might have a ceremony where they strap themselves with leather bands, buckles, sheets of silvers. Rebellious slaves were given a choice: either lose your penis or your foot. You’ve done the research yourself. You might be reading some sort of masque into this mutilation.

–The immaculate Ethiopians, Herodotus says. –Isn’t that a play?

–I’ve already got a title.


Oedipus Rex.

–Cocteau had a student translate one of his texts into Latin. Shall I call Peter Stein?

–No! Sophocles shouts. –You can’t call West Berlin from Dangriga. Peter Stein staged Aeschylus.  Maybe Boy Gobert. At least he’s not a fraud. Peter Stein…even his name is a tautology: Pierre Pierre…he claimed Apollo came to him in an ice-cream parlor. A lie.

–You just have to keep an eye out, Herodotus says to Sophocles.

–An eye out for an Oedipus complex!

–I really don’t want to get caught up in the history of Frank’s psyche in his story, Jäcki thought.

Having refused to think about any of that at the home for children with behavioral problems, among the anthroposophists of the Arctic Circle, thirty degrees below.

Having borrowed the collected Freud from the public library in Järna.

Rehearsing Oedipus Rex with the cooks and carpenters.

–Can’t we get this over with?

The night of the premiere all the Oedipuses and Jocastas reciting the verbal dandruff of Hölderlin’s Sophocles to hundreds of other Oedipuses and Jocastas, all tamed and tidied in vain by the speech therapists and eurythmists.


–Not the second asylum.

Les negres.


Von Lohenstein leading Sophocles and Herodotus from Montparnasse to the World Trade Center.

Herodotus to read from his research report.

Above them, hidden in the clouds: Freud, Sartre, Lacan, Cortazar, sitting in the Proust family furniture.

Occasionally visible when the weather clears.

Their lamentations through a loudspeaker:

–Our passports were stolen in Panama.

Il n’y a plus de brie!

Down below, a thousand feet below, on the Rue de Rennes, the black Oedipus performance.

Lévi-Strauss and Collomb riding by.

Les negres displaying their penises, their feet, their wet sheets, their mattresses.

Freud, Sartre, Lacan, Cortazar high above, singing:

–Oedipus Rex, Oedipus, Oedipus Rex.

–Supplemental allowance for the tropics.

–Alliance Française.




–Private plane.

–The phallus of the grandmother is the penis of auntie.

–Self-evident: the death drive.

–Supplemental stipend for experiments. –Reimbursement for expenses.

Les negres shitting the bed, wrapping themselves in their wet sheets by the thousands, the cables taken from the houses on the Rue de Rennes. Electroshock on the sidewalk: les negres lifting their legs, the cables twitching around their heads, calming down, sleeping, sleeping. Herodotus asking Sophocles:

–Is Laius coming?

–Where is Laius?

–What’s going on with the father, Jäcki thought.

Yobi came and took Frank away from Jäcki’s deck-chair, back to the boat launch.


Irma went into town with Jäcki.

She wanted to take pictures by herself while he was visiting the painter Benjamin Nicholas.

As they were walking by the Christ in the Bordeaux-red cloak they ran into Antonio.

–I’m running into him. Irma doesn’t know he exists.

Antonio wore a tight Sunday suit.

It’s either his day off or the unemployed here get dressed up, to save face and make a good impression for potential employers.

It never would have occurred to Jäcki to say hello to the Ibero-American Antonio among his Afro-Caribbean friends.

–You get used to being a leper. Nettles, mice, and never a sign of acknowledgment.

Antonio nodded to Jäcki.

–Honduras, Jäcki thought. Grandezza. Or because I still haven’t given him the movie money.

Jäcki nodded to Antonio.

Irma didn’t ask about the handsome overdressed man who had looked over at them.

–Of course. Because I still haven’t given him the movie money. He can still afford to acknowledge me as an affair. A Honduran will acknowledge an affair.

Jäcki would have loved to share this ethnological insight with Irma.

–She’d rather take her pictures without being bothered. Two equally severe faux pas when you live together: being honest and keeping secrets.

He thought Irma would be less injured by the secret than the insight/report.

–Is the report injurious?

–Then why am I making it??


A boy led Jäcki up the front steps.

Mrs. Nicholas greeted him effusively, standing next by her cookware, the painter standing, brush in hand.

Jäcki unable to find a justification for his delayed return to see Benjamin Nicholas.

–I need to resolve the situation through ritual.

He had to talk his way out of it.

He had to offer a lengthy monologue to overcome the rudeness of the previous day.

The painter and his family suffocating him with hospitality.

Everyone in the room offering noisy assurances that canceled each other out.

A short silence followed.

–You’ve come here to study the dugu, Benjamin Nicholas said, and without prompting launched into a lengthy lecture.

As if under duress.

Stiffly, as if reciting Schiller’s “Lied von der Glocke” in school.

Jäcki looked at Benjamin Nicholas’ elegant hands.

All of a sudden the recitation from the invisible script ceased; the painter smiled to himself for a moment.

Jäcki saw that his front teeth were missing.

–Does he drink?

–They carry the sick into the temple in hammocks tied to poles with rope.

–The buyei, in a trance!

–They find out what spirit possesses the sick person.

–Of course, Jäcki thought. –Like the N’Doep among the Serer in Senegal.

–So Frank was lying!

–Maybe the ousted priest doesn’t know any better.


–Frank lied.

–Naming is healing.

–What did Frank name?

–Did he pour some herbal poison in his mother’s tea?

–Did Frank’s father violate the son of a house-guest?

–Did he stuff them like storks?

–Did he bury them in the swamp wrapped in sacred leaves?

–Was Frank actually an evil priest who had to be replaced by the woman with the snake eye?

–Maybe Frank didn’t invite me because they were going to disinter the dead woman at the nocturnal wake.

Benjamin Nicholas resumed:

–The spirit will show you itself which cure is necessary for the sick. The spirit takes the buyei out into the woods and shows her the herbs.

–Fish, lobster, sea turtles, they all jump into the boats of the fishermen from the temple.

–The gods of the sea give that which should be cooked by the community.

–My grandmother called it “heaven and earth,” Jäcki thought: –Bacon gravy, applesauce, mashed potatoes. What was heaven? What was earth? A crater in the middle of the mashed potatoes for the bacon gravy and apple sauce all around, like the ocean. Heaven? Pommes de terre, pommes de paradis.

–No one chooses to become a buyei, Benjamin Nicholas said.

–People avoid it.

–The spirits show you that you could die if you refuse.

–They fall off wagons, they break all their bones, but they do not die.

–And so on.

–I already know who the next buyei will be. It’s the brother of the current one. He hasn’t heeded the call yet. He travels around a lot. Flies to New York.

–It used to be that the priests lived off by themselves, in rags.

–They still do, outside Dangriga.

–The passed over, the powerless.

The pleasure of discovery washed over Jäcki. The certainty that he could get the painter to introduce him to some old prophet who’d lost his power to kill lions and make rain, only living off his curses.

Jäcki about to touch the golden bough it took Frazer twelve volumes to get write his way toward!

–If I can show some patience Nicholas will take me into his confidence. He knows the genealogies of both the shamans and the charlatans.

–He’s more intellectual than any Mauss or Strauss.

–He drank away his front teeth.

–He’s no initiate.

–He can talk about it.

–He must know all about the magic potions: people drink them and let him paint their portrait.

–When the buyei sits for him she tells him sub rosa all the secrets of the temple kitchen.

–He paints every afternoon.

–Painters love to talk while they’re working.

–Serge never shut up, the brush in hand. Serge could talk all day long.

–Michael glazing while talking on the phone, four hours at a stretch.

–Yesterday I did everything I could to avoid him.

–Right now the buyei is a woman, Benjamin Nicholas said.

–The first woman buyei in Dangriga.

–There have been female shamans in other Black Carib towns.

–Shamans, Jäcki thought. Schneider must have given him a paperback copy of Mircea Eliade.

–She lives like no other buyei before her.

–She has a beautiful house.

–She has a husband.

–She’s flying around constantly.

–All the way to New York, even.

–As long as she doesn’t crash, Jäcki thought.

–The spirits don’t mind her. They’re adjusting to the modern world.

–The buyei is strong.

–She can heal.

–She never fails. Even though she’s had the change, I should say.

–There are other sorcerers, obeah men. But where they live is secret.

–They get rid of enemies and watch over the planting.

–You have to know them before you can find them and hire them.

–And there are a lot of old men who claim to be genuine buyeis.

–They do not recognize the woman.

–But when the old men try to heal someone they can’t do it.

Benjamin Nicholas was done with his speech.

–Does he deliver it to every buyer?

His wife standing in front of her cookware the entire time.

Nicholas turned toward the paintings.

A girl came in from outside.

–Now they’ll expect me to buy a painting, and they’ll resent me forever for having bought a painting.

Jäcki launched into his own lengthy speech, one he knew would be incomprehensible to Benjamin Nicholas, his wife, and his little girl.

He was unsure why he was doing it:

–Mister Nicholas, I’m not wealthy. I earn relatively good money, but it all goes to my research.

–Movie money, Jäcki thought.

The Nicholas family nodding amiably at him.

–You can imagine the costs.

–Oh yes, I can imagine, the painter said.

–I don’t collect paintings, Jäcki said. –But I would like to purchase one of your paintings and would like to know whether you have any for sale at the moment.

–At the moment I am selling, Benjamin Nicholas said, as he began holding up some canvases.

–A painting for you would mean something different than a painting sold to some tourist from Sunshine Tours, Nicholas said, glancing down.

–What do you charge Sunshine Tours? Jäcki asked, thinking:

–Three hundred Belize dollars for the big ones, one hundred for the medium-sized ones, and fifty for the small ones.

–Three hundred dollars for the big ones, two hundred for the medium-sized ones, and one hundred for the small ones. I’ll give you half off on everything.

–You don’t have to do that. I’d like a medium-sized one.


–I’m only interested in one: the battered self-portrait.

Hovering above all the tourist pictures like the sun, the first painting.

–Brooded over for years.

–The life behind that face.

–Labored over for months, after eight hours working as a street-cleaner, with homemade brushes.

–Applying the scars on his face to canvas once again.

–Those elegant, cocoa-colored fingers.

–Shirt of Naples yellow.

–Sky out of Fra Angelico.

The young Benjamin Nicholas looking down at the aging Benjamin Nicholas with enmity, at all the paintings available for purchase and their purchasers.

Jäcki knew the painter would invoke two excuses:

–Look, it’s a mess, one corner is missing. Scotch-taped. I wipe my brushes on it. It’s been hanging up in the rafters for years.

Jäcki would answer:

–It reminds me of the early work of a painter from the Piemonte whom I knew well. Moreover, I have never seen a painted object that so clearly marks the passage of time. All the flaws, the streaks, the holes….

–I’ve gotten used to it. It’s no good. I’ve gotten used to it. It hangs on a nail and looks down at me.  It’s the only one of my early paintings I have left. I wouldn’t like to part with it.

Benjamin Nicholas made neither demurral.

He took the self-portrait down from the rafters and handed it to Jäcki.

So as not to slight the painter’s current output, Jäcki chose a second painting, a mother and child.  The inscription: Black Carib babies need a mother’s love and mother’s milk.

Nicholas seemed uncomfortable. He rolled up the red-green painting quickly.

–Is he finally freed from his youthful overseer?

–Will he finally be able to slack off with his rheumatism and a mid-life crisis?

–Or is the imperative too great?

–I can repair it and clean it for you, Nicholas said. –I painted it six years ago.

–Just six years?

Jäcki standing with his package.

–I don’t have enough money with me. I can pay you twenty dollars now. I can pay you the rest tomorrow when I pick up the paintings.

–I trust you, the painter said. –I can’t live any other way.

–I’ll come tomorrow at the same time.

–Yes, that’s good. Or maybe even first thing tomorrow morning? Tomorrow is market day in Dangriga.

Jäcki thought it impolite simply to turn around, paintings under his arm, adieu, and out the door.

But he felt it was expected of him, that it would be seen as impolite to coax the painter into discussing matters of the spirit.

Out of tact, Jäcki chose to violate his own standard of politesse.

Benjamin Nicholas accompanying him across the eight feet of his atelier.

His children standing at the top of the steps.

–Three younger and two older, the painter said.

–The three bigger ones go to high school. It’s a lot of money for the three, I mean, the two of them.  The problem is how to get them something to eat every day.

Jäcki saw the young man, the man from six years before, in Benjamin Nicholas’ face, lit by the sun.  Puffy bags under the eyes–illness or some secret vice.

Jäcki feigned simple-minded disingenuousness as he said goodbye to the Nicholas family once more.

He didn’t want to add pity to the painter’s afflictions.



Hubert Fichte

Self-identified as half-Jewish, illegitimate, and bisexual, the German writer Hubert Fichte (1935-1986) lived in Hamburg for most of his life. After spending part of the war in a Catholic orphanage, he later worked as a child actor on the Hamburg stage, an apprentice agronomist, a shepherd in Provence, and a counselor at a home for juvenile delinquents in Sweden. He turned to writing full time in his late twenties. His first novel, Das Waisenhaus (1965) (translated as The Orphanage by Martin Chalmers), was a critical success; his second, Die Palette (1968) was a succès de scandale and a bestseller. While continuing to publish novels, plays, essays, and journalism, Fichte spent the remainder of his life exploring syncretic religious practices among peoples of African descent in the New World (e.g., santería, voudun, candomblé, etc.). This “poetic ethnography,” as he called it, resulted in more than a half dozen volumes (none translated into English): Xango, Petersilie, Lazarus und die Waschmaschine, Explosion, Das Haus der Mina in São Luiz de Maranhão, and the novel from which this excerpt is taken, Forschungsbericht, which is also one of the high points of his posthumously published projected nineteen-volume roman-fleuve, Die Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit (A History of Sensitivity).

Adam Siegel

Adam Siegel is Languages and Linguistics Librarian at the University of California, Davis. His translations from the German, Russian, Czech, and Polish have appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Context, InTranslation, and elsewhere.

Forschungsbericht. Copyright (c) S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 1989. English translation copyright (c) Adam Siegel, 2013.