Excerpt from The Research Report (Part 7 in a series)

Chapter 7

Sunday, February 10th, 1980


Antonio stood by the gray wooden shack.

Jäcki was struck by the face of the young man from Honduras.

The light brown eyes sparkling in the sun.

The lush mouth.

Perfect lips, sharply distinct from his skin. The flawless skin lightly dusted with peach fuzz, the red cracked lips precisely outlined.

Antonio awkwardly accepted the movie money and walked back toward Dangriga in his black and white Sunday shoes.


The painter Benjamin Nicholas wasn’t home.

–He’s visiting a friend, his wife said.  –If you go back to your hotel along the beach, you might run into him by the soccer field. No, don’t worry. I’ll send the boy to get him.

–Oh, that’s not necessary.

–Oh, please, it’s all right.

So the boy had to go.

–I should just come tomorrow at the same time.

–Oh, yes, why don’t you do that. He’ll be glad. He’s always here. He’s just visiting his friend today. He can’t paint right now. He ran out of oils. He went to get some oils. Usually he’s painting in the afternoon.

Jäcki left.

The boy who was supposed to fetch his father was standing behind the door.

He’d been eavesdropping on the conversation between his mother and the visitor.

Halfway down the steps Jäcki looked back up at Mrs. Nicholas.

The varicose veins on her calves revealed to him.

He looked at them for a while.

He didn’t care what the son and the mother might think, the foreigner looking up the Black Carib’s skirt.

Varicose veins on varicose veins.

Unrecognizable as veins anymore.


–Like coconut cake.

Needle-shaped blood vessels stood out on Mrs. Nicholas’ calves.

–Blood crystals.

Jäcki thought of Dali’s watch. He realized it didn’t quite work. But he couldn’t change it. He kept thinking of it.


Jäcki walked back slowly, to keep from breaking into a sweat again.

He’d hoped he might cool off during his lengthy interview with the painter. Now he had to walk back, soaked from the journey, beneath the cloudless sky.

Jäcki passed by another private physician’s shingle.

–So Doctor Andersson’s information was inaccurate.  There is another doctor who doesn’t have a practice at the clinic.

Jäcki considered dropping in on Frank.

He knew the way now.

–No. He’s resting up after the wake.

–Maybe he’s busy choosing his deputy.

At the river he paused.

He could hear music, here, next to the boats, not tinny like from a tape player.

Guitars, rattles.

He crouched down, peering through the stilts beneath the houses.

He could make out some fat black men dancing the Bunda.

Bunda: a Portuguese word. Also found in Haitian Creole. It came to the Black Caribs of Saint Vincent with the revolution.

The fat men weren’t circumspectly shaking their asses, the way Africans did after a celebration, when the women were gone.

The fat men were poking and yelling at each other.

For a moment, Jäcki thought that they were women, wearing pants.

The Bunda dancers had noticed his loitering and spying.

Jäcki stopped to wipe his forehead and air out his shirt, feigning tourist sweat and tourist curiosity.

The rattling tapered off.

The guitars got muffled.

Jäcki quickly moved on.

–Of course!

–In the corners underneath the houses.

–On lifeless Sunday afternoons.

–Schneider didn’t exaggerate.

Behind Jäcki the noise and the cackling started up again.


The fat black men gave Greek lessons a special appeal for Jäcki that day.

Kaegi’s bald word-lists, over which Irma’s grandfather and Dulu’s grandfather and all the other sedulous apes had cursed Herodotus.

Jäcki’s grandmother, a serving-girl to a family in Glogau, had learned “Die Glocke” by heart.

In bed Irma said:

–The fishermen will land tomorrow morning. I’ll get my best photos then.



Chapter 8

Monday, February 11th, 1980





Duck plague.


A sunken city.


Oil pollution.

Spearfishing. Snorkeling. Scuba.


A pufferfish.

It was raining.

–Fields of sewage.

I’m standing in the rain waiting for you!



Jäcki reached for the alarm clock.


The citronella candles had gone out.

Jäcki could the mosquitos in his hair.

–Beads of sweat.

–It’s raining, Irma said.

–The deluge. Pelican Beach Hotel aswim with the three dogs, the bartender, the waitresses, Yobi, Frank, Mister Borggrave, the magpie, and of course the man from Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

–The sacred fishermen make landfall and come down with rheumatism.

–From rheo, “to flow.”

–We can just turn over and go back to sleep.

Jäcki fell asleep in palaces of spume.

The lobsters poured out of the buckets, sinking to the bottom of the sea, defenseless, their claws bound.

The sea turtles falling overboard.

To drown.

The believers had tied their flippers to their shells.

Jäcki came to again.

He picked up the alarm clock.


Still dark.

The rain still falling.

–The procession washed out.

–Now the child sacrifice.

–No child sacrifice.

–Nothing hidden, nothing concealed.

–That’s the cuisine of the forest people.

–I’ll skip the cuisine of the forest people.

–The last antediluvian remains.

A hanging mist.

Iron rods.

Keels, and the corpses of oil-covered seabirds.

It started getting light at seven.

Irma and Jäcki went to breakfast early.

Served by the waitresses as though being forgiven some fresh faux pas.

The rain stopped at ten.

Jäcki went to Frank’s workshop.

Frank ignored him.

–He’s holding it against me for coming uninvited to his wake.

A Spanish-looking man stood next to Frank.

Jäcki understood.

This was Mister Borggrave. The boss.

–Let Frank hover in the air ten times then.

It’s time to work now.

Jäcki turned to go back to the tourist zone.

Frank ran up behind him, begging pardon:

–I’m going out to the reefs today.

–For the buyei?

–No, for the owner.

–When are you coming back?

–Saturday, Frank said with a questioning intonation.

–We won’t see each other before I leave.

–Your stay’s over?


Mister Borggrave rounded the corner.

Frank ran past him back to the landing.

–So that’s out. No essay on his flight. The black mother who hurled him onto the ladder. The black father. Next stop: San Pedro Claver. Seventeenth century. Jesuits. After the Jesuits, the socialist literacy campaign of the slave-dealing Jesuits of Cartagena de Indias. 300,000 Indians baptized. The saint who liberated an entire race. Our entire trip courtesy of the magazine. Quit whining. A grand tour on the brink of World War Three. Occupation: Reporter: I have to call the travel agency.

Mister Borggrave left the landing.

Frank turned back to Jäcki:

–It’s for the guests. Fishing. Two American Methodists.

–Or we might not even go out. We’ll only go out if it clears up.

–Do you think it’s going to clear up?

–Soon. So on Wednesday I’ll row back here right away so we can talk.

–We are talking, Jäcki said.

Mister Borggrave left two oars on the landing and went back into the hotel.

It started raining again.

Frank kept working on the tourist boat.

Jacki stood under the porch roof of the shed and watched Frank readying everything for departure.

–I have to go out.

–I have to quiz him.

–It’s my last chance.

–He’s not going to row back on Wednesday.

–Now’s my chance to study how complexes arise, how myths originate, consciousness, the material, none of that psychoanalytic drivel.

–What did his mother do to make him so afraid of her, to make him lay the blame for his accident at her feet. At her feet! That’s a good one.

–Frank the unwanted, the hated bastard whose feet were broken and twisted, left to grow deformed so that at least he might beg with them.

–Does anyone recall those horrible first hours? Would Frank even be able to talk about them?

The rain stopped again.

Mister Borggrave and Yobi had set out the supplies: the outfits, the clothing, the floppy headless rubber skin, the black flippers.

–Diving tanks!

Jäcki couldn’t take much more.

He got to the landing just as Frank and Yobi were casting off with two gum-chewing Methodists.

–I’ll be back tonight, Yobi called.

They paddled back to the landing again.

Frank climbed out: one of the lines had gotten tangled in the screw.

Alain Delon’s murder. The yacht dragging the rival’s corpse into drydock at Nice.

–The two of them want to go diving, Frank said.

–Are you diving too?

–No. I can’t. I started learning. Then the thing with my mother. And my feet were no good. I had to give up scuba diving. My father… I’ll explain it all to you on Wednesday.

Jäcki knew he shouldn’t have let Frank go.

He should have attacked him, pulled him away, dragged him from the landing, clawing at him, down, down, to Nanã Bouloukou and her snails, pieces of corpses, plastic, sea snakes.

The Methodists cast off again.

The motor stalled.

They paddled back.

It went like that for a long time. Fixing. Paddling. Filling the tank.

Irma called Jäcki to take a walk to the buyei‘s barn.


The short black women were cleaning up the sacrificial remains in the temple.

–We missed the sacrifice. I’m not going to be able to write an essay on the dugu ritual. Frank’s feet by themselves wouldn’t even make for one lecture.

–My procession got rained out. My series isn’t complete, Irma said.

–Our research in ruins.

Jäcki took it in convulsively:

–They’re dancing a sort of contradance. English influence. Grenada.

–The colorful costumes of the slaves.

–Chocolate and egg yolk.

–The buyei hitting the ground with her rattles. Not a common gesture.

–I’ve never seen that!

The old women holding flasks of strong rum in their hands. Full. Half-full. Quarter-full.

–That’s how they pay for it. They can gauge their assets in their hands.

The women went into the altar room and came back without the flasks.

The buyei waved at Irma and Jäcki.

A hundred bottles of rum, stoppered with wadding, standing on a pile of dirt.

–The hills of Eshu.



–Eshu. Mercury. Hermes. The messenger. God of the crossroads. God of thieves and pimps. Psychopomp.

–I found out that Eshu guides the dead too. In Miami.

–The Eshu of emigrés ferries the souls of the dead out across the garbage dumps.

–That was how I proved Hermes is actually Eshu, Elegba.

–Pierre Verger was never able to prove it. Not Lydia Cabrera. Forget Schneider.

There was a lobster lying on a drum.

On the left a sort of tent had been made out of bed sheets and nylon gauze.

–Where the sick woman is sleeping.

The buyei wanted Irma’s book.

She looked approvingly at Irma’s work with her good eye, her snake eye cursing the photos as she flipped through them.

–We do that too, the blood bath, she said.

–I knew it! Jäcki thought.

–But different. We rip out the guts of a live chicken and put them on the sick spot. It heals when it’s warm.

–Like a hat? Jäcki asked–he wanted to find out whether the blood bath was used for treating the mentally ill.

–Yes. We cut open the guts and put them on the head of the sick person.

–Freddy, on the Orinoco. A new religion in Venezuela. Is it an Indian method? I’ve neglected the Indians. Too much concentration on Africa! So exasperating. I saw Freddy do it on the Orinoco, and this buyei in Dangriga describes the same ritual for me. Schneider doesn’t know it, and I’m ruined.

–Saturdays they bring the chickens to the temple.

–Next Saturday? Jäcki asked, wondering whether they should have stayed until Saturday.

–Last Saturday.

–Last Saturday the old women refused to let me in.

The buyei washed the hands of two boys and drew crosses on their foreheads, necks, and at the pulse of their wrists in chalk.


–The Congo temple.


–Pedro de Batefolha.

–Protection against the dead.

–I would like to show your book to my daughters, the buyei said, and took it with her into the temple room.

Jäcki and Irma remained seated, next to the tent of the afflicted.

They stared at the wadding.

Jäcki stood and stretched his arms and yawned.

Through a hole in the curtain he spied on the sanctum sanctorum into the assembly room, like a small boy from the Hamburger Kammerspiel stage looking down at the audience.

–You should see how taken the Black Caribs are with your book. They’re all pressed together watching the old witch flip through it. A writer would never know such success. I’ve always hoped that Africans might read me with such enthusiasm.

–Photos have value in Dangriga–there are hardly any newspapers, and I’ve only seen a few television antennas, Irma said.

–That never occurred to me. I knew that your blood bath photo would change everything.

In the middle of the book, the sitting man looking skinned alive, opening temples to them on the Orinoco and in Dahomey.

Racing through ghastly early-morning Bahia in vain, heading north, to fried snakes and armadillos, where Irma had used the flash, coagulated blood, her lens spattered with blood.

Jäcki could see that the next ten years would depend on that.

Her research would change.

–This photo will make it all possible.

The buyei came back.

–We all enjoyed looking at your book, she said. And:

–And now maybe some wine from Saint Vincent?

The little old woman brought over a plastic bucket full of glistening liquid.

The buyei rinsed out three calabashes, filled two with some water from the bucket, tasted, added some yellow dust from a cement sack, mixed, tasted, put the peelings back on the tray, offered them to Irma and Jäcki, and drank from the third calabash.

The buyei watched Jäcki to see if he actually swallowed.

She didn’t offer her hand when they left.

–Tomorrow morning we’ll be putting out the offerings, she called after them.

–You’ll come, right?

Jäcki quickly walked back outside through the open temple kitchen.

Beyond the lathing and the pots lay something swollen, white against a counter.

–The child.

He went back and pushed through the angry cooks.

A white, steaming belly. Shaved.

Terminating in a pointed tail.

–Tapir, maybe?

–Or maybe roast Methodist?


The painter wasn’t back yet.

–Nothing’s going right.

Jäcki knew that there would be a second phase when things would loosen up–in a month, maybe.

After three months, a relapse into torpor.

Once more everything seemed imprecise.

–Most likely the research doesn’t end until your life’s over, and then you have no time to write it all down.

–Two days or ten years–it’s all the same.

–Testanière wanted to make a trip around the world, staying only for two days everywhere he went, the shepherd.

–You do that, you only get to know the hustlers and the tourist voodoo.

–Just how it is.

–An age changes everything, Herodotus said.

–No. We’re leaving Thursday.


–Who rules the kingdom of the air?

–Who bears us below to sea-rams in their flooded vaults?

–The woman who poisons children can fly?

–The black father gulping and glugging, legs encrusted with emeralds, fingers of coral, along with San Pedro Claver, along with Claver’s mother, along with Hitchcock’s mummified mother, along with Alain Delon’s bound and decayed rival.

–Does the mother dive deep into the darkness, in search of advice on how to cut the fetters of her unwanted infant?

–Does Poseidon race to the surface to claw at those who come unbidden, yanking at their oxygen lines to drown them?

–Do they take turns?

–Wings and fins, gills and lungs?

–Marlene Dietrich and Jean Cocteau.

–That’s a novel. That’s not a research report.

–Frank’s feet wouldn’t make for a lecture?

Jäcki could picture a child’s shoebox theater: the feet of Dangriga filling the stage.

In a village closed in on itself by the forest primeval and Mayan ruins a priestess seizes power over the shaman who can soar to the mountains, the clouds, the gods.

The pre-ordained priest from a rival family stripped of his power.

He tries to dive down to the watery realm of sea turtles and lobsters. Before he can do it he ventures onto the roof of the Pelican Beach Hotel.

And his late mother’s familiars surface, gasping for air with their air bladders, flying on duck feet and fins, seizing the traitor and smashing his heels, that he might no longer dive, that he might no longer venture flight, that he might only crawl.

Jäcki refused to ponder his father and what really happened.

Damp June night. Hawthorn and elder.

His father’s sharp teeth.

The furrow where he lay during fieldwork on the anthroposophical farm.

The chest.

The smooth white flesh.

The twin round cheeks.

Never to be probed.

No one wanted to remember.

The father who took flight, whose bite, tiny rodent teeth, bleached in barbed wire.

–A novel entitled Seabird, Seafish.

— Syntheses! So nineteenth century. The Tempest. Freud. Joyce. Döblin. I’ve always written against all that!

— The schools of Dakar! The phallus of the grandmother and the penis of auntie.

— Sheer colonialism!


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.