Excerpt from The Research Report (Part 8, the final in a series)

Chapter 9

Tuesday, February 12th, 1980


The old women had quartered the sacrificial pig.

The assistant had hung the pieces in the four corners of the temple.

No one invited Irma and Jäcki to sit down.

–I’ll ask them, Jäcki said, whether they want us to be here.

–I’ll call you, the buyei said.  –I’ll call you.

Outside, behind the lathing, the stoves, the pots, they’d begun cooking.

–Two hundred people in all.

–Old women mostly.

–The few men are drunk.

–So many hydrocephalics.

–Where does all this hydrocephaly come from?

–I didn’t see one hydrocephalic on the streets of Dangriga.

–In Dahomey they’re holy.

–Do they treat them like household gods here, do they keep them in some back room and only bring them out on festival days?

A tall Black Carib woman carrying banana leaves into the temple.

So many leaves on her head covering her hands and shoulders, she looked like some sort of undulating bush.

Irma raised her camera.

The Black Carib woman with the leaves turned away slightly.

Irma didn’t notice.

Jäcki saw it right away.

He understood the believer.

He understood Irma.

He tried to gesture at the woman, signal to her, put her at ease, make Irma’s job easier.

The woman was not to be deterred.

Agitated, she darted through the curtain and disappeared inside the altar room.

Jäcki ran after her.

He pushed aside the curtain to the altar.

The buyei appeared.

Jäcki saw something that made up for everything: the fevers, the arguments with his editors, the humiliations, the lies, the assaults, the missed procession, Frank’s departure.

–Irma, come quick.

–What’s going on?

–Get your flash.

–Flash photos!

–The small wide-angle.

–You don’t know what you’re talking about.

–I do.

–What if I’m not allowed?

–They’re just waiting for you.

–No! the buyei yelled, and it looked like her good eye was going to pop out:  –There’s nothing going on. It’s empty. Wait until it’s finished.

–It’s good like this. It can’t get any better.

–You don’t understand.

Irma, who had begun to understand, said:  –This is really good. She screwed the filter on.

She lifted up Jäcki’s arm, the one holding the other electronic flash.

The buyei watched them working, her mouth open.

–Do you have both of them on?

–No, just the one.

–Both, please, both. With the altar in back. Leonardo would love it.

–I’ll use the two of them for you later. I swear, in Hamburg you can’t even see the Dia. Leave me alone!

The old women had covered two tables in front of the altar with banana leaves.

At least a hundred pieces of white cassava bread spread out atop the banana leaves.

–Slices of communion.

–I can’t explain. The fresh banana leaves shimmering into the violet, the dusty white of the cassava bread against them. This is the peak, it’s the best thing since the beak-faced, beak-breasted goddesses at Çatal Hüyük.

–A labyrinth of procedures: leaves and baked goods.

–A map for the initiation.

–The path the soul takes on its way up to Father Bird and Mother Shellfish.

–Up to Mother Bird, down to Father Shellfish.

–Picture the chalky piece of beak hacked from the loamy breast.

–Picture Lil Picard’s white altar, her crepuscular punk aesthetic, how she plays with her husband’s white knuckle bones in New York, eighty years old.

–The scarred green tables, the buyei looking on with that cracked eye.

–The eye of Oedipus.

–Now I’m laying it on like a lecture at the Ècole de Paris, Jäcki thought.

Irma exhausted.

The buyei said:

–When it’s finished I’ll call you.

Drunken Black Carib men dragging large pots into the barn space with ropes.

The women laying out the tin plates in front of them.

–Like my grandmother after the war, getting broth from Remmel the butcher.

–We spoon the fat off the chicken broth so carefully nowadays. They used to fight over it.

–Back when the schmaltz was uncontaminated by mercury and DDT.

Yams were sliced, then fish, lobster, meat, rice.

The short woman waved over at Irma.

–Aren’t you going to come?

–Now it’s going to be a complete bore.

Jäcki saw a flash in the altar room.

Irma came back.

–Hey, something amazing happened.

–What was it?

–I didn’t even recognize the buyei. She was wearing sunglasses, she had a kerchief around her head. I went up to her and said, Could you please ask the buyei if I could take her portrait? She took off her sunglasses off so I could see her snake eye and laughed and laughed.

–That was probably the point. Buyei tricks. Disappearing. Doubles. In London there are African priests who are members of the magician’s union. Is it nice in there?

–Take a look. I don’t know what you think is nice.

On the banana leaves, on the white pieces of cassava bread, plates full of food.

Porcelain, tin, dish after dish, tin, porcelain. Hors d’oeuvres for ravenous giant omnivores.

–Those short women aren’t eating, Jäcki said.

–Yes they are. Watch closely. Always little bites. Sub rosa. Secretive. They’re not supposed to be seen. Stealing the offerings. Like in Haiti.

–Schneider didn’t say anything about that.

There was some singing–a litany–and then the Caribs lay down in their hammocks.

–They didn’t offer us anything to eat. That’s never happened before.

–But they ate.

–In Africa no one leaves the temple without eating the meal. Even the Cubans in Miami offered us their feast.

Jäcki asked one of the drunken men for the time.

The black man looked at his watch, looked reproachfully at the watchless white man, and said:

–Half past one.

–We can still grab a sandwich from the bartender if we hurry.

–I think we should just make an English goodbye and not come back, Irma said.

–They’re just waiting around for us to go finally so they can bury the offerings in a secret place to batten their jealous gods, like Schneider says, heal the afflicted–that is, if they gave Schneider better information than they’ve been giving us.



Jäcki was sitting in the mangrove hideout.

The white slices on the banana leaves struck him as pathetic.

For the very first time, an unsuccessful recherche.

He should have been able to collect, identify, and determine the use of the Indian sacred plants, just as he’d been able to do in Bahia and among the Yoruba.

Piecing together the initiation sickness, the madness of the priests, the signs and the cures. He’d done it in Haiti and Togo.

The herbs in the offering meal.


Less than Schneider before him.

Irma hadn’t done much better.

Jäcki hadn’t been able to help her.

No running beneath waterfalls, no chicken headdress, no village-wide gender role reversal.

His failure bothered him greatly.

Not the financial losses.

He didn’t organize these research trips to make money. That he was able to earn money from them was only a distasteful afterthought.

–My debts are big enough that a few more don’t frighten me.

Jäcki was nearing the end of a long journey, one he had begun, together with Irma, as an aspiring author-cum-apprentice agronomist.

He could no longer take comfort in it:

–If not the dugu in Dangriga, then the shango on Trinidad.

The shango on Trinidad was behind him.

He felt crippled.

Raised up and cast down.

This was the end for him, the end of the entire research project.

Jäcki shook.

–I’m so done, I’m never going to be able to win over the trust of the underworld.

What had tripped him up?


The Shah?

–Twenty years ago I pointed out the torture and avarice of the Peacock Throne hustler, and here’s this cancerous old pensioner sitting in the lobby waiting for General Torrijos to let him out.

–The écrivain engagé, our colleague, offered whiskey, police, and a private jet by General Torrijos, accepting the whiskey and a commando squad.

–The literacy campaign of the revolution?

–The literacy campaign of the Jesuits?

–The lies?

–The paramilitaries in the revolutionary Ministry of Culture, the mansion of the deposed dictator?

–The enfant terrible filmmakers, the jetset from every European capital, and Señor el Minister above.

–The young scions of the Peruvian upper classes playing Peruvian peasants below.

Playing Peruvian peasants the same way Jäcki had seen the young scions of the Scheyern upper classes playing Bavarian peasants, Herr Obersturmbannführer and Herr Gauleiter leaning over the Rathaus balcony.

–That’s how the young scions of the upper classes played peasants for the deposed dictator Somoza in the same mansion, and Bianca leaning over the balcony with her uncle.

–That’s how the young scions of the Augsburg upper classes staged peasants, misery, just as like today, there on the other side, Monsieur Pierre Pierre.

Peasants as crippled imbeciles with severe behavioral problems, movements like victim of traffic accidents, lovable morons out of Martin Luserke, Jäcki flirting with the young scions of the upper classes across the stage at the conservatory–now here in Nicaragua with the pseudo-questions posed for sake of the public, the pseudo-answers from gray-haired enfant terrible filmmakers from the balcony.

–This is the end?

–This is what I’ve worked for?

–For the pseudo-mowers, pseudo-scoopers, pseudo-discussions, pseudo-literates?

–Am I infected with some sort of leprosy? Is there something that stains my face so that peasants of Dangriga flee before me?

Jäcki didn’t want to be seen by anyone here, not by Irma, not by yobi, not by Antonio.

–Why am I leaving Frank out?

–Frank isn’t coming.

–He can’t leave the Methodists.

–Benjamin Nicholas went out drinking.

–Tapped out, Jäcki thought.

–I’m not tapped out.

–I’m too full.

–This isn’t a research report. Frank and his flying and diving. I won’t be able to build a lecture around this. That life is ending. Behavior. Rites. History. Panama. The stolen passport. Patria libre. The feet of the Black Caribs. Our failure. Too much. All too much.



Jäcki went back to the hotel room.

He turned on the ceiling fan.

He gathered up his index cards and tied them up with string.

He took some A4 paper and a brown folder from his suitcase.

–The difference between science and literature is the difference between index cards and A4 paper. For Herodotus there was no difference.

–I’m writing a novel, Jäcki told Irma.

–I’ve done Henry James a disservice. If literature is nothing more than the opposite of the research report, The Tempest or Le bateau ivre, then James is the modern writer.

–What do you mean by that.

–Total metaphor.

–Clear enough.

Jäcki didn’t notice that Irma was making fun of him.

–Americans don’t get Henry James: they made a movie of Washington Square and called it The Heiress.

–But that’s what it is. It’s a tragic love story about a girl who is disinherited.

–I see that you’re leading me around by the nose. Of course that’s what the novel’s about, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s the first sociological depiction of a society through the lens of the society itself. I think in Berlin it’s called the critical gesture. In The Turn of the Screw James gives it one more turn. A ghost story called “The Turn of the Screw.” Depicting a young woman afflicted by apparitions. Or are they apparitions?

Is it really about a mentally ill girl who torments her charges, who tortures one of them to death? One of the first depictions of paranoia, long before Freud. Dulu can’t see it. I find that incomprehensible. She thinks it’s kitsch for teenage girls.

–Because that’s the context in which she read James’ novels.

–But the one has nothing to do with the other. The Heiress is a section of New York. The ghost story is the psychology of the ghost story. And James has mastered his medium so thoroughly that he can conflate the two. The tale itself is the title. The torment is in the telling. It even recalls your Agatha Christie.

–My Agatha Christie? Yours?

–But I don’t want that. I don’t want it, because I don’t have the facility. Nor do I want what Jean Genet wanted: to pound down a stone until it looks like a stone again. To make the stone stony!

–But that’s not art.

–Of course it is. It is art. I want the opposite. You know, like when we met, and I was writing short stories set in Sweden. A man delivering a mental patient to a locked ward. I wanted to describe our trip to Autun the same way. I couldn’t do it. To experience a process in the natural world that only needs to be extracted, and that’s art.

–We can do that. We’ve been living a novel for the past week.

–I think that’s all behind us. I had wanted to describe the whole research project for my Bremen lectures. Everything. From the bribes to the falsified interviews. For that you only need a short research trip, otherwise you could spend the rest of your life on it and still not be able to fully describe your research.

Jäcki went on explaining this to Irma.

He had let her down.

She had determined that the stone, which as art could be called nothing more than a stone, was not art. He himself couldn’t even prove that he had a research report, and he would treat it as a brief and unsuccessful piece of research that he would make into a novel.


–The chance that Irma and I might recast a research report as a novel?


–Did Empedocles just stumble across it or did he sketch it all out in advance?

–Dulu’s verse on graph paper? Of course that’s a falsification!

–Does it bother you that you’re going to appear in this? Jäcki asked.

–Not at all.

–As long as it doesn’t dissolve by tomorrow morning, like a dream.

–Did you see the maid today?

–No. I don’t want to see her anymore. Picture it: she’ll just tell me about some potion that alters consciousness, some other potion that counteracts trances, and bring me some herbs. I’ll just end up standing around with a fistful of weeds.

–I ran into her today. She didn’t look good. Her eyes looked dull. Nothing like a magpie’s eyes. She said she has high blood pressure. She’d never heard of Crataegutt. They don’t carry it in the drugstores here. I gave her some of mine. Do you have a title yet?

–Sea-Bird, Sea-Fish.




Chapter 10

Wednesday, February 13th, 1980


–Sea-Bird, Sea-Fish. Oh, sure! A novel. Jäcki thought:

–A research report.

–Today is Wednesday.

–Today is another day.

–No parlando. Artfully elaborated banalities.

–In a moment Frank will be back to spend the day with me.

–I’d like to forget the whole confectionery.

–Pastry chefs in the clouds above the World Trade Center, baking birthday cakes for one another, floating down to hover above Africa and the New World.

–It’s about something else.

–I’ve got two hours.

–What can you find out in two hours. Two hours is average. I have to get ready. I can’t ask any superfluous questions. I have to keep the scaffolding for my questions in my head. The individual parts can move independently, and I can track the conversation down the most significant sidelines, and still be able to switch back to the main line, and even if the main line veers off I can still identify the crucial details–like Genet, who never had any intention of pursuing a conversation, he just wanted to destroy the questions.

–A plan!

–And a model for my students.

–“Based on fieldwork conducted with Frank, the laborer, an extraction of a mythical blah-blah-blah, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Sartre, Freud, Lacan, Nietzsche, Jünger, Strauss, Mircea Eliade, back from, I should say, the verifiable, substance and material, period.” A sentence wherein the gesture contradicts the intention, like this one.

–I have to write down my questions for Frank, memorize them, then destroy my notes.

–What is your earliest memory?

–What’s my earliest memory? Quiet. None of that anymore.

–What do you know about your birth?

–What do I know about my birth?

–Mythical tales of your mother, mythical tales of your father. Blue baby? Mother’s milk? A wet-nurse? Child-rearing among the Black Caribs. The care for the pregnant. Methods of childbirth. Cleansing. Teas. Abstinence. Lesbian practices among nursing mothers.

–Were you a biter?

–Was I a biter?

–Dulu was a biter!

–The beaks sticking out of the breasts of the goddesses at Çatal Hüyük. Please! No metaphors!

–Do pregnant women eat dirt?

–What kind of dirt?

–Did you eat dirt?

–For how long?

–I didn’t eat dirt.

–The economic situation of the family. Parents married. The father, other women. The mother holding the family together. Siblings. Food. Drink.

–Did your mother swaddle you in your carriage?

–Baby carriages. Dangriga.

–Or did she just chase after you whenever you tried to run away? Get up from the dinner table every time?

–Did she strap you to her ass?




–When was your first erection?

–I always had an erection.

–When was the first time you masturbated?

–What were you thinking of when you did it?

–When was the first time you saw someone fucking?

–Where did your parents do it?

–Did you hear your parents?

–Did you see your parents?

–Did you love your mother?

–Did you love your father?

–Did your father love you?

–Did your mother love you?

–How did they show their love?

–Did your father hate you?

–My father wasn’t around.

–Did you miss your father?

–What did you expect of your father?

–What did your father look like to you?

–Did your mother hate you?

–How could you tell she hated you?

–Did she leave you lying in a ditch?

–Did she leave bad women to watch over you?

–Did she let them hit you?

–Did your mother often tell you she loved you?

–That’s taking it too far.

–Frank is coming because of me. He’s going to spend the day with me. Maybe he’ll take me back to his house tonight. It’ll be hard to observe the laws of hospitality and then ask him:

–Did you wet the bed?

–What happened when your diapers were changed?

–Diarrhea and constipation among the Black Caribs.


–It’s my job.

–Herodotus, not James.

–This afternoon I’ll go see the painter one more time. He’ll be able to answer the same questions for me from a different angle.

–Herodotus the blabbermouth.

–Hopefully Frank will be with his Methodists, and hopefully I won’t see the painter again, so as not to ruin my perfect composition with their unnecessary material!



This morning the waitresses were smiling. After a few days’ delay they’d acclimated themselves to Jäcki’s flirtation. The importunity of it made Jäcki crack open his soft-boiled egg angrily.

Yobi laud his powerful hands against the window screen. He spoke to Jäcki in his deep voice.

–He’s going to break the news that Frank isn’t coming today.

–Frank can’t come today. I rowed out to the reef early this morning and reminded him. He can’t leave the Methodists by themselves. He asked me to tell you hello and that he’s sorry.

–I thought so, Jäcki said.

Yobi took his hands off the screen and left.

–I don’t think we should take all this so personally, Irma said. It just puts a damper on our stay. When did the buyei go to the temple?


–The buyei danced nonstop from Saturday to Tuesday to heal a mentally ill woman. Just imagine. With her varicose veins and one leg shorter than the other.

–The buyei doesn’t have one leg shorter than the other.

–The little old black woman. That’s why the buyei has one good eye and one eggshell eye.

The Yoruba in Bahia danced for three nights straight and still gave us a good sacrificial meal.

The maid fluttered through the dining room and tried to explain something to Jäcki, but just then a Methodist at a nearby table stood up and called out:

–Hello, folks! Nice day today.

He had amoebic dysentery and couldn’t go to scuba diving. He headed toward the door, launched into a monologue in his nasal voice, and took the maid with him.

–I won’t give up, Jäcki said. –With or without Frank. I have his story. He’s avoiding me because he knows he has nothing more to tell me. I still have the painter this afternoon.

–We probably should have done whatever the Methodists did, Irma said.



Mrs. Nicholas was standing at the top of the front steps.

–My husband isn’t here. I’ll send my son for him. I told him you were coming yesterday.

–Was he waiting for us yesterday?

–No. He went out.

–I just wanted to say goodbye. We’re leaving tomorrow.

–Why don’t you rest a bit? You’re all sweaty, Mrs. Nicholas said, turning the lone chair toward him.

–He’ll be back soon. You don’t need to go back out into this heat on my account. No. I’ll stand.

She went back to fiddling with the gas stove.

Jäcki looked at her varicose veins, and Mrs. Nicholas looked at him.

–My legs are doing very well. They only bleed when I’m pregnant. Then there’s nothing anyone can do to help me. I’ve even gone to the capital to see a specialist. He got a lot of money out of me. But he couldn’t help me. The veins stick out every time I’m pregnant. There was a Chinese man in Dangriga who could help. He’s not here anymore. He lives in Peking now. He knocked me out with forty-one injections. He didn’t want any money for it. He said: I’m prescribing you forty-one injections. You could have them give them to you at the clinic too. You’ll get them for nothing there. Oh, I should just do it myself! The only relief I got was from him.  He never wanted any money for it. See how good they look now.

She displayed for Jäcki the black nubby hills, the bloody brocades out of Dali on her calves.

Jäcki waited a bit more. He thought:

–She limps when she goes down the stairs. Mrs. Nicholas’ story won’t fit into the novel. It’s too hard at the end. The reversal of the Oedipus complex–it’s like it was deliberate. Hers will get in the way of the other feet. And besides: a Chinese man from Dangriga who lives in Peking now? Herodotus wouldn’t be ashamed of that. Herodotus moldering away in a Samsonite suitcase in Panama.



In front of the hotel the bartender said to them:

–Are you leaving in the morning?


–Too bad. Tomorrow’s my day off.

–I’ll leave something for you at the desk.

The bartender brightened and left without saying anything else.

Jäcki figured this exchange wouldn’t damage his text.

And he wasn’t going to avoid the maid anymore either.

The swelling in her face had gone down.

She erupted into praise that Jäcki easily could have done without.

–I’ll think of you for the rest of my life. I was so happy to make up your room every morning.

–The tales of a talking magpie.

It bothered Jäcki that he was still comparing her to a magpie.

–I’m a Darwinian. Besides, animal comparisons are more insulting to the animal than the person. And it’s inelegant to talk about birds in a novel called Sea-Bird, Sea-Fish. Stupid puns and antimonies. I won’t be able to talk about anything else in the novel.

Jäcki knew what she was waiting for.

He gave her twenty Belize dollars.

–I’ll think of you for the rest of my life, she said as she lurched off.

–Me too, Jäcki said. I hope your heart is doing better.

He thought: I forgot to ask Doctor Andersson about the average life expectancy among the Black Caribs. I’ll have to think about it while I’m with Frank. Frank isn’t coming. In Herodotus’ time average life expectancy was around thirty years. I’d be dead and buried fifteen years already.



Jäcki looked for the hidden spot in the mangroves.

Antonio came out of the undergrowth with a girl.

For a girl he’d overcome his fear of dogs.

Antonio said hello to Jäcki, the girlfriend off to the side:

–I’m taking her down to the sea-wall, then I’ll be back.

–Hopefully his cowardice will win out. I don’t want any sex at the end. Sex belongs in chapter three.

Antonio didn’t come back.

Three white nuns emerged from the swamp, hymnals in hand.

They continued their matinal pilgrimage in the direction of the hotel.

Yobi waved from the landing.

–Leave it, Yobi, leave it. Las, voyez comme en peu d’espace, Mignonne, elle a dessus la place, las, las, ses beautés laissées choir.  Leave it!

Yobi hopped into the boat and rowed toward Jäcki.

He pulled alongside Jäcki and said:

–Want a ride?

–I can’t, Jäcki said. –I have to get back to the hotel!

He backed away, heading left.

–Of course, Yobi said.

–A research report, Jäcki thought.

–I’m a good rower.

–I have to go back.

–I’ll wait for you here this evening.

Jäcki turned away.

–See you soon, Yobi called across the water.

–In days of old, Jäcki thought:

–I remember when I was a stone. I was a shadow on the first crater, and the spume over my sister lava. Rolling in the breakers. Ages. The age of algae. The age when everything was transformed. I came back as a codfish, I ate the daphne raw, the sea-bird ate his uncle the codfish. I lived above the clouds, and the only noise I heard was that of my own wings. Later still I was both boy and girl. The forest people. I remember it well. I built a boat landing with a roof thatched with palm. For a short while I tilled the fields. I forgot all that right away. The slag. The knives. The rest is elusive. I keep learning it all over again. I learn to write it down. Then I forget all of it again. Once I threw myself into Etna.

From way off the white-clad nuns looked small and green.

Jäcki reached the hotel.

Antonio nodded to him from the sea-wall.

–Forget it. In front of three nuns with hymnals.

Jäcki went to the sea-wall.

Two Black Caribs came up to Jäcki and tried to sell him grass, ganja.

Antonio had disappeared.

–I don’t need any grass.

Jäcki waved the ganja men away from the sea-wall, showed them back toward town.

He found Antonio behind some big rolls of cable.

–Quick, Antonio said.

–Give me ten dollars. You can’t lose with me!

The mosquitoes biting again.

–Same time tomorrow.

–Tomorrow, Jäcki lied.

He didn’t know how he was supposed to come to terms with goodbyes.



–What do I do with a falsehood in a research report?

–That’s it. The Research Report. A novel.

–Herodotus the first novelist. Writing about his image of Egypt. How the Egyptians presented Egypt to him.

Histämi and tithämi. Falsehoods on display.

Science: novels about protagonists such as Hegel, Freud, Lacan. The authors are the titles.

Jäcki wrote down the first lines.

Monday, February 4th, 1980

Jäcki said: –I’m looking forward to the food.

Irma: –I’d rather work.

–I work when I’m eating!

The taxi drove past a patriotic monument.

It went without difficulty.

The maid brought hand towels.

She could see he didn’t want to be disturbed.

Awkwardly dissembling: I didn’t mean to disturb you! Then she yanked the lamp down.

Jäcki remained undisturbed.

The first pages quickly filled.

Jäcki had to pull out his index card file and make notes for passages he’d already thought out in advance, that he couldn’t yet incorporate into his text.

–The cuisine of the forest people.

–The black Indians in Bahia.



–Three hundred thousand Christianized slaves.

–The literacy campaign in Nicaragua.

The maid left the room.

Jäcki paused.

–I’m looking forward to the food, I said.

–“I said”?

–I’d never say that.

–There’s a straight line from a futile desire for food to cannibalism, chicken soup, and the sacrificial meal refused.

–So what.

–That’s not even a patriotic monument.

— Facts. Not analogies.

Irma came.

–I’m disturbing you.

–Present tense? Perfect? No. Only if you ask. My thoughts are disturbed by sounds. But a photographer would never understand that.

–Sounds, you said.

–There is no other word.


–Thank you. Another stylistic register.

Jäcki wanted to jeopardize the opening.

He said:

–I’ve started writing. I’m not changing anything. The events and impressions are going to appear in the exact same order as in real life. That’s the compositional principle. That’s the risk. Life writes the best stories, Klaus Ewaldt said. I’m only going to leave out repetitions.

–Will you read it to me?

–When the first chapter is done.

–All of it?

–Reading aloud to Irma about Irma?

–About Antonio?

–Antonio had said:

–Who is the woman?

–My girlfriend.

–I thought she was your mother.

Using the sumptuous Spanish subjunctive.

–If only everyone thought that!

–How accepting they are of incest in hotels.

–Couples like us are fashionable.

–I’ll read to her my reservations about reading to her.



Chapter 11

Thursday, February 14th, 1980


–Do we want to call the Indian from the capital? Irma asked.

–If you want. Back to Neolithic axes and Baby Brains.

–We could rent a car in Dangriga.

Yobi walked through the dining room and grabbed a tipitapi cake in the kitchen.

The woman at the register was not a Black Carib.

While Jäcki was paying, Mister Borggrave stood next to him and peered into his briefcase.

–How did you like Dangriga?

–Wonderful. An amazingly well-appointed hotel.

–Can you use Frank’s stories?

–You know his stories?


–And the dugu? The woman asked.

–We’ve been treated very well.

–But the Black Caribs didn’t seem to want us to participate.


–That could have gone better, Mister Borggrave said, then:

–I occasionally lead tour groups to see the dancing.



Yobi stood by the car.

By the way he held his short, athletic body it was clear that Yobi understood he was not waiting as an employee of the hotel.

When they said goodbye, Yobi kept saying “you, you” and Jäcki kept hearing it as “du, du.”



The ride back smelled of orange blossoms and freshly mown grass.

They had to stop in the hills when one of the belts broke.

Enormous mosquitoes attacking Irma and Jäcki in the cold air.

The bites left round red welts.

–If something else breaks down, we’ll miss our flight to the Jesuit college.

Violet watercress blooming in the valleys.

–Whenever you see watercress flowers it means there’s a Mayan temple buried there, the driver said.

–I didn’t catch that.

–When you see watercress blooming there are Mayan temples buried there. That I find hard to believe. One Maya temple after another for a hundred kilometers.

–There’s an archaeological dig there, the driver said.

A spot of bare clay in the forest primeval–barely enough to mark a telephone pole, a billet, a slanted roof of woven palm fronds.

–The chatter of the pickers in the orange groves in Marrakesh.

–On the moor in Meldorf, taking the last bales of hay back in the darkness, Hans mowing the next field over with the tractor.



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.