Tony's Reviews > The Brummstein

The Brummstein by Peter Adolphsen
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's review
Oct 06, 11

bookshelves: translated-fiction, loanable
Read in January, 2011

This odd little work by a Danish writer appears to be an exploration of time and humanity, and the preeminence of the former over the latter. I say "appears" because it's an oblique work that makes several references to the span of geologic time in relation to that of recorded human history, but its ultimate meaning is very much open to interpretation. Either way, it certainly doesn't drag the reader in: the book opens with six pages of geological history before getting into the story. That story (in as much as there is one), revolves around a mysterious fragment of vibrating stone, and follows its series of owners across the 20th century (a narrative device that's been used to great effect in fiction and film, the most recent well-known example probably being Annie Proulx's Accordion Crimes).

The stone is first unearthed from the Hölloch Caves in Switzerland (one of the longest cave systems in the world) by a man obsessed with the possibility of a subterranean race of men as described in 19th-century writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton's book, The Coming Race, (which also popularized the "Hollow Earth" theory and was hugely influential in the development of the science-fiction genre). The stone then passes through several hands over the course of the two World Wars, Cold War, and beyond, allowing Adolphson to peek into the lives of ordinary Germans affected by the tides of history -- while always reminding the reader that the cataclysmic events being experienced by his characters are mere nanoseconds in the span of geologic time. Indeed, the central theme appears to be that however extraordinary we believe the events of our life to be, they are completely insignificant on a macro level. While that might be interesting on a metaphysical level, it didn't prove to be all that engaging to me. I did like the windows into time and place, and found them to be well crafted, the larger themes the author appeared to be grappling with didn't inspire me.
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