A Mirage of Hope In the Shadows of Despair


In its German inaugural edition, this novel was titled September: Fata Morgana. Wonderfully translated by Mike Mitchell, the novel adapts the concept of a fata morgana (an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon that distorts the view) to describe the world we live in after the events of 9-11, the attack on Afghanistan and the Bush-Blair war on Iraq. A Fata Morgana comprises several inverted and erect images that are stacked on top of one another. Told through the eyes of two men and their daughters, the narrative, like the mirage of the title, involves the storytellers trading reflections and descriptions as they forge, often dejectedly, through their lives. Both men–one a German professor teaching Goethe and poetics in Massachusetts and the other a doctor tending to the sick and wounded in Iraq–live lives focused on their daughters. Sabrina, the daughter of the former, dies in the Twin Towers with her mother (his ex-wife) on September 11, 2001. The youngest daughter of the latter, named Muna, watches with growing hopelessness as her family and nation disintegrates into a bedlam of murder, rape, and pilfering under the direction of Saddam Hussein first and then the American military. Lehr_23557_MR.indd

I suppose this could be considered a 9-11 novel, although labeling it as such seems to limit its transcendent possibilities. Perhaps a more accurate characterization would be to consider this text as a reflection on the human search for meaning. However unfortunate it might be, the truth is that traumatic events like war and terrorism do provide stark contexts within which one can consider our reason for existence. Perhaps more easily, the despair endemic to such events lends great credence to those so inclined to believe there is no purpose to our time on earth. The main characters of September, along with those most closely associated with them, do seem to deepen their search for meaning because of the violent circumstances causing the loss of their loved ones. However, the actors (the soldiers in the US military and the insurgency, the religious believers, the looters and rapists) in the background merely find meanings provided by others—the military, religious leaders, criminal gangs, and governments—thereby annulling their search and simultaneously sharpening the contrast between the searchers and the “found.”

September has no overt politics, but a genuine weariness of war and those who fight them and gain from them pervades the narrative. The author Thomas Lehr is at best critical of the war in Iraq, the excesses of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the Iraqi insurgents, and the 9-11 terrorists who claim to be religiously motivated. At the same time, his characters are too intelligent to pretend that those who flew those planes on September 11, 2001 had a political understanding that did not consider Wall Street and Washington’s greed and military arrogance to be fundamental causes of most of the world’s problems. Still, like the rest of the background elements of the novel, the politics are there, but are not the essential element. Naturally, every reader brings their own interpretation of the matters on the page into the novel, too. While present in every piece of literature and in every reading of said literature, it could be reasonably argued that this interpretation matters even more in literature featuring events whose memory is recent.

After a certain point in our youth, we realize that our life will end. Yet, we continue living, dreaming dreams and maybe even fulfilling them. The knowledge that our lives will end is just something we carry with us. It does not seem to make a difference. However, how a life ends quite often does. That is what makes this narrative so compelling. We see how the lives lost do matter; to those closest and otherwise; how they can change world history even.

The entire novel is written without punctuation. While certainly a feat in its original German, to be able to maintain that structure and the integrity of the novel during translation is even more of one. If the intention is to create a dreamlike stream of narrative, September: Fata Morgana succeeds. Its namesake, the sorceress Fay de Morgana from the Arthurian epic, would be impressed. Bewitchingly and beguiling, this novel continually enchants the reader. A heartbreaking story of human relationships destroyed by war and destruction, it is also a story of love. Achingly beautiful and mournfully sad, this tale of loss is partly what we have become and partly what we always were. In a surreal final sequence, the lives of the survivors and the deaths of those they mourn blend into a moment in Amman, Jordan where Muna’s father and Sabrina’s finally meet by chance. The illusion of individual sorrows becomes a moment of human oneness in an ancient city.
There is so little room for hope in these pages, yet somehow hope remains.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
David Yearsley
Papal Pop and Circumstance
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?