How have you been able to exist for thirty-five years knowing that you aren't really living your own life, but someone else's? Mommsen's life was spared thirty-five years ago in World War II when a priest voluntarily took his place before a military firing squad. Now, at a commemoration of the incident, he finds himself bombarded with questions from journalists and others about "how it felt" to be the beneficiary of this sacrifice and about the difference it has made to his life. Barbara Konig's delicately ironic novel reveals what happens when the unremarkable Mommsen, who has never considered these issues or his life very closely, is forced to examine his ordinary existence in the context of this extraordinary event. You didn't ask why, you just let it happen? The priest's act of pure altruism has left Mommsen selfless as well; his passivity in the face of the priest's sacrifice has informed his entire life. His fulfilling career, loving wife, comfortable home suddenly seem as random and arbitrary, as inexplicable as the priest's act: "Still he cannot seem to discover a chronology in the course of his life." And if Chaplain Schorr were suddenly standing in front of you and asked: I gave you thirty-five years and what have done with them? How would you answer him? Searching for answers to these new and increasingly compelling questions, Mommsen loses interest in his work and grows alienated from his wife of twenty-two years as he struggles to comprehend the meaning of the priest's sacrifice, the burden of his role as beneficiary, and the significance of both their lives.
Barbara Konig, born in Reichenberg, Czechoslovakia (Bohemia), began her career as a journalist before turning fiction. The author of six novels, she is the recipient of several national literary awards. Her book, Our House, is also published by Northwestern University Press. Roslyn Theobald has translated works by Botho Strauss and Lisa Fittko, among others, and lives in the Chicago area.