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Jonas Lüscher | A million-dollar prize

19.05.2017 – RUTH VON GUNTEN

“Kraft is struggling. And as always, whenever the going gets tough, he escapes into research.” It is not just the presentation he should give as a participant in a science competition in Silicon Valley that the professor of rhetoric from Tübingen is finding difficult. “Why is everything that exists good and how can it still be improved?” This is the question Richard Kraft has to answer. The incentive is prize money of a million dollars. This would allow him to get his life in order and to pay for his seemingly inevitable divorce.

In a little over 200 pages, we follow the professor to the USA to the prestigious Stanford University where he plans to write the 18-minute answer to the prize question over four weeks. He has left his second wife and twin daughters behind in Germany. Through flashbacks readers discover quite a lot about Kraft’s past, his relationships with women and his friendship with Istvan, the pseudo-dissident from Hungary, who Kraft is now staying with. The dramatic climax of the novel will not be disclosed here.

After his highly acclaimed first work, the novella “Frühling der Barbaren”, Jonas Lüscher’s latest novel has been eagerly awaited. Using the first-person plural form, thus drawing the reader in, the story is sometimes told with a touch of irony and comedy, but at other times with distance. While the plot is interesting, it also seems very construed. We find it difficult to identify with Kraft, the protagonist. The traits of this university professor, who champions market liberalisation and cheered on Ronald Reagan as a young student in Berlin, are too disagreeable.

The book can be read in a variety of ways – as social criticism, biting satire or as a philosophical essay. However, the long-winded sentences often seem stilted and require readers to concentrate intensely. The author set the bar high. Nevertheless, the quotations that precede every chapter and always make reference to the word “Kraft” entice people to read on.

Jonas Lüscher, who was born in 1976, grew up in Berne where he completed the training to become a primary school teacher. He later studied philosophy and carried out research as a doctoral student at the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. Lüscher has been living in Munich for several years. His novella “Frühling der Barbaren” (2013) was translated into a number of languages and adapted for theatre. This novel, entitled “Kraft”, will soon be published in French and Dutch.

Jonas Lüscher: "Kraft". C.H. Beck Verlag, 2017 237 pages; around CHF 28.90