In two interconnected, alternating stories, Claude Ollier has written a disturbing, haunting, apocalyptic novel that brings together the end of the Third Reich with the closing of the twentieth century. The first is the autobiographical story of Martin, a French student conscripted into a munitions factory in Nuremberg in the middle of World War II. The other is the story of a nameless writer, a Robinson Crusoe-like figure who inhabits a twilight world where civilization has collapsed.
In the first part, we see the horrors of war-torn Germany from the perspective of the common man—his daily routines, his work in a factory whose purpose he doesn’t quite understand, the air raids, his meager existence and survival. Caught up in the moment of history that has defined the twentieth century, he is “disconnected” from the time in which he lives. As the war comes to a close, he experiences the firebombing of Nuremberg, and then escapes the city, finally meeting with the first of the American liberation forces in the spring of 1945.
In the second part, which takes place in the remote Causses region of France sometime in the 1990s, we see a man—perhaps the same one we viewed fifty years before—living in a world that seems to have undergone some terrible, nameless catastrophe. He is a writer—apparently, like Ollier himself, once involved in the avant-garde arts many years before—who works steadily on a radio play, but with little hope that it will ever be heard. Civilization has come to an eerie halt, its remnants held by this solitary figure, usually in the form of remembered performances by musicians from Richard Strauss and Wagner to Tina Turner and Miles Davis. Surrounded by the objects and places of his past, the man tentatively ventures out on journeys to the nearby countryside and town that seem the end product of dehumanized, mechanized madness.
Ollier has here created a nightmarish vision of Western culture in decay, first seen as war, and then as a breaking down into “disconnectedness” where the only form of communication is a radio tape that endlessly repeats itself. At the same time, he has created a vision of history and the individual’s inability to connect himself to the times in which he lives.