I discovered Max Frisch in the very early spring of 1991. I was living in Tübingen, Germany and picked up Homo Faber on the recommendation from a friend of mine at the university. The title is Latin for “man the maker”: a creature who controls his environment with tools. Stefan based his recommendation on my literary interests of the day and my desire to read modern literature in German. By the time I had completed the book, Max Frisch had died and Volker Schlöndorff had completed a film version of the story. Walter Faber, the story’s engineer protragonist, does not believe in coincidence or fate. Mathematics explains his life adequately as well as he is concerned. He tells you this in the first few pages. In this early paragraph, Frisch delivers all of the major plot points of his novel. All of the story’s dramatic twists and turns he lays out in a concise description without embarassment. And still we read on, we read the remaining two hundred pages as if we had forgotten he had told of all of this. I think we read on because it is the telling of the story that is important, rather than the particular results. All of this came back to me as I picked up the novel again. Sadly, I have not been able to find the film version since viewing it at the Universität Tübingen cinema.
My German Sprachkentnisse has waned in the intervening years, so this time I’m reading the Michael Bullock translation. Faber describes his life, or at least that significant portion of it in the novel, as eine ganze Kette von Zufällen— a whole chain of accidents. That description has resonated with me ever since: a series of otherwise disconnected events, some beautiful, some ugly where the only common element is my having lived them.