Last November, the German author Herbert Rosendorfer (born 1934) won the Corine Prize for lifetime achievement, a Bavarian literary award previously given to Nadine Gordimer, Imre Kertész and Amos Oz. That roll of honour could lead readers who approach The Architect of Ruins never having read Rosendorfer before to expect something more melancholic than this dizzying, highly enjoyable escapade, which is one of four Rosendorfer translations published by the doughty independent firm Dedalus.
We meet the novel’s unnamed narrator on a train to Lourdes. Eventually finding an empty compartment – there are six hundred nuns on board – he stretches his legs and feels someone grab his feet: a fugitive, stowed away under the seat opposite. A disarmingly courteous exchange ensues