‘You’re a little too fond of coincidences sometimes,’ says the part-time antagonist of Martin Mosebach’s What Was Before. She is talking to her lover, who is also her (and our) narrator. On her gentle orders, he is telling the story of his life before they met. His past is an exotic and mostly untruthful affair among the haute bourgeoisie of modern-day Frankfurt. It is told in a series of vignettes, which after a time and out of necessity start to cohere. What Was Before is, in part, about the coincidences in life and the contrivances of fiction.
It is through chance that our narrator is invited to one of Bernward and Rosemarie Hopsten’s pool parties, where on Sunday afternoons the rich display their wealth and beauty, like tropical birds at a zoo. We meet Salam, a promiscuous businessman; Silva, an alcoholic; her melancholy husband, Hans-Jörg; and his