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Novel from the boxing ring: pain, spit, sweat, blood


Robert Prosser has long proven how thrilling he can tell. But his new novel "Gemma Habibi" frayed - although he describes grandiose, which is difficult to put into words: fighting.

Speed, concentration and power. That's what matters, this Triassic is all that matters. At least when Lorenz is in the ring. Then the boxing takes him away. Like a pull it drives him towards the opponent. "Like jumping into a river that hurls me on the edge of a waterfall, through rapids, against boulders, submerging, tearing away."

And as if that were indeed the case, his legs prancing in survival mode on the springy ground, here and there and so nimble that his buddy Z just calls him the spider. However, Lorenz moves like a spider through his life outside the box arena, through the Vienna of the present. There plays Robert Proser's third novel, "Gemma Habibi". Unfortunately, its protagonist does not carry such a stream there as in the ring. And also the reader has to row to follow the novel. Prosser's narrative flow is sometimes more of a stagnant water.

No time for punctuation, no time for whole sentences

The story begins, so to speak, on the edge of a waterfall, just before a fight. His trainer Simon rubbed Lorenz's temples with Vaseline, adding adrenaline. So the blood does not shoot out the same way when it gets hit. And he gets hit, not just in this fight. Yet Lorenz nowhere feels as alive as here, between the ropes.

Uppercut, body hook, step to the side, Jab, Liver hook, left right Straight, crouching, aiming. Prosser translates the fight into a breathless dance, each step sequence into a live commentary pushed through between lips. Words are gasped against the reader. No time for punctuation, no time for whole sentences. There is only pulse, pain, spit, sweat, blood. Prosser makes the fight felt.

Frank May / picture alliance

Author Robert Prosser

He has already proved with his last book, "Phantoms", that the Austrian is a sensitive narrator who can melt times into one another and vary the tempo of the narration like a cutter on the film reel. Two years ago, the novel about the war on Yugoslavia landed on the longlist of the German Book Prize. Also in "Gemma Habibi" - a mixture of Austrian dialect and the Arabic word for "darling" - he manages to illuminate the boxing environment cleverly. But unfortunately he wanted more.

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Robert Prosser
Gemma Habibi: novel

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A "brilliant portrait of the present time" namely create, it says in the blurb. That's why Prosser has sent his hero to Syria and to the Vienna Central Station, as flamed there in 2015 refugees. He also sent him to Ghana to attend a voodoo ceremony. However, as a commentary on the events of the present time, all this is not good enough: Lorenz seems to accidentally fall everywhere.

This is how Prosser's fictional character went with boxing. Actually, the anthropology student wanted to research only for a field study and write a homework on "Jo's Boxing Club". Theme: Integration of people of different origins in an association. But quickly the university does not play a big role in his life, the more so boxes.

The novel dances between genres

It may also be due to the fact that the novel wants to be a coming-of-age story, sometimes a travelogue and sometimes even social reportage. The text dances between the genres like its protagonist in the ring. But the ropes do not hold him together. Or it's because of the strange love story between Lorenz and the photographer Elena, which leaves one unaffected. Maybe because a restlessness will never rest her limbs and keep her index finger twitching over the trigger. Maybe because she's just as crazy about the world as Lorenz. Between them arises a distance that does not fill with love. And that translates to the reader too.

Only with Z Lorenz connects more than with Elena: The two met years ago in Syria, before Z's escape to Europe, before fighting. But even the relationship of these two characters remains vague. Prosser lets his figures hang in the air instead of grounding them.

At the same time he tries to do it: right-wing extremists attack Lorenz because of his friendship with Z. This fight has nothing to do with those in the ring. The violence that he voluntarily exposes tastes of intoxication, that on the street only after fear. Lorenz feels: his despair over the attack and the racism that motivated the act - and all those disgusting types who are also in the boxing environment. That would be a neat story about the present. Too bad that the novel pranks them.

Source: spiegel

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