All of Joachim Meyerhoff’s best-selling novels were personal. But no one gets under the skin like “hamsters in the back of the river” through their stroke in 2018.
Some books say “Roman” on it, but there’s something else inside. Something that defies the criteria of literary review. That definitely applies to “Hamsters in the rear river area”, the fifth part of the “All dead fly high” series by actor Joachim Meyerhoff. Although the previous four volumes were both biographical and personal, none of them got under the skin in their unvarnished honesty. Because Meyerhoff is processing the life-changing experience of his stroke in 2018 as well as the following nine days in the hospital.
Joachim Meyerhoff has made it his literary trademark to fabulate with relish about biographical facts and to take difficult things lightly with the help of his black humor. This resulted in delicious descriptions of unusual life situations, weird experiences and bizarre relatives, which Meyerhoff also earned as an author a large, loyal following.
This “Meyerhoff method” doesn’t quite work in “Hamsters in the back of the river”. Because you can’t mess around with a stroke that hits the pause button in the life of a fit 51-year-old and pulverizes your previous self-image. That is why there is no edited character lying in bed in the intensive care unit in a Viennese hospital and quarreling with his situation, but the author as a patient: “What was I doing here? I wasn’t an Alki, not a Druffi, not a Fetti, not a Depri and not an Opi. After all, I was a wiry, thin, fit and amazingly young at heart! ”Using humor, Meyerhoff tries to put as great a distance as possible between himself and his fellow patients. That reads a bit mercilessly and is the aspect of the book that might make some people uncomfortable.
What remains? What’s new “Hamster in the back of the river” is not a novel, but a description: about the collapse in the presence of his two daughters and the astonishingly lengthy instruction in a stroke unit for a stroke; realizing that there will be bothersome side effects and longer term limitations; About the frustrating beginnings of therapy, about the emotional consequences when your body unexpectedly lets you down.
For Meyerhoff in particular, this insult actually represented an insult to his nature as well as to his form of drama: “I had always only got into the depths through vehemence (…) I was the blonde bombshell. That’s what my brothers called me, (…) Because only a tiny spark of provocation was enough to blow me off. Self-detonation as the elixir of life. If I wasn’t on fire, I was nobody. “
The stroke is the fire fighting command in Joachim Meyerhoff’s life. It only takes him half an hour to cancel so many appointments that he will have three months off. He makes friends with the idea of leaving Vienna. And he accounts for himself, rather relentlessly. This includes not only the question of whether he is a good father, but also the frank admission of the guilt he feels as a man who has left his family for a new love.
Travel in your head. Joachim Meyerhoff wrote “Hamsters in the Rear Stream”, one of the most insightful books on shock and the consequences of a serious illness; about the struggle to return to who (or who) you once were and the gradual realization that this path is blocked and one must look for another. The inserts in the form of previous trips that Meyerhoff makes again in his head, on the run from his situation – be it with his brother to Norway or with his second wife to Senegal, are downright comforting.
“Hamster in the rear stream area”
Kiepenheuer & Witsch