The Invention of Curried Sausage
by Uwe Timm
translated from the German by Leila Vennewitz
[New Directions, hardcover, $19.95]

Reviewed by Bill Meyers

Our North California coast is known for its sensory delights, from seascapes to fine dining. Considering the size of our population, we produce more than our share of fine arts, craft, and literature. But as far as I know, we do not serve curried sausage. The Invention of Curried Sausage is the work of a world-class story teller. The mere idea that such a simple culinary idea as curried sausage (now to be found at every sausage-stand in Germany) had to be invented, is in itself engaging. The narrator remembers the curried sausage from his childhood in the 1950's, and remembers that Mrs. Brücker invented it. But no one believes him. He finds Mrs. Brücker, now retired, and it is she who tells the real story. She is an engaging story teller, recreating a marvelous series of details about Germany in World War II, before we ever get to the curried sausage itself.

And that is only right. Curried sausage may not be for everyone. It may be too spicy for the hamburger and white-bread type of eater. The quail with orange sauce snob may consider it too plebeian. High in fat and calories, it befits a cold climate. Yet, I suspect most people would enjoy it if they tried it: it is certainly popular in Germany. Mrs. Brücker was an ordinary woman and an extraordinary woman, as are most women. She had married badly and was not unhappy to see the Nazis send her somewhat brutish husband off to war. Like most Germans she never joined the Nazi party, and had jewish friends until they disappeared from her neighborhood. She was not political, but she cheered for German military victories in the way we were all taught to cheer for high school football and national victories. As Germany began to lose the war she put up with ever greater privations, as did all citizens. Eventually, despite continuing optimism on the government-controlled radio news, the Allied armies closed in on Hamburg, where Mrs. Brücker lived.

Enter young Bremer, a German soldier who has been lucky in his assignments: he is alive. But tomorrow, when his leave is over, he is slated to join an anti-tank squad at the front, which is to say, he is to die. He meets Mrs. Brücker at the cinema, goes home with her, and then hides in her apartment, AWOL. Like both Vietnam Vets, and those lucky draftees of that era who ended up stationed in Germany or the States, and those who resisted the draft, Bremer had a choice. For Americans the choice was to kill, or not; a far more difficult dilemma than to choose whether to die. But just as evil often grows out of good, sometimes good can grow out of evil: for instance, curried sausage out of the post-war shortage of goods and money. There is no doubt that curried sausage was invented, for no German ate it before WWII, and it's everywhere now. Uwe's tale is well told, like a simple dish that is both nourishing and pleasing to the tongue. Here on the north California Coast today's dilemmas rarely poise us between life and death. The climate is much less harsh than Germany's, the hatred of the hate-mongers toned way down from the hatred of the Nazi's. Uwe's book is beautiful, romantic, and yet curiously real, from its opening passage to its last paragraph; a book entirely suitable to be read in our redwood wonderland.

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