FO° Books

Revolving Door

Here’s the debut of an enchantingly idiosyncratic narrative voice in "Revolving Door." Asta, a nurse reeling from her final mission in Nicaragua, stands adrift in Munich airport's revolving door. Two decades of aiding abroad render her purposeless at home. Memories intertwine with strangers, sparking forgotten emotions. Asta's global missions - Germany, Nicaragua, India, Mongolia, Tunisia - pose vital questions about the essence of help. With its dark humor and intricate characters, Katja Lange-Müller's work shines. "Revolving Door" is an unmissable entry into Lange-Müller's world, where assistance's true nature and its intricate beneficiaries take center stage. Step into this captivating English debut and be enthralled. We salute the work of translator Simon Pare.

© Chicago /

August 27, 2023 03:53 EDT

Asta thinks—in silence. Who, she wonders, am I supposed to talk to? I don’t know anyone any more, here, on the soil of my fatherland, though it’s no longer mine since it no more belongs to me than my mother tongue does; I’m merely standing on it.

Yes, she’s standing there, at the eastern end of Level 3 of Franz Josef Strauss airport beside a little-used revolving door, hidden behind a rental car counter, to which her craving for nicotine has blindly led her. A plastic duty-free bag pokes out of Asta’s shoulder bag, a stained pigskin monstrosity, and out of the plastic bag pokes a carton of Camels. Her suitcase, they told her at the Iberia airline counter, must have got stuck somewhere during transfer, either in San Salvador or Madrid. This was fairly common, but it would definitely arrive, maybe tomorrow or the day after, next week at the very latest.

In her right hand Asta is holding a newly opened Camel soft pack, the first of ten packets of 20, and a box of Nicaraguan matches, in her left a smouldering cigarette; she draws on it, hard, like someone who hasn’t been allowed one for ages, puzzling: Which is accurater: I’m standing in front of the door, or I’m standing behind the door? In front of, behind, accurater . . . One by one, the words, trapped in gas bubbles, seep out of the muddy terrain of the past, gradually filling the pitch-black firmament of my brainpan; and they are floating around up there as sedately as fluffy clouds, semi-transparent but their contours as clear as balloons. I can study each individual word at my leisure, interpret it, possibly understand it. —Accurater? Not all adjectives have a comparative form; this piece of wisdom from her distant school days now pops up on Asta’s horizon. What is accurate is that she’s outside, between the revolving door and a hip-high chrome ashtray brimming with brownish water and soggy cigarette butts. Not a pretty sight, but she doesn’t mind. She’s having enough trouble getting her bearings; the afternoon summer sun is dazzling her. And what she sees if she doesn’t look up into the painfully bright light but to the side, forwards or down, is virtually identical to what she saw as she smoked a couple more farewell cigarettes at Managua airport shortly before take-off: flagstones, concrete pillars, baggage trolleys, the glass front. Here though, thinks Asta, there are a few puddles, from which the sun is guzzling with all its rays, as if through infinitely long straws, as thirstily as a Bedouin camel; the puddles are shrinking before her eyes.

She lights the next cigarette and takes a few steps. Through a high window in the outside wall of the larder and changing room of the Chinese restaurant she passed on her way to the revolving door, she spies a young Asian man in jeans and a somewhat grubby white chef’s jacket done up to the chin with black knot buttons, fast asleep in his uncomfortable position across a line of four chairs. His flat, pale face is utterly calm; there’s only the occasional twitch of his protruding eyelids and at the corners of his slightly parted lips. He’s probably in the middle of a pleasant dream, thinks Asta, and she feels attracted to him precisely because she feels so safe behind the blue-tinted glass, out of reach of the sleeper on the other side. It’s not just his dream, she thinks, that sets him apart from me and from this place where both of us find ourselves . . .

Another image slides across the sight of the chef in the larder of the airport’s Chinese restaurant. That other man, thinks Asta, was Asian too and, if I guessed correctly, also a chef. When I met him back in the 1970s, I’d just graduated from my nursing course and already signed a contract with that clinic in Leipzig. I was about to leave my tiny flat in the city of my birth, Berlin, which I had never called my hometown, let alone the capital. My move to Leipzig-Plagwitz was dependent only on when my room was vacated at the retirement home for Saxon restaurateurs, which was honestly called Fading Light; the current occupant, a former headwaiter at the Interhotel Astoria, was breathing his final breaths at his daughter Elke’s, a nurse I knew from college.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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