Translated from German by Jaimie Bulloch

The rural community of Mondsee lies beneath the Drachenwand mountain in Upper Austria. This hinterland, far from the Eastern Front and a father’s intolerable pro-war sympathies, is where Veit Kolbe has chosen to recover from a serious war wound. It is 1944 and the young man with no Nazi sympathies has been in uniform since leaving school for 5 “lost” years. He has seen everything a German soldier would have seen: battles, murders, war-crimes. His psychological injuries, which manifest in nightmares and panic-attacks, are more debilitating than his leg wound.

Kolbe is one of a small group of outsiders seeking shelter from the war beneath the imposing mountain.  Others include Margot and her baby daughter who have fled the bombing of Darmstadt, his uncle, Johann, the local police commander and committed Nazi, and the dangerously outspoken Robert Raimund Perttes, nicknamed the Brazilian due to time spent in Brazil. Youngsters from Vienna lodge in an evacuee camp at Schwarzindien.

The disappearance of the evacuee, Nanni Schaller, serves to remind that Mondsee is not actually the presupposed safe haven. Threats are everywhere. Bombing squads fly over from Italy to Germany with increasing frequency. Letters from those in the direct line of fire arrive in Mondsee. Margot’s mother is struggling to survive in bombed-out Darmstadt. The experiences of the Jewish dentist Oskar Meyer show the impossibility of escape for those who failed to flee either early or far enough from the malignancy of Nazism. Kurt Ritler’s letters to his missing girlfriend, Nanni, are full of yearning and melancholy, plus the resignation of a schoolboy eventually drafted into the Wehrmacht to fight for a losing cause.

This is the world to which Kolbe must return. While he manages to extend his convalescence (by fair means and foul) for about a year, he cannot do so indefinitely. This respite has at least given him – through a now solid relationship with Margot – the possibility of a hopeful future.

All he has to do is survive the war.

“Each of my characters deserves to have a pulse, to live and breathe, even after the final page”, said Geiger. In Hinterland he bestows that afterlife in an epilogue detailing his characters’ fates. These are as undoubtedly real as the war experiences in the novel, which are based on information from the author’s collection of letters from World War II. Kolbe, himself, is modelled loosely on the author’s father, which may well explain why he is so sympathetically drawn. There is never (despite one understandable, but highly dubious act) any alienation from a man who, after all, is fighting for the National Socialists. But Kolbe is more disenchanted civilian than committed soldier, as much a victim as the other civilians trying to survive their individual traumas. Ultimately it is this turning of the lens away from the battlefields and onto the civilian experience that makes Hinterland such a thoughtful, moving addition to the literature of World War II.