Together with the hero of the novel Jacob Fabian, we live a short period of time – maybe a few weeks or even less. During this period, the hero basically suffers losses – he loses his job, loses a close friend, his beloved leaves him. Finally, he loses his life. The novel is somewhat reminiscent of Impressionist paintings. From volatile, as it were optional dialogues and not too consistent heterogeneous events, a picture of life suddenly caught unawares and imprinted with extraordinary strength, sharpness and volume. This is a story about how the heart can not withstand the oppressive contradiction of time. On the price of non-indicative resistance to circumstances at the level of an individual.
The action takes place at the very beginning of the thirties in Berlin. Europe has a big change. “Teachers have left, there was no schedule for lessons, the old continent does not go to the next class.” The next class does not exist. “
So the main character stands for his time. At the same time, he takes the role of the beholder with ruthless honesty. “Other people have a profession, they advance, marry, make children their wives and believe that all this makes sense.” And he is forced, and of his own free will, to stand under the door, to look and from time to time fall into despair. “
The main drama of Fabian is that he is too extraordinary, deep and moral personality, to be satisfied with vulgar philistine goals and values. He is endowed with a vulnerable, sympathetic soul, an independent mind and a keen “ludicrous need for complicity” in what is happening. However, all these qualities are unnecessary, unclaimed. Fabian belongs to the lost generation. From school he came to the front of the First World War, and from there he returned with a bitter experience of early deaths and a sick heart. Then he studied, wrote a dissertation on philosophy. The desire for “complicity” drove him to the capital, which he describes as a distraught stone bag. Mother and father stayed in a small quiet town where his childhood passed. They hardly make ends meet, existing at the expense of a tiny grocery store, where every now and then have to discount unimpressed goods. So the hero counts only on himself.
When we meet Fabian, he is thirty-two years old, he is renting a room in a boarding house and working in the advertising department of a cigarette factory. Before that he worked in a bank. Now the whole day composes meaningless rhymes to advertisements, and evenings kill a glass of beer or wine. His drinking buddies are then cheerful cynical newspapermen, then some girls of dubious behavior. But Fabian’s life goes as if on two channels. Outwardly it is absent-minded, empty and full of criminal frivolity. However, behind this is an intense inner work, deep and accurate reflections on time and about oneself. Fabian – one of those who understand the essence of the crisis experienced by society and with impotent bitterness foresees close catastrophic changes. He can not forget that many cripples with mutilated bodies and faces are scattered around the country. He remembers the flamethrower attacks. Damn this war, he repeats to himself. And he asks himself the question: “Are we going to get back to that again?”
Fabian suffers as a strong and talented person can suffer, striving to save people from a threatening death and who is not able to do so. Nowhere Fabian does not cover these experiences, on the contrary, he has a tart ironic self-esteem, he talks about everything mockingly and externally accepts life as it is. But the reader is nevertheless allowed to peer into the depths of his soul and feel its unbearable pain.
Public apathy and disbelief in the government’s ability to improve the economic situation are growing in Berlin. Above the country hangs oppressive fear of inflation and unemployment. Two polar camps – Communists and Fascists – are trying to prove each and every one’s rightfulness. However, the hero of the novel is far from both, and from others. The episode when Fabian together with his friend Stefan Labuda at night on the bridge is caught by an exchange of two such grief-politicians is characteristic. First, friends discover a wounded communist, who is assisted. A few meters later they run across the National Socialist – also wounded. Both fighters are sent to the hospital in a taxi. In the clinic, the tired doctor observes that nine rescuers of the fatherland were already delivered this night, “It seems that they want to reduce the number of unemployed by shooting each other.”
Stefan Labudet is Fabian’s only friend. They share a common destiny, although Labuda is the son of wealthy parents and does not need money. He is close to Fabian with his subtle spiritual organization, sincerity and unselfishness. In contrast, Fabian Labudes is ambitious and eager to achieve public recognition. He reproaches a friend that he lives as if in a waiting room, refuses active actions and does not have a solid goal. Fabian objected to him: “I know the goal, but, alas, its purpose can not be called.” I would like to help people become decent and reasonable. “
Labuda suffers one setback after another. He gets a terrible blow when he learns that the bride, who pretends to be a tender and passionate lover, coolly changes him. Rushed into politics, he is also experiencing a... complete disappointment. The last hope remains his treasured work on Lessing, to which he gave five years and who is now waiting for a university review. In the meantime Labuda tries to find solace in bohemian lowly companies and booze.
In one of these companies, Fabian gets acquainted with Cornelia. She says that she recently came to the studio in the city. Fabian goes to see her off and discovers that she is coming to her own house. By a wonderful coincidence, Cornelia, it turns out, also settled here. They spend the night together. They share a mocking ease of perception of the present and a lack of great hopes for the future. They live one day, and the fuller and sharper their mutual feeling. For the first time Fabian suddenly thinks seriously about the possibility for himself of simple everyday happiness.
But the reality is crowding even these modest plans. Upon entering the service, Fabian learns that he is fired for the reduction of staff. He is handed two hundred seventy marks of calculation. A hundred of them take Cornelia – she urgently needs a new hat and cardigan, as she was invited to screen test for a new film. Another hundred Fabian pays the hostess of the guesthouse a month in advance. He himself goes to the labor exchange, replenishing the dull ranks of the same unemployed. He is asked idiotic questions, chased from one department to another, but almost do not give up hope for help. Just these days, his mother comes to visit him. Fabian does not tell her about her dismissal, so as not to upset her, and her mother wakes him early in the morning and rushes to the office, Fabian wanders aimlessly all day through the streets, instead of spending time with his mother, who is leaving the same evening back.
The hero again tries to find work. But he is not endowed with aggressive tenacity and the ability to get himself a price. “I could stand on Potsdamerplatz,” he jokes unhappily, “hanging a sign on his stomach about this kind of content:” At the moment, this young man does nothing, but try it out and you’ll see he does everything… “
Returning after wandering through the editorial board to the boarding house, he finds a letter from Cornelia. She writes that she was taken to the role and the producer has rented a separate apartment for her. “What could I do, let me be amused by it, it just happened.” Only if you lie in the mud, you can get out of the mud. “
Fabian is thrown back to the unwanted and cursed freedom for him now. He meets with Cornelia in the cafe, but realizes that the irreparable happened. The conversation is bitter and painful. It’s easier for him to forget with some unfamiliar girl – drowning sadness.
Returning late at night to the boarding school, he learns that they were interested in the police. His friend Labuda is dead. He shot himself a bullet in the temple right during the night feast, from a revolver that was once selected on a bridge from the Nazi, Fabian Labuda left a letter in which he said that his work on Lessing received a destructive review and this next collapse is intolerable for his ambition. “In short: this life is not for me… I became a comic figure, I fell through the exams in two main subjects – love and profession…”
Fabian spends the rest of the night at the bed of a dead friend. He looks at his changed face and turns his most secret words to him, unable to reconcile himself to this senseless death. Later it turns out that Labuda was the victim of an evil joke. Gained his news of the work he had been slaughtered, he received from an incompetent assistant, the professor found the work outstanding…
A friend left Fabian two thousand marks. Fabian gives a thousand Cornelia at their last meeting: “Take half. I will be calmer.”
He himself sits on the train and goes to his native city, to his mother and father. Maybe here he will find peace? However, the province is no less depressing. The possibilities for using forces here are even more wretched and limited than in the capital, and the structure is suffocating and conservative. “Here Germany was not in a hot weather: here it had a low temperature,” Fabian “was more and more immersed in the boredom.” The mother advises him to adapt and somehow find a purpose in life. Man is a slave of habit, she says meaningfully. Maybe she’s right?
And yet the hero refuses so far from the measured philistine existence. His last decision is to leave somewhere for nature, gather his thoughts, and then decide on his life’s task. Courage and inner honesty do not change Fabian for a minute. He realizes that he can no longer stand by the events. He walks the streets, mindlessly looks at the windows and realizes that “life, in spite of everything, is one of the most interesting activities.” After a few moments, passing over the bridge, he sees a little boy balancing on the rails ahead. Fabian adds a step, runs. The boy, unable to resist, falls into the water. Without hesitation, Fabian takes off his jacket and rushes into the river to save the child. The boy, crying loudly, swims to the shore. Fabian is drowning.
He could not swim.