by Peter Arnds
Publication Date: 12/14/2018
Sehnsucht: the yearning for faraway people or places. When Jonathan graduates from university with a degree in literature his father hands him two gifts: an alarm clock and the chance to work in the family business. But Jonathan has different plans. Leaving behind his eccentric family and stifling German hometown, he embarks on a hitchhiking adventure through Australia in search of Alice, an exchange student he knew back in school who left mysteriously one night without explanation.
This stunning and rich debut novel is a story about coming of age and coming to terms with the past. Searching for Alice explores the lure of the open road and the joys of traversing geographic borders, language barriers, and cultural boundaries.
Gender: feminine – literally: the addiction (Sucht) to stretch oneself (sehnen) toward something or someone; in other, less dramatic words: yearning, longing.
“What’s the purpose of your visit?”
She was leafing through his passport.
“You realize you’re not allowed to work.”
“I know. I just – ”
She looked up, sternly.
“I just want to go walkabout.”
He had been reading about this quintessential Australian rite of passage on the thirty-hour flight. Going walkabout: it meant following a personal songline.
She looked at him skeptically. “Walkabout? Where? What for?”
“Up the coast and into the outback. For a mystic experience.”
“A mystic experience.”
“Well, mate, you’re certainly an optimist.”
After checking into a backpacker’s hostel on Victoria Street he strolled down to the Royal Botanic Garden. The cool clear air held a promise of summer. Snow-white cockatoos with yellow hoods were playing in the trees and walking proudly over neatly manicured lawns. Behind the shells of the Opera House, the black silhouette of the bridge spanned the evening sky. He sat down on the steps in front of the opera and drank milk from a two-liter tetra pack. Robyn Davidson had got it right, he thought: there were moments around which your entire life was turning – small flashes of intuition signaling to you that for once you’ve done the right thing. A moment of pure and uncomplicated trust.
They were seven in the hostel room, and at least one was always snoring. Every night the wee-hour toilet runners would turn on the fluorescent room lights. There were those who partied until three in the morning, not just on weekends, but every single night. They had a habit of breaking into the room as if they owned it, throwing up in the sink and passing out on the floor right next to their bunks.
There were cockroaches, too, he could feel them on his shoulders at night. A medium-sized one sat right next to him, moving its antennae. Were these hostel roaches other travelers who had stayed too long? He was about to kill it when he spotted a tiny exemplar right next to it. Her son maybe. Possibly her only child, he thought, and gave up his murderous instinct.