by Gert Jonke
translated by Vincent Kling
Half philosopher and half clown-prince, Gert Jonke is Austria's comic gift to contemporary fiction.
An astonishing and fantastical autobiographical novel—reminiscent of Italo Calvino and Laurence Sterne—The System of Vienna details Jonke’s travels through Vienna by streetcar, reporting the bizarre and frustrating encounters he experiences as he progresses—and meanwhile moving not just from trolley-stop to trolley-stop, but through life as well, from innocence to disillusionment, birth to death. Jonke meets a paranoiac fish wholesaler who believes he is directing all of Austrian politics from his little stall, a stamp collector in such deadly earnest he hopes to be appointed to a professorship in philately, and a compulsive talker who has developed a rigorous economic philosophy out of the most common objects to be found in a Vienna neighborhood. Slowly increasing the comic and fantastic elements in his story until they overwhelm all pretense to autobiography—culminating in a strangely touching love scene between Jonke and a caryatid—The System of Vienna reminds us that the very act of describing a life turns it into fiction.