Old Ren­der­ing Plant

Wolf­gang Hil­big Is­abel Fargo Cole (Trans­la­tor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction / Adult Nonfiction - MON­ICA CARTER

Two Lines Press (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $12.95 (196pp) 978-1-931883-67-2

Slim, fever­ish, and grim, the novella eu­lo­gizes the dark­ness of Ger­many’s history.

How well do you know your neigh­bor­hood? The earth be­neath you? These two ques­tions lead to the cul­ti­vated, dream-state prose of Wolf­gang Hil­big’s Old Ren­der­ing Plant. Trans­lated by the gifted Is­abel Fargo Cole, Old Ren­der­ing Plant brings the tal­ents of one of Ger­many’s post-war writ­ers to an English-speak­ing au­di­ence.

Hil­big sets the omi­nous tone of a dark dis­cov­ery from the open­ing para­graph. The un­named young male nar­ra­tor fol­lows a brook that leads him to the out­skirts of his ru­ral Ger­man town, where shad­ows and whis­pers in­tim­i­date and beckon si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

Pulled by cu­rios­ity, he is con­fronted with a plant where an­i­mals are butchered. This fact haunts him and ul­ti­mately prompts his mem­ory to piece to­gether scraps of an atro­cious history. The blunt­ness of in­ci­sive ob­ser­va­tion—stench, mushy ground, rem­nants of bones, con­tam­i­nated wa­ter—con­veys the fear and dis­gust of the loom­ing truth about the plant and the ground sur­round­ing it.

It’s dif­fi­cult to ig­nore the mono­lithic bar­bar­ity of World War II as Hil­big delves deeper and deeper in the nar­ra­tor’s mem­ory and the shared mem­ory of those who lived there. The soap that washes away an­i­mal flesh seeps up ev­ery­where and flows through the brook, bring­ing the smell of “old, use­less flesh” back to the front of his mind. Hil­big’s prose is fluid; the nar­ra­tive is un­bro­ken mono­logue, a ter­ri­fy­ing com­bi­na­tion of rec­ol­lec­tion and re­al­iza­tion.

This slim, fever­ish novella is grim. Be­cause the fi­nal truth is re­vealed through a crescendo of mem­o­ries, it’s less of a sur­prise about the history of the plant than a hor­rific con­fir­ma­tion of the truth. Hil­big chooses the ab­struse struc­ture of jump­ing be­tween past and present, mem­ory and re­al­ity, night­mares and dreams, all of which re­in­force an un­teth­ered du­al­ity be­tween the ab­stract and the con­crete.

Old Ren­der­ing Plant is a work that eu­lo­gizes the dark­ness of Ger­many’s history through psy­cho­geog­ra­phy and a for­bid­ding nar­ra­tive. There aren’t many nov­els that cap­ture this per­spec­tive of World War II nor its lin­ger­ing ef­fects on na­ture. Hil­big’s brave work il­lu­mi­nates how bru­tal­ity doesn’t sim­ply end, but leaves wit­ness in its wake.

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