I must be a book cover junkie because so many times I find interesting new novels by being drawn to their book covers. The Kino book cover isn’t beautiful or picturesque but there is something about it that drew me in. I’m glad it did because Kino by Jurgen Fauth is an interesting genre mix. It combines a contemporary thriller with historical fiction about the golden age of German filmmaking and, as odd as that may sound, it works. A little trivia: Kino literally means cinema and in German is the shortened version of kinematograph. If you like thrillers, movies, and/or historical fiction, stay tuned to this review!
Wilhemina “Mina” Koblitz was on her honeymoon in Punta Cana when her new husband, Sam, caught dengue fever, which resulted in their honeymoon being cut short and him being in a Manhattan hospital. One day as she returns to their apartment after visiting him, she finds two large hexagonal metal cases addressed to her. At first she just thinks they’re more weird wedding gifts but when she opens them, she finds seven large reels of film. Holding one end up to the light, she unreels it until she finds a frame with something written on it. “EIN FILM VON KLAUS KOBLITZ”
This has to be one of her grandfather’s German films but it can’t be because all of those were lost a long time ago, much to the dismay of the film world. All Mina knows about her grandfather is that he immigrated to the U.S. after World War II, made one flop of a pirate film in Hollywood, and became very bitter. Because he killed himself before she was born, she never knew him and her father absolutely refused to talk about him. Klas Koblitz has always been a dark mystery to her and she’s wants to know more about him.
In an effort to track down where the film came from, Mina ends up consulting with Dr. Hanno at Kinemathek in Berlin. Hanno thinks the reels might be her grandfather’s first film, Tulpendiebe (The Tulip Thief), made in 1927, which would be a huge discovery. The only problem is the only equipment capable of showing that old size film is in Hanno’s museum. So Mina flies to Berlin to learn more about her grandfather and the mystery of the film canisters. When she and Hanno view the film, it is indeed The Tulip Thief. Who could have had it all these years? Why did they send it to her, and why now?
“’Do you understand what this means? The value in incalculable.’
‘I like the sound of that,’ Mina said. ‘I’ve got staggering student loans to pay off.’…
Dr. Hanno looked at her as if she were speaking a language he didn’t understand. ‘I wasn’t talking about money. I was talking about cinema preservation, the cultural heritage of the tenth art! I am not talking about money. I am talking about Kino!’…
‘Kino,’ Mina repeated.
Dr. Hanno smiled. ‘It was your grandfather’s nickname, before the war. The Wunderkind of Neubabelsberg. Everybody called him Kino.’”
And then the canisters containing The Tulip Thief are stolen. Although Mina thinks her questions are the only mysteries surrounding Kino and the film, she soon learns her mission to find out more about him and his films is far more dangerous than she could have imagined. Who are the men in black? Why are they after her and her grandfather’s films? How did her life become endangered when all she wanted was to learn more about her grandfather and the mysterious film dumped on her doorstep?
“…I left the canisters on the table…They are gone. The cans are gone. The movie, it’s gone. Somebody came into my room and stole it. So I figured I might as well write down everything while it’s still fresh in my memory. It’s 6:30am now, and I should probably call the Polizei. I dread it. I don’t speak the language and everybody looks at me like I’m a freak…I’ll send this epic email now…I miss you like hell…”
Through Kino’s journals and Dr. Hanno’s expertise, we learn that her grandfather was far from the embarrassment her father said he was or the minor filmmaker an encyclopedia might show him to be. Instead he was the youngest writer and director at UFA Studios, a visionary auteur who still worked for UFA when the Third Reich came to power, a true artist forced to make propaganda to survive.
The stories in his journals take us back to 1920’s and 1930’s Germany, to its golden era of filmmaking. There we’re cast into Kino’s world of art, theater and film, where many of Hollywood’s early recognizable names got their start. In addition, we get a glimpse into the way the Third Reich used the arts to further its goals. Jurgen Fauth provides a very visual and fascinating entre into the heart of this artistic and bohemian world during the time leading up to and during the early days of the Third Reich.
As Fauth says on his web site, “Kino raises the questions concerning any artist working today: What is true art? How do art and politics shape one another? And at what cost to his identity, family and sanity should an artist pursue his vision?”
That historical looking glass would be enough for a fine novel; however, in addition, we have the tension of the thriller aspect to Kino. Mina is a complete fish out of water, and is in very real danger – a danger she is completely unequipped to deal with. She can’t trust anyone and has already put her fragile new marriage in jeopardy by coming to Berlin. It really adds insult to injury to find out her life is also in danger, and all because of a film made 75 years ago. And she’s worried about her husband, although once she realizes she could die, his dengue fever seems like a bad cold in comparison.
“In sickness and in health, those had been the words during the ceremony. Mina hadn’t paid much attention at the time.”
I was caught up in Mina’s journey very quickly and then I became caught up in Kino’s journey. His tragic journey, and the misguided role his wife played in it out of love and fear, kept me captivated as much as the fast-moving roller-coaster ride of the thriller in Kino.
“What if, instead of the drunken loser her father made him out to be, her grandfather had been an important artist after all? Someone to be proud of?”
Jurgen Fauth took on a very complex project with this debut novel and it works amazingly well. Parts of it have the feel of a documentary, so much so that I did some research to find out if Kino actually existed. This novel brings up a lot of issues including those around choices made and the consequences thereof, family myths, the artist’s role in society, forgiveness and redemption. If you like historical fiction, thrillers, or film, then I strongly suspect you will enjoy Kino – I know I did!
Can’t wait to read it?
Kino was published in the U.S. on April 12, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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