Putzmann - the name
itself is a joke!
German humor is not an oxymoron. Anybody who's spent time in Europe can see for himself that Germans enjoy a good laugh like anybody. A good half of American comic tradition came from German immigrants, particularly physical humor, and only the language barrier keeps it from dominating PBS on weekends instead of the BBC. That's where the Brits cashed in on a common language.
Wright has captured this humor well in PUTZMANN'S DESTINY. His ear for dialogue accurately depicts the earthy wit of farmers and country folk in the mountainous region of southwestern Germany, a culture comparable to Appalachia. Now imagine some sophisticated, over-educated, self-centered city slicker from Manhattan dropped into the middle of the tobacco farms near the Cumberland Gap. That's Harald Putzmann, a one-time investment banker from Berlin. It’s 1991, and Germany is recently reunited. Putzmann lost 50 million of the bank's money in the S&L scandal, and now he's well known in banking circles for all the wrong reasons. As the sole living blood relative of the late Hermann Linder, he's recently inherited a farm in a flyspeck of a town called Kummelsdorf, near the county seat, Goeppingen, some thirty miles east of Stuttgart.
With no place else to go, and nothing else to do, Putzmann moves onto the farm to start over. His big city ways fit the country lifestyle like a tuxedo at a barn dance, and he wastes no time raising the hackles on everybody in this community. The regulars who sit down together for a drink at quitting time in Gasthof Meincke, the local tavern, initially groan over having this obnoxious, citified neighbor. They soon scheme ways to help Putzmann adapt to country living, first by installing a speed bump on the farm road he shares with two neighbors, then later with sincere lessons on farming and selling him seed stock at cost.
Putzmann makes the transformation from banker to farmer kicking and screaming. Harassed by a federal investigator who thinks he stole the lost 50 million, Putzmann commits to cultivating his land, or enough to keep his tax exemption. The Berliner has no respect for tradition or stewardship of the land. Putzmann openly scoffs at regional folklore, especially tales about Drueckerle, a gnome known to take the high and might down to size. When Putzmann decides to burn a protected primeval forest to skirt conservation laws, Freya pays him a midnight visit. Best described as a lascivious elf, she leads the overweight banker on a steamy chase through the woods that lands a naked Putzmann in jail for the night.
Neighbor Kirsch is the only one in Kummelsdorf willing to pick up Putzmann at the jail, and he readily guesses what happened to Putzmann. After Kirsch recounts his own encounter with Freya from 35 years earlier, he treats Putzmann to a nooner at the whorehouse. This begins a great friendship between the two, marking the initiation of Putzmann’s transformation.
By the time Putzmann settles into the routine of farming and discovering a hidden talent for growing barley, Kirsch’s niece moves in. Heidi is a single mom who returned to Kummelsdorf to raise her boys Guenther, seven , and Didi, five, in a healthy, country environment. Like Putzmann, she too is starting over. Also like the former banker, Heidi is a large, strong-willed, and stubborn person. These two immediately hit it off, and Kummelsforf’s great romance begins.
Putzmann makes his first conscious act of unselfishness when a neighbor’s pigs are stricken with hog cholera. Nearly wiped out by this calamity, the situation looks grim. Putzmann dusts off his accounting credential and banking experience to negotiate a loan for his neighbor and save his farm.
Toward the end of the summer, two old "friends" from Berlin, Bodo and Franz, show up out of the blue. Former neighbors from Putzmann’s Berlin apartment complex, they’re on the run from the law and picked Putzmann’s Kummelsdorf farm as a place to hole up until the heat blows over. This lasts a couple of weeks until they wear out their welcome and Heidi’s boys see the two on a "Most Wanted" TV show and call in a tip. In between, Bodo and Franz lead Putzmann on a late-night adventure, in search of the best party. Later Franz attempts to pick up where Putzmann left off with touching the forest. He meets an angry Freya and triggers a sudden storm that rains out the fire. Franz makes their arrest that much more interesting by biting the police dog that catches him.
As winter settles in, Putzmann and Heidi are a regular couple. She confesses her love for him and brings up marriage. The romantically-challenged Putzmann doesn’t know what to think or do. He’s never been in a loving relationship and had little more than a passing acquaintance with that kind of commitment. Their discussion is interrupted by the news that young Didi became lost in the woods during a game of hide-and-seek.
Putzmann is among the first to run into the forest to find the young boy....
Wright’s story starts off very comic, then turns serious, once the reader is hooked on these characters. He uses humor throughout to lighten serious lessons for the characters. That and the supernatural. Characters from folklore: gnomes, elves, etc, enter the story like any other character, as if they were everyday citizens of Kummelsdorf’s hills and hollows. Putzmann contends with crows who seem to know too much about his motives and second-guess his moves. The European setting works well for this, because Americans will sooner believe these folkloric characters in their native setting than someplace like Ohio or Missouri.
PUTZMANN"S DESTINY is a fun read with a satisfying ending. In some ways a surprise, yet an inevitable conclusion that fits. These characters are colorful enough that the reader will keep turning pages, just to find out what these folks are going to do next.
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