Memories of Recurrent Echoes


Meaning and Symbols by Michael Caruana

(approved by the author)





   The Front Cover

  The front cover of the nude girl basically represents the title of the novel itself. The girl appears lost in thought, playfully caressing the water which leaves ripples in its wake. These ripples symbolize echoes or resonances from the past which have now resurfaced. Moreover, the nude girl in the water reminds us of Nadia going into the lake before she had been sexually abused – the event which possibly represents the turning-point of the whole novel.

  The description of the village: an allusion to humanity  

  In the first page of the opening chapter, the author provides us with a description of the village: This village is surrounded by the countryside with its hills, forests and streams...  This description somehow recalls a classic painting of a natural landscape with a hamlet, which once immortalized on the artist’s canvas, will never change. It reflects also the nature of the human being: as old as a natural landscape that (apparently) never changes, but regenerates itself through eternal recurrence.

  The Cemetery  

  Soon after this description, we come across the cemetery lying next to the village. It is as if the author wants to convey the notion that the events in the village will eventually, in time, turn to ashes, so that another life-cycle will have run its course. This is an allusion to Nature’s indifference to human activities – the reverse is of course equally true

  References to houses  

  The characters’ houses feature frequently in the book. On analysis, one can see that each house mirrors its inhabitants’ spirit. For example: Otto lives on his own in a modest house which however does not lack anything. The thing he treasures most is a small library in the living-room, which though not large, contained a number of manuscripts and books which could almost bear comparison with those in the Vatican archives. Otto’s library is, to a certain extent, Otto himself in whom life’s wisdom is stored.


  If I were to try and interpret the significance of Otto’s house, I would say it abounds with the ancestral energy of the sages who previously lived in it. Probably even his friend the artist lived in it before his relatives came and spirited him away. The echo of their transcendental spirit lives within it. That is why, at the end of the novel, Baldur requests Teo (now that the latter was about to start living in his house) to take care of it.

  Hans’ house is reconverted, and this reflects a spiritual change: in the same way he converts the abandoned house in the forest; he also undergoes conversion.

  Conversely, Klaus’ house does not reflect harmony or well-being, but is something of an inn which everybody can enter; a reference to Man who accepts all the wickedness he comes across. Subsequently, the inn becomes Eva’s, who on realizing the mistake she has committed, decides to clean it up (clean herself up). She does the same thing with the house her father left her; she refurbishes both house and tavern in much the same way she renews herself spiritually.

  The rape and its consequences: Karl and Eva’s generosity  

  Nadia’s rape is a crucial element in the novel. Ironically, it is from this moment onwards that we start witnessing several incidents where love shines. The first such example occurs when Nadia chooses not to have an abortion. Although she would have loved to have Fr Friedrich’s child, Nadia conquers her natural reactions to the extent that she not only gives birth to Karl, but actually loves him as if he were the child of the man she loved.


  In the book there are repeated references to Nadia’s extraordinary relationship with her son Karl; one presumes it is this limitless love which eventually moulds Karl into a noble-hearted man capable of a love he ironically “never believed in”.

  Karl shows his noble nature when he decided to save his brother from the concentration camp. As already stated, Karl has always feared love, perhaps because he loves so much he does not want anybody to get hurt because of him. Karl is very aware of how deep yet devastating this emotion can be for those who can really love. That explains why, on their way to Nuremberg after the escape from Dachau, he said to his brother: “There is nothing more confusing than the exasperation of that poor loving heart beating for love...” For Karl, love is so immensely sublime that he can only express it through his death. Anything less than this extreme gesture was nothing but “stimuli melded together”, as he once described to himself the feelings he had for Eva


  Eva is the female version of Hans. Chaos and malice feature very prominently in her early life. However, just like Hans, after having behaved the way she did with Fr Friedrich, she feels she has to change, she decides to convert. Just like Hans she makes up for her past misdeeds: 1)  by keeping  Karl’s secret; 2) by forging a close friendship with Nadia, and 3) later, by raising and taking care of the young Magda and Fritz. Ironically, a great deal of good comes out of her father’s malicious deeds (Klaus’ behaviour). Had not the salient events occurred in the way they did, that is, had not Eva become Nadia’s bosom friend, in all probability Nadia would not have found the strength to overcome all her difficulties, primary among which was her son Karl’s death. The message is clear: judge not, because whatever you are passing judgment on may turn out to be the Holy Grail which one day will get you out of a tight spot.


Eva and Karl both enter this world in a manner bereft of all love; ironically, together, with a few others, they are the ones who show what human goodness is all about!

  Klaus’ responsibility for his own misdeeds  


Klaus is entirely unwilling to change and somehow always manages to justify his behaviour. Somebody  who is all the time justifying his own behaviour never learns anything, even though life presents him with many opportunities. Otto is such an opportunity for Klaus, but Klaus only manages to betray himself and misuses his intellectual talents for egoistic gains. Ironically, it is the brothel (misinterpreted by him as an intelligent move) which betrays him to the authorities, which eventually leads him to the battle-front where he continues to mire himself in chaos and madness. Therefore, it might have been that intelligent move – the brothel in Nuremberg - that ultimately was responsible for his own mental collapse.

  The  censer

  The censer is utilized twice as a literary device: the first time when Fr Friedrich meets  a budding Nadia in the convent, and is sexually attracted to her. The second time when Eva took it back to him after it was repaired and, in a few minutes, she had re-stirred the calm waters on which he had been sailing for the last two years. ‘…How could that censer have re-incensed me with profane smoke?’ This is an allusion to eternal recurrence: although time moves on, all things repeat themselves in some way. Otto explains this to Franz in one single sentence: “Change is nothing but an illusory result of the same thing experienced yesterday attired in new garb.”

  The mailed letters in the novel

  The discerning reader will notice that the author utilized the mailed letters not only as part of the plot, but also in order to open a window on the historical events in Europe at that time. They provide a sort of historical account, which at the same time serves as background to the story-line.

  Klaus’ enigmatic smile

  There is a particular sequence with a very subtle message, when Hans and Fr Ludwig visit Klaus in the hospital at Hadmar. At one time, Klaus smiles at Hans. Maybe that smile is a message to Hans that he (Klaus) will never divulge what was behind Rudi’s murder. Perhaps Klaus’ smile was an attempt to re-assure Hans that he will carry the secret to the grave.


  Ironically, his daughter Eva has to go down the same road. In fact, because of her behaviour in the past, and in the name of love, she will never reveal to Karl that she is his half-sister, that they share the same father; she herself has declared that she will “carry a secret to the grave”, exactly like her father did with regard to Hans.


  Like all other human beings, Nadia passed through many negative experiences but she was strong-willed enough to face them with courage. Moreover, she was bold enough to step outside the bounds of conventionality. In the novel, this is underlined for example, when she unexpectedly proposed to Friedrich herself, rather than the other way round. In this passage, the author wants to drive home the point that Nadia is no ordinary person, who besides representing female internal and external beauty, personifies the strong-willed woman. It is as if the author, in deference to her sublime qualities, would like to immortalize her, so much so that she is the only character who features in all four sections of the novel to the full. She is also the only character to reach the venerable age of one hundred, symbolically evoking a succession of Biblical characters who were also endowed with remarkable longevity – a ripe old age being a tribute to the good qualities of the individual concerned.


 Nadia’s nobility of character emerges in its fullness when she gives the old Monsignor Albert a reprimand about his evil deeds, her words clearly revealing her upstanding moral qualities. It is almost her last testament for the reader. The final curtain could not have fallen at a more appropriate moment, paying a fitting tribute to a true heroine.


Manfred : Hans’ Alter Ego ( Eternal Recurrence once again)

  Like Hans, Manfred possesses some outstanding qualities, among which his readiness to repent, and the willingness to change into a better person. Similarly, Manfred cleanses himself spiritually. It is no coincidence that Manfred appears towards the end of the novel, because through him and other characters, together with past circumstances, a new cycle of the same old events gets under way.

  Fr Ludwig’s testament

  Towards the end of the novel, we read about Fr Ludwig’s last will. The author cleverly makes use of this element to allow the reader to learn how events had unfolded, and also to ensure that through Ludwig’s burning of the letter, the twins will be kept in the dark about past events.

  Otto and Teo

  The novel opens with a question which draws Otto to the village. What does the author want to say? This is an allusion to the handing down of knowledge, or wisdom. Otto is a wise man and could not help be attracted to someone similar, that is, that same artist who asked him the question. The author never reveals the identity of this artist (although he could be the author himself), for a very simple reason: the artist, whoever he may be, is the one who has to pass on his wisdom to the person who is predisposed towards understanding.


  In the fourth section of the book, Baldur tells Teo that he (Teo) too should wait for the opportune moment to hand down his wisdom. To underline this concept the author has Teo at one point remembering what the old man (Baldur) told him when they first met in the village: he had asked Teo the same question the artist asked Otto when the latter first appeared in the village “How many would like to get out of this world at the cheapest price?”


  The mystical and esoteric power of knowledge/ wisdom handed down from the beginning of time manifests itself in Baldur. The fact that Baldur appears in the Nazi area poses something of an enigma. Baldur represents Hitler’s anti-thesis: in that era of great darkness, (the Nazi period) the Light of Wisdom shone on him (Baldur). Apart from this, ironically, Baldur was everything the Nazis dreamed about: the man filled with ancestral knowledge. Under orders from Hitler himself, the S.S. searched all over the world for this super-human being, (Übermensch) even in the lost villages of the Himalayas and in South American jungles, but to no avail. In the fourth section of the novel, Baldur says to Teo: “You should never hide a secret from people’s eyes, but display it before them. In this way, nobody would get to know about it, and you should do this for the good of all…” This is what Baldur himself does; he hides in a place (the concentration camp) Hitler’s officers and the S.S. would never imagine him to be!


  Teo represents the cosmopolitan wise man. It is significant that when, in the fourth section, the group of friends were visiting Paris, one reads that: Teo continued to understand that his complex nature would not allow him space in a restricted world full of ideals created by the collective herd. He dwelt deeply on this during his second sojurn in the city of lights. But it was on the last day he spent in Paris, the first of September 1970, that he finally confirmed this with utmost clarity. On that day, Teo felt a man reborn.

  The last chapter of the novel

  The last chapter is practically the mirror image of the first chapter of the novel (and something of an anti-climax for the preceding chapter: the eighteenth). Once again eternal recurrence rears its head, this time in an extremely clear, direct and explicit way. Everything appears to be in the initial stages of a new beginning, which is why, using Baldur as a mouth-piece, the author tells us that “Bereshit is the first phrase in the Bible which means ‘in the beginning there was…’ This beginning occurs continually, but few are aware of it…”

  And Teo is surely one of these few. Now he could see things limpidly clear in the village, with Angela, among others, chasing the young priest (like Nadia used to do with Fr Friedrich…): He used to smile, though Teo knew very well that everything carried a price…

  One last detail worth nothing is that Nadia dies in the summer of 1980. Angela, Lea’s daughter is born in the summer of 1980, which should be understood as a sort of cyclical continuity. In the last chapter we are told that in the children’s home, Angela’s life is a carbon copy of Nadia’s at the same age. This is another allusion (and the final one) to eternal recurrence.