The first person narrator of this debut novel is a young pathologist, a woman who relates the story of her family over the course of the book. The story is bleak: a young German woman marries an Austrian soldier in WWII, moves to Austria with him and has three children - two sons (one of whom dies as a youth following abdominal surgery) and the narrator-daughter. In a running commentary, almost hallucinatory at times,  the narrator offers brief descriptions of  a traditional preliminary internship year during which she acts as a pathologist, cares for in-patients, and even makes a futile ambulance call to a fatally injured man in a freight yard.  Yet, virtually the entire novel revolves around her family:her father (whose tuberculosis is briefly described),  a factory worker with dreams of  inventing an electronic security relay (never realized); intermittent holidays of evanescent family happiness; and a long threnody about her father's eventual death at the end of the book from a hopeless and domestically abusive alcoholism. Her detailed description of his death traumatizes everyone around her and leads to a rupture in the family.


Although the narrator’s conflicted stance towards her father, reminiscent of Gerbrand Bakker’s The Twin, is skillfully drawn, and the description of the narrator’s hospital duties recalls, in a more prosaic way, Kafka’s A Country Doctor, the overwhelming weltschmerz that permeates every page, every paragraph and every word, becomes numbing for this reader, especially when it is far from clear what purpose it serves, either artistically or semantically.


Primary Source

Night Duty


Steerforth Press

Place Published

South Royalton, VT 05068



Page Count