The Invisible Land by Hubert Mingarelli, Sam Taylor (Translator)

 ‘I didn’t know why I stayed on.’

The voice belongs to our unnamed narrator, a war photographer. He is in Dinslaken, Germany, in 1945, and reluctant to return home. While the damage around him is being assessed, he sets out to photograph ordinary German people in front of their homes. He is assigned a driver, a young soldier named O’Leary, a car with some fuel and other provisions.

As they drive, seemingly aimlessly, from place to place, we learn that O’Leary, who came to late too do any fighting, is also reluctant to return home. The fighting may have finished, but the aftermath is all around them. German people, ordinary German people, trying to pick up their lives. Our narrator, who has no language in common with them (and often seems insensitive to their needs and feelings) directs them (through gestures). Not everyone agrees to be photographed.

I read on, wondering what it is that our narrator is looking for, what purpose will his photographs serve? I wonder too about O’Leary, about his reluctance to return home.

And then, just as I think their travels are about to conclude, with a family who have offered hospitality, I am jerked out of my complacency by a violent act. I had been lulled into a false sense of safety, with non-combatants at the end of a dreadful war. I am reminded, yet again, that violence exists outside war. I observe the ‘how’ but have no answer for the ‘why’, just sadness and regret for the fact and impact. I am left thinking.

‘We walked into the forest amid almost total darkness and when we came out again the stars, more numerous than above the clearing, guided us towards the road.’

I was sad, too, to learn that Hubert Mingarelli died earlier this year. I have read ‘A Meal in winter’ and ‘Four Soldiers’ and hope to read his other work as it is translated into English.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith