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  • Reviews for David's Revenge by Hans Werner Kettenbach
  • David's Revenge |  Hans Werner Kettenbach |  Review
Reviews for David's Revenge by Hans Werner Kettenbach
'German school teacher Christian Kestner is shocked to receive a letter from Tbilisi with the civil war going on even though it took four weeks to arrive. David Ninoshvili asks if he can stay with Kestner while in Germany. Kestner agrees with trepidation. Seven years ago he stayed at the home of Ninoshvili only to have a tryst with his host's wife. Ninoshvili's letter triggers guilt, remorse, and fear that the guest comes to enact vengeance. More bitterly disturbing to Kestner after his guest moves into the spare bedroom is the obvious fact that Ninoshvili seems to get on better with Christina's wife Julia and teenage son Ralf than he does. Soon panic stricken Kestner fearing the loss of his family; he begins to believe he must act before the subversive Georgian asks for asylum.
DAVID'S REVENGE is a timely deep thought provoking tale that is a combination psychological thriller and a historical fiction of Georgia. Kestner's growing paranoia is the prime center of the former while Ninoshvili represents the latter; both are fascinating as each seeks the Golden Fleece defined differently by each of them. The backdrop of religious and ethnic cleansing, "socially right " patriotic nationalism, and anti immigration scapegoat fervor are deeply explored in Germany and to a degree in 1990s Georgia, but could easily have been 2007 America.' - Genre Go-around
'Hans Werner Kettenbach is, in literary terms, what one might call a late developer. Now 78, he started out as a football journalist at 28, took a degree in history and philosophy at age 36, and wrote his first novel at 50. Since then five of his twelve novels have been turned in to films.
He is said to be a writer in the Patricia Highsmith tradition, and David's Revenge is certainly a dark thriller with a slow build. Christian Kestner, a school teacher with a wife and rebellious son, is perturbed when he gets a letter from a Georgian called David Ninoshvili. The man claims to be coming to Germany to try and promote his native country's literature. But Ketsner fears another motive. When he was in Georgia on a cultural exchange, he met Ninoshvili, and his wife Matassi. On a couple of occasions he came close to making love to Matassi, and it was only circumstance that prevented it. Ketsner's mind is in turmoil - even in Georgia he was not sure if the dalliance was a mutual attraction, or if he was being set up to be politically blackmailed.
Now at home, his son gets angry at the impending arrival of the Georgian. Ralf is involved with right-wing activists, and Ketsner cannot control him. But when Ninoshvili arrives, his son is curiously attracted to the man. And so is his wife, Julia. She tries top help the Georgian, and Ketsner cannot help wondering if she is having an affair with him. Kestner is prone to imagining situations that might have been, and soon the imaginary melds with reality. He cannot tell the two apart, and he is drawn into aiding the secret police, and into an affair of his own. Kestner's world falls apart as his behaviour at school sets him against his colleagues. Then Ninoshvili is badly beaten up, and Ketsner fears his son is involved.
Kettenbach subtly blends Ketsner's imagined incidents with real ones, slipping imperceptibly from reality to what-if. And everything builds slowly, creeping up on the reader, so that it is hard to see where his character's state of mind tipped over. If there can be any criticism, it is expressed in Kestner's own words as he himself is perplexed by the slow development of events. He wonders, 'It can't go on like this. Something has to happen.' Gradually though, it does, but Kettenbach cleverly does not give us a violent ending, but a painful and insidious breakdown of Kestner's mental state and his very normal world.' - Tangled Web
'Wonderfully terrifying novel from one of Germany's leading crime writers.' - Le Monde
'But does David want revenge? That's the question, and it's a big one for the discursive, uncertain German narrator, Christian Kestner, who is hiding the guilty secret that he once almost seduced David's wife - almost, because at the crucial moment, he and David's wife were interrupted. Did David know? David, you see, is an enigmatic and increasingly mysterious Georgian who has, somehow, got a visa allowing him out of Georgia while the country goes through a vicious civil war (this is set in the early nineties - remember Shevardnadze?) and he has come to stay in Christian's house! Georgians, Christian well knows, are given to solving feuds of honour in bloody ways. David is charming, but he has a flick knife. And the local secret service are interested in him. Perhaps David does not want to kill Christian; perhaps he would rather turn his family, ruin his life. Christian's wife is fascinated by David, as in a different way is Christian's son, a teenager going through a neo-Nazi phase. This is an odd, at times frustrating, at times creepy little thriller that, along the way, tells you more than you expected about racial politics in modern Germany.' - Crime Time
'When teacher Christian Kestner gets a letter saying an old acquaintance from Georgia is coming to visit, he begins to worry. Because seven years ago on a business trip, Christian had a bit of a snog and a grope with David Ninochvili's wife. Has David found out and is he coming to seek revenge? Is he KGB? Is he conspiring with one of the factions vying for control of his country as it is torn apart by civil war following the break-up of the Soviet Union? Christian prides himself on being a liberal, but once David arrives and as his feelings of guilt gnaw away at him, fear turns to panic and he becomes almost as prejudiced as the neo-Nazi he so detests, who is influencing his son. David's Revenge is a psychological thriller, which starts slowly, but gradually tightens its grip as Christian cracks up, even suspecting his former East German wife of being a KGB sleeper. A marvellous study of how one man's imagination and neuroses almost destroy his world.
Author Hans Werner Kettenbach published his first book at the age of 50, having held a variety of jobs. Five of his crime novels have been made into films.' - Dagenham Recorder
'The two crime novels by Hans Werner Kettenbach that have been translated so far (both translated by Anthea Bell and published by Bitter Lemon Press) have a carefully controlled point of view. In the new one, David's Revenge, we see everything through the eyes of a middle-aged schoolteacher who is married to a lawyer and has a teen-aged son who is an incipient skinhead. But Christian does more than narrate: he tells himself stories, spins rationalizations of his behavior and that of others, wraps himself up in his story-inspired notions of what is happening around him. The result is a particularly claustrophobic paranoid thriller, brought down to human (rather than global) level within a bourgeois German household. Regardless of this domestic focus, the plot is political: a post-Cold War tale of (possible) spies and collaborators in the newly united Germany and the newly liberated Georgia, thrust then (as again recently) into bloody civil war based on the country's former and current relations with Russia. The novel begins with a letter from Georgia from a translator, David Ninoshvili, whom Christian had met at a conference in Tbilisi a few years earlier, and who is now announcing that he's arriving in Germany to stay in Christian's guest room while pitching Georgian literature to German publishers. Christian remembers David and especially David's wife, with whom Christian had almost had an affair. The whole story turns on what David might or might not have known about the interrupted affair, and on who David might actually be now and have been then: a KGB or Georgian intelligence officer who lured a German into a compromising position? A jealous husband bent on revenge? Christian is quite a different character from the narrator of Black Ice, Kettenbach's previously translated novel, who was a bit slow intellectually. Christian is an intellectual and a seasoned high school teacher and drama instructor. Rather than piecing together the puzzle of what might have happened, as in Black Ice, Christian evolves through a series of reinterpretations of David and of his own wife and son (whose relationships to David change through the course of the novel), through the narration of events and through the stories (told in the present tense, as we would tell a joke--"a dog walks into a bar...", at least in English) that Christian's interior monologue repeatedly lapses into. As with Black Ice, though, the murder and mayhem are all off-stage, and Christian only catches glimpses of these events second-hand, through the TV and newspapers. Christian is an ordinary guy, caught up (or not) in international intrigue and suddenly fascinated by the history and literature of Georgia and its relationship to Germany. What Kettenbach is up to is not a Le Carré sort of thing, not even the post-Cold War Le Carré. His novel brings down the big-issue politics, the still active intelligence apparatus, and murderous crimes to the living room, to now, to the schoolroom, and to the bedroom and to the interior of an ordinary man's dialogue with himself.' - International Noir Fiction
'This is German novelist Hans Werner Kettenbach's story, first published in 1994, about Christian Kestner, whose life is turned upside-down when an acquaintance from Georgia arrives at their home in Germany. Christian, a social studies teacher, knows that the KGB and the Stasi haven't gone away even several years after the German reunification and the fall of the Soviet Union. He indulges in daydreams about what would happen if Ninoshvili were a member of the KGB or if he knew about the crush Christian had on his wife.
Christian begins to suspect Ninoshvili's motives for visiting when he discovers that the man has lied about where he's been going during the day and begins spending time with his wife Julia. When a friend tells Christian some suspicious facts about his own wife, Christian's delusions and fears take control and he begins to play his own spy games. This suspenseful novel provides an interesting look at post-soviet life in Germany and a unique view inside German politics and schools. The real thrill of the novel comes from watching Christian's destructive spiral and trying to separate his delusions from reality.'
- ForeWord
'A letter from Tbilisi causes Christian Kestner, the German narrator of David's Revenge, to break into a sweat. It's from David Ninoshvili, a man who hosted him seven years ago in the Republic of Georgia. David will be visiting Germany and hopes to stay with him. He could be arriving any day. Christian Kestner is a straight-laced, uptight high school teacher happily married to Julia, a devoted, attractive lawyer. They both love their son, even though he's a right-wing lout. All three are far from enthusiastic about their impending guest from Georgia. For all they know, David could be a rebel Georgian activist. There's a civil war going on. There's no telling what his real reasons for being in Germany could be. He says he's there promoting Georgian manuscripts to German publishers. Maybe. What Christian's wife and son don't know is that one night seven years ago, David Ninoshvili caught Christian with his hand under the dress of Matassi, David's wife. Now as Christian looks back on the time he spent in Tbilisi, he suddenly realizes what he should have noticed before--that David barged in on his wife (were they ever really married?) with Christian at exactly the right moment. It was all a careful trap. Kestner had simply taken the bait. And now, seven years later, David arrives on their doorstep oozing charm, handsome, courteous, very fond of television. But as he intrudes more and more on the family's personal space, host Kestner is driven to snooping and suspecting and over-reacting. He can no longer control his own fears.
Author Kettenbach writes in a lean, propulsive style that tells you only what you need to know and no more. The result is a streamlined, precise narrative, ironic, often subtle, sometimes skeletal, frequently frustrating. But somehow this unusual style works, drawing you in quickly, never manipulating you but somehow keeping your interest as tension mounts, as both wife and then son become fascinated with David. It all culminates in a quiet little ending that clobbers the reader so fast you don't know what's hit you until you let it begin to sink in. David's Revenge is a disturbing, moody examination of a family telling lies to stay together, told by a narrator who will do anything to save his wife and son, anything.' - Shelf Awareness
'Christian Kestner had not been expecting a letter from the war-torn country of Georgia. A well-respected German school teacher, Kestner had put his visit to Tbilisi seven years ago to the back of his mind. But the arrival of his former host David Ninoshvili proves unsettling and re-awakens uncomfortable memories. Kestner feels particular guilt over an indiscretion with his host's wife and this leads to a growing fear that the Georgian is seeking revenge against him. Paranoia grows in the teachers mind when Ninoshvili appears to exert a growing attraction over Kestner's wife Julia and he develops a strong bond with his teenage son Ralf. The relationship between Kestner and Ralf has become increasingly strained as he appears to show sympathy for right-wing extremist views. This is both painful and embarrassing for Kestner who considers himself to be liberal and enlightened, values he attempts to engender in his students.
Events become increasingly tangled as the personal fears of Kestner become intertwined with the political and social upheavals in Georgia during the late 1980's and early 1990's and the uneasy tension between Germany and the Soviet Union. Kestner finds himself involved in spying for the German state and feeling increasing alarm when it appears that Ninoshvili intends to seek asylum in Germany. David's Revenge is an intelligent and thoughtful novel whose central theme is the corrosive effects of fear on even seemingly balanced and logical people. Author Hans Werner Kettenbach skilfully juxtaposes myths and legends from Georgia's past, the land of Colchis where Jason once travelled to find the Golden Fleece, with the grim suffering and pain endured by its population during recent times.
This is a dark psychological drama with an underlying threat of violence where individual and social morality is constantly questioned. Racism, nationalism and xenophobia are amongst the uncomfortable subjects that Kettenbach explores in this sinister but fascinating rumination on the true nature of revenge.' - Crime Time II
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  • David's RevengeHans Werner KettenbachReview