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High as the Waters Rise
Cover of High as the Waters Rise
High as the Waters Rise
A Novel
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This National Book Award finalist is a dazzling, heart–rending story of an oil rig worker whose closest friend goes missing, plunging him into isolation and forcing him to confront his past.
One night aboard an oil drilling platform in the Atlantic, Waclaw returns to his cabin to find that his bunkmate and companion, Mátyás, has gone missing. A search of the rig confirms his fear that Mátyás has fallen into the sea.
Grief–stricken, he embarks on an epic emotional and physical journey that takes him to Morocco, to Budapest and Mátyás’s hometown in Hungary, to Malta, Italy, and finally to the mining town of his childhood in Germany. Waclaw’s encounters along the way with other lost and yearning souls – Mátyás’s angry, grieving half–sister; lonely rig workers on shore leave; a truck driver who watches the world change from his driver’s seat – bring us closer to his origins while also revealing the problems of a globalized economy dependent on waning natural resources. High as the Waters Rise is a stirring exploration of male intimacy, the nature of memory and grief, and the cost of freedom – the story of a man who stands at the margins of a society from which he has profited little, though its functioning depends on his labor.
This National Book Award finalist is a dazzling, heart–rending story of an oil rig worker whose closest friend goes missing, plunging him into isolation and forcing him to confront his past.
One night aboard an oil drilling platform in the Atlantic, Waclaw returns to his cabin to find that his bunkmate and companion, Mátyás, has gone missing. A search of the rig confirms his fear that Mátyás has fallen into the sea.
Grief–stricken, he embarks on an epic emotional and physical journey that takes him to Morocco, to Budapest and Mátyás’s hometown in Hungary, to Malta, Italy, and finally to the mining town of his childhood in Germany. Waclaw’s encounters along the way with other lost and yearning souls – Mátyás’s angry, grieving half–sister; lonely rig workers on shore leave; a truck driver who watches the world change from his driver’s seat – bring us closer to his origins while also revealing the problems of a globalized economy dependent on waning natural resources. High as the Waters Rise is a stirring exploration of male intimacy, the nature of memory and grief, and the cost of freedom – the story of a man who stands at the margins of a society from which he has profited little, though its functioning depends on his labor.
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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Anja Kampmann was born in Hamburg and resides in Leipzig. She wrote for radio before writing a dissertation on musicality and silence in the late works of Samuel Beckett. She is the author of a collection of poems in German. High as the Waters Rise is her first novel, for which she received the Mara Cassens Prize for best German debut novel, and the Lessing Promotion Prize. She was also awarded the Bergen–Enkheim prize and was nominated for the Leipzig Book Fair Prize and the German Book Prize.
    Anne Posten translates prose, poetry, and drama from German. The recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, her translations of authors such as Peter Bichsel, Carl Seelig, Thomas Brasch, Tankred Dorst, Anna Katharina Hahn, and Paul Scheerbart have appeared with New Directions, Christine Burgin/The University of Chicago, Music and Literature, n+1, VICE, The Buenos Aires Review, FIELD, Stonecutter, and Hanging Loose, among others. She is based in New York and Berlin.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 25, 2020
    The beautiful English-language debut from German poet Kampmann tells the story of a middle-aged oil rig worker’s emotional crisis after the death of his friend. Wenzel Waclaw is devastated when he discovers that his bunkmate, Matyas, has fallen from the oil rig platform where they work and drowned. After learning Matya’s family hasn’t been informed of his death, Waclaw travels to Bocsa, Hungary, to notify Matyas’s half-sister, Patricia, and realizes he knew little about Matyas’s past and motivations—and perhaps knows even less about his own. Waclaw then revisits his own severed connections: in Malta he breaks things off with his on-again, off-again lover; in the foothills of the Italian Alps he reconnects with his late father’s friend; and in Germany he looks for his common-law wife, Milena, whom he hasn’t contacted in years. He also reflects on the toll coal mining took on his father’s health, and Matyas’s shame and frustration following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill when they were working in the Gulf of Mexico. As Waclaw digs up memories of his drilling throughout the world—in Morocco, Mexico, and Brazil—he ruminates on generations of workers who must eke out a living by exploiting the earth and its resources. Kampmann captures the visceral uneasiness that arises from second guessing one’s past.

  • Kirkus

    July 15, 2020
    An oil worker reckons with the death of his best friend in this quiet but powerful novel. As German poet Kampmann's debut novel opens, a middle-aged oil worker named Waclaw grows worried that his bunkmate and longtime confidant, M�ty�s, is nowhere to be found. The two have worked the rigs together for years, cultivating an extremely close friendship, even spending their vacations together. When it becomes clear that M�ty�s has fallen off the rig and died, a stunned Waclaw takes time off from his demanding job, going in search of something, although he's not quite sure what that is. He travels first to Morocco, staying in a room the two had frequently shared, then to M�ty�s' town in Hungary to give his late friend's possessions to his sister. Then it's off to Italy and to Waclaw's own hometown in Germany, where he tries to finally come to terms with the arc of his life. This is a highly interior novel, with Kampmann laser-focused on Waclaw's grief, which is portrayed with compassion and honesty. Flashbacks clue the reader in to the details of Waclaw and M�ty�s' relationship, which, it's hinted, was possibly more than mere friendship. Kampmann's characters are memorable; her dialogue spare but realistic. Her prose, ably translated by Posten, isn't showy, but it's quite pretty and, at times, gorgeous. It can be a difficult novel to read with its insistent quietness and emotional heaviness, but readers who prefer their fiction reflective and not plot-heavy will likely find much to admire in its pages. It's a thoughtful, unsparing look at loss--as Kampmann writes, "Alone, a person can become so angry or sad, it rubs their eyes dull." A promising fiction debut with understated but beautiful writing.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    August 1, 2020

    DEBUT After his best friend, M�ty�s, is swept off an oil platform near the coast of Africa, rig worker Waclaw leaves his job and embarks on a journey of grief through his past and through a Europe changed from his memory of youth and early adulthood. He ventures first to Italy, the residence of Alois, an elderly uncle who was important to him in his youth. Then, borrowing Alois's pickup truck, Waclaw begins an odyssey through Eastern Europe, visiting M�ty�s's sister before returning to his old hometown, where he hopes to reconnect with old girlfriend, Milena, only to find her comatose following a car accident. What results is the story of a man at the edge, a story of displacement and existential loneliness told with restraint and overall vagueness around the relationships among the various characters that both deepen the protagonist's sense of isolation and elevate the action to an almost mythic level. VERDICT Award-winning German author Kampmann is a poet, and this first foray into fiction is a poet's novel in the richness of its imagery and the exquisiteness of the language. It's as if the protagonist were a modern Odysseus returning to a home he no longer has--and that may no longer exist.--Lawrence Rungren, Andover, MA

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Amy Brady, Literary Hub "This is climate fiction--a genre that explores climate change in fictional narratives--at its best."
  • Kirkus Reviews "A quiet but powerful novel . . . Kampmann’s characters are memorable; her dialogue spare but realistic. Her prose, ably translated by Posten, isn’t showy, but it’s quite pretty and, at times, gorgeous . . . A thoughtful, unsparing look at loss . . . A promising fiction debut with understated but beautiful writing."
  • Jennifer Croft, author of Homesick and co–winner with Olga Tokarczuk of the International Booker Prize for Flights "Prose with the brightness of poetry, in a splendidly lucid translation."
  • Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa "So beautifully written, Anja Kampmann's novel is one of those very rare things: a debut of a literary master . . . High as the Waters Rise is our time's answer to the timeless Gilgamesh myth: a friend is lost, and a journey begins, teaching us with such passion about our world, its terrors, its injustices, its moments of piercing tenderness . . . Of any time, an epic. I am deeply grateful to Anja Kampmann for the gift to us that is this novel, and to her translator, Anne Posten, for the crisp and precise version in English. This is the book to live with."
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