“The Arabs are stupid, lazy, and smelly,” the late German writer and visual artist Wolfgang Herrndorf said of the characters in his darkly comic existential spy novel Sand. “The Europeans, without a single exception, are arrogant racists and pederasts, the Americans torture whoever crosses their path, and the people pulling the strings are—naturally—the Jews.” Originally published in German in 2011, a time when satire had only begun to be killed off, the first English translation of the novel was released as a New York Review Books Classics edition this past June.
Sand takes place in an unnamed North African country immediately before and after the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, an event that clearly weighs on the characters but appears only fleetingly in the text. The novel’s Jewish conspiracy hinges on “ultracentrifuge” designs that are about to be handed off to one of Israel’s enemies yet are sought by a motley, international assortment of thugs, spies, and gangsters. Complicating matters is that the man who accidentally comes into possession of the designs has inconveniently lost almost his entire memory after waking up near a mutilated body in the desert.
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