“Nothing good can come from digging around old tragedies” (32). This warning is given to the reader early on in the Kino by Jürgen Fauth, from independent publisher Atticus Books, meant to prepare the reader for the haunting journey through the present miseries and past tragedies that are inflicted by the monomania that follows a true artist. The book takes on many of the gripping questions that plague the artist, such as: What is art? When does art cause a loss of reality? How do the gifts and talents of the artist affect the outcome of their (and their families) lives? And how is art affected when it is removed from the hands of its creator?
The story begins with a discovery by Mina Koblitz, the granddaughter of the legendary German filmmaker Kino, when she receives two mysterious film canisters on her doorstep that contain one of her grandfather’s long lost films. Believing that all of his work had been destroyed at the onslaught of the Nazi regime in Germany, she begins to obsessively pursue the truth about her infamous grandfather, and why she was the one entrusted with possession of the film. Mina finds her way to Berlin, to enlist the help of German film experts, and inquire about the value of the art. However, all she seems to find is more trouble than answers, and she is left fearing her life and the lives of those she cares most about.
The narrative is crafted in a manner that balances the harsh realities of the Koblitz family’s present with their contorted memory of the past. It weaves the reader in and out of the glitz and glam of life in 1920s Germany, through the terror of the Nazi regime, providing glimpses into the horrid attempt at immigration by the family to America, culminating in the present shambles and misery thrust upon the Koblitz name. Kino displays how an individual’s crazed pursuit of truth in life can ultimately rip apart the lives of those closest to them.
Klaus Koblitz, or Kino as he dubbed himself, came into relevance during the height of filmmaking in the Weimar Republic, running with the drug addicts and whoremongers who controlled the entertainment industry. Kino, while indulging himself in the hedonistic lifestyle, appeared to have a masterful ability to create cinematic art that not only brought enchantment and truth to the main screen, but also seemingly had the ability to predict events that would become reality in the lives of those he loved. His film Tulpendiebe became the metaphor for the struggles that himself, his wife, and his family would all have to endure during his harsh existence. When the Nazis rose to power, everything the family had was ripped from them: the artistic freedom, the ability to create, and most importantly the ability to live. The reader is left viewing an artist enslaved by his own talents, with no freedom of expression, forced to live a meaningless existence creating meaningless film.
The novel travels deep into the mental anguish of Kino, by way of his personal journals, and we discover a side of the filmmaker that was possessive, harsh, and mentally damaged, all the while maintaining hints of brilliance and mastery over his craft. Kino becomes the physical embodiment of the struggles of each member of the Koblitz family, and ultimately provides a mirror into their own souls. His art becomes the only true thing that any of them ever experienced, and it is the only thing that allows them to break free of the chains placed on them by others. Kino’s wife, Penelope Greifenau, states, “He didn’t understand his power, had no idea how to control it, and he didn’t care” (155).
Ultimately, the story is one of the redemptive powers of art, beyond anything that the individual has control over. Art is freedom, art is power, and ultimately art is happiness. The reader watches Kino transform from his origins as a talented young director into a crazed lunatic who possesses only his ability to create art. It is this art, which had powers beyond his imagination, that has the ability to heal a broken family, survive a political upheaval, and most importantly provide a meaning to the wrecked lives of individuals. Art cannot be shutout by political swine, it cannot be muted by the masses, and those who do not understand it cannot ruin it. While art may cause mental anguish and distress, ultimately is brings to light the true nature of our existence. That is the brilliance of art, and that is the brilliance of Kino. Most importantly, as Fauth so brilliantly points out in The Constitution of Mulberry at the conclusion of the novel, with art “Anything Is Still Possible” (230).
Submitted by Trip Starkey. Follow him @TripStarkey.