Winner 2016 Deutscher Krimi Preis 2nd place
Translated from German by Rachel Hildebrandt and Alexandra Roesch
Ever wondered about the stories behind the tragedies unfolding daily on the Mediterranean? About the traffickers who fill their boats with refugees? About the local fishermen who catch more than they bargain for in their nets? Or the maritime protocols to be followed when a pleasure cruiser meets an immobilized vessel in the middle of the sea?
Given that Merle Kröger’s Collision is based on information she gleaned while making a documentary on the current refugee crisis, I’m pretty sure that the details in this novel are more fact than fiction. Presented experience by experience, tile by tile, if you will, they form a collage, an unsentimental, damning collage at that.
Kröger’s novel has a host of characters from various corners of the globe, their stories told in short, alternating vignettes. This is slightly confusing at the start but it doesn’t take long to acclimatise if you pay attention to the markers at the beginning of each section. Maybe we’re East of Ghazaouet, Algeria with Karim Yacine, the people trafficker, as he contemplates whether conditions are right to launch the refugee boat. Or perhaps on Deck B3 of The Spirit of Europa, the cruiser in the laundry with the Syrian stowaway Marwan Fakhouru. Now we’re on Deck 12 with the Nepalese security officer Lalita Masarangi and her Filipino colleague Joseph Quezón. This short extract demonstrates how this structure works.
So here we are at paragraph 4 of a crime novel review and I’ve still to mention the crime. Actually I’m reluctant to do so, not only for fear of spoilers, but because I find myself interpreting the whole situation – from the circumstances that initially cause the refugees to flee to the treatment they receive, should they ever actually complete their journey – as one big, morally and politically complex crime scene.
Besides there’s more than one disappearance from the sea-faring vessels.
The more I think about the structure, the more I admire it. It’s not perfect as the voices don’t differ substantially from each other. It does, however, allow Kröger to pack so much into just 221 pages. Not just the refugee experience, but the tourist experience. The tourists are as diverse as the refugees. There are some, but not everyone is annoyingly self-satisfied and superior. Stand-out characters are the wheelchair-bound Sybille Malinowski, who cannot lift her head to see in front of her, and the alcohol-loving Seamus Clarke, who chooses not to lift his eyes from the bottom of his whiskey glass. Yet both see more than anymore would credit. Their back histories allow Kröger to weave in the Jewish flight from the Nazis, the Irish Troubles and the mirroring of those situations with the present political unease.
As for the collision of the title? Well, it’s not the maritime disaster I was expecting, but a collision of circumstances, cultures, outlooks and vested interests in the middle of the Mediterranean, and it makes page-turning, thought-provoking reading.