High as the Waters Rise
This "gorgeously written" 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 (NPR, One of the Best Books of the Year).
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.
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.