An aging botanist withdraws to the seclusion of his family’s vacation home in the German countryside. In his final days, he realizes that his life’s work of scientific classification has led him astray from the hidden secrets of the natural world. As his body slows and his mind expands, he recalls his family’s escape from budding fascism in Germany, his father’s need to prune and control, and his tender moments with first loves. But as his disintegration into moss begins, his fascination with botany culminates in a profound understanding of life’s meaning and his own mortality.
Visionary and poetic, Moss explores our fundamental human desires for both transcendence and connection and serves as a testament to our tenuous and intimate relationship with nature.
Klaus Modick is an award-winning author and translator who has published over a dozen novels as well as short stories, essays, and poetry. His translations into German include work by William Goldman, William Gaddis, and Victor LaValle, and he has taught at Dartmouth College, Middlebury College, and several other universities in the United States, Japan, and Germany. Moss, Modick’s debut novel, is his first book to be published in English. He lives in Oldenburg, Germany.
German novelist and translator Modick's thoughtful English-language debut takes the form of a journal discovered after the death of a retired botanist. At a rundown cabin in Ammerland, Germany, the body of Lukas Ohlburg is found covered in moss, as is the interior of the lodge. His final project, a tract criticizing the scientific terminology of modern botany, remains unfinished, as his efforts were instead channeled into a journal in which he links the life cycle of moss with final reflections on his own life. Modick meanders through the short tale, moving quietly and meditatively through the details of Ohlburg's memory: his father's relentless efforts to stop the encroaching forest from reclaiming their property, his first sexual experiences, his friendship with his younger brother, and their family's flight from the Nazi regime. After each topic, Ohlburg returns to the condition of the moss. Modick skimps on story, but he's a skilled prose stylist, and in the capable hands of Herman he conjures a graceful, thought-provoking portrait of memory and mortality. "One could say that is always only pondering its own past," Ohlburg's journal reads. "Its present, however, is pure, humble beauty." Though the book might not stay with readers, Modick's insightful tale is pleasant while it lasts.