It is the winter of the attack on the Christmas market at the Berlin Gedächtniskirche. A man without a name meets the people around him with renewed attention: Dariusz, the gas station attendant who was once a surgeon and had a son who disappeared in South America. Eli, the rumbling survivor. Or Dorota, the old Polish architect, whose intellectual energy is as confusing as it is infectious. They tell him about their lives, but not only: Their story has been ours, and it will be ours.
"The Sad Guest" is a self and world inquiry of captivating narrative intensity. A philosophical and deeply human novel that knows what losing, repressing, arriving means. A book about survival, in all its beauty, despite all the horrors.
The first-person narrator who roams through contemporary Berlin in The Sad Guest is a flickering, elusive being. The narrator is a writer, has already published three books and comes from Poland. But this novel is not autobiographical. The main character in the first of the three parts of the novel is Dorota, a Polish architect whom the first-person narrator meets through a newspaper ad. The first-person narrator visits Dorota several times. Her monologues charged with existential philosophy are not always pleasant for her listener, but they do bring him into harmony with the fragility of his own existence. The narrator’ s precarious feeling of home and security is shaken by the attack on the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz. The last significant encounter of the first-person narrator is with Dariusz, a former doctor who was stripped of his licence to practice medicine because of his alcohol problems, and who is struggling through his life, while the burden of memories is almost crushing him. Dariusz’s recollections of his arrival in Germany decades earlier illuminate precisely that space of possibility between loss of homeland, euphoria of departure and longing in which all the characters in the novel are located.
The novel was awarded the European Literature Prize based on the synopsis and recommendation provided by the German jury.