Sunday, November 20, 2016

Vampire: A Wild Story in Scraps and Colors – review

Author: Hanns Heinz Ewers

Translator: Joe E. Bandel

First Published: 1921 (German Language)

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Vampire is the third book in the Frank Braun trilogy and originally written in the German language by Hanns Heinz Ewers and published in 1921. This new uncensored version is translated into English for the first time by Joe Bandel. The book details Frank Braun's adventures in New York prior to the United States involvement in WWI. It is a love story with a vampiric twist!

The review: Hanns Heinz Ewers wrote three books concerning the character Frank Braun, the first was The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in 1910, the second (and easily most famous) was Alurane in 1911 and this was the third. My thanks go to William who spotted it on Kindle.

I had read Alurane and, whilst some class it as having vampiric overtones, personally I didn’t notice them. It is a strange beast, driven by the mad theories of eugenics and involving the creation of a woman (by artificially inseminating a prostitute with the sperm of a hanged murderer) who is without morals or empathy. Indeed, she is pretty much a sociopath but the book itself is his most famous and has been rendered onto celluloid. However, the eugenics aspect brings me to a point I wish to address.

Like many modern readers, the fact that Ewers was involved in the early incarnation of the Nazi Party makes me uncomfortable with reading his output. That said, it is also a fact that he drew the ire of the Nazis both because he was pro-Jewish – in book Braun’s mistress, Lotte Levi, is Jewish, indeed in this volume he tries to draw the idea of Germany and the Tribes of Israel having a joint manifest destiny – and also because he displayed gay tendencies.

This volume is really rather strange. It is clearly semi-autobiographical as Braun comes to America, by way of South America, as the First World War begins. He is co-opted by fellow Germans as a pro-German speaker to try and raise money for the war effort and keep America out of the war. At one point he tries to encourage Pancho Villa to attack the US in order that the American eye is directed to its own border rather than to Europe. These, albeit romanticised and fictionalised, mirrored Ewers’ actions in real life (until the USA entered the war and he was put into an internment camp).

However the reader becomes more and more aware that Braun has developed vampirism, as an illness. Only Lotte Levi seems aware of this – Braun is himself unaware – and she feeds him blood, a transaction he blanks from memory so we do not see this occur as the book follows his point of view.

As the book progresses, we get connections drawn to a blood cult as old as civilisation, and within the pages we get specific mention of Kali as well as tying in child killing Goddesses of all pantheons. Ewers connects this with Erzsébet Báthory (though mentions no direct vampirism or blood bathing, just murder) and Gilles de Rais and his crimes. The myth of the pelican piercing its own breast to feed its young its blood (or to spill on them to resurrect them) is mentioned. Late on we get a connection with man-tigers and other forms of feline lycanthropy – suggesting that the man-tiger drinks blood.

Braun sleepwalks and, without blood, becomes listless and rather ill. He believes himself to be the victim of a disease, though the doctors can’t track it down. He gets some temporary relief through a variety of drugs, but nothing permanent. Cannibalism is listed, at one point, as being symptomatic of a disease.

The book itself meanders and is, perhaps, less focused than Alurane. However it has interesting vignettes and is an unusal beast worth reading. 6 out of 10.

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