You’re looking at the first few pages of KINO, a novel by Jürgen Fauth, forthcoming from Atticus Books. KINO is the story of a visionary director’s tragic life and his granddaughter’s quest to redeem him. It is a fast-paced literary mystery, a love letter to the movies from the silent era to YouTube, and a fearless look at the flammable nexus of art, family, and history. The book doesn’t come out until next year, but we’re excited about this one, and we’re excited to introduce you to it. The questions raised here, about what it means to be good and to make art, are ones always on our mind. —Matt Salesses, Good Men Project Fiction Editor
“Art is free. However, it must conform to certain norms.”
Hotel Kaiserhof, Berlin
March 28, 1933
Mina stumbled and fell headlong into her apartment, smacking her knees and the palms of her hands on the hardwood floor. She bit her lip, cursed, resisted the temptation to cry. Rubbing her bruised joints, she turned to see what had tripped her.
Just inside the door sat a pair of metal cases, knee-high, hexagonal, green-grey, a sticker centered on each with Mina’s name, unabbreviated, the way nobody ever used it. The label was handwritten in blocky capitals, with a peculiar choice of preposition that made the canisters seem more like presents than parcel: FOR WILHELMINA KOBLITZ.
Mina sighed. She reached for the keys and mail she’d dropped and picked herself up. She had spent the entire day at NYU hospital, where her husband Sam was ill with dengue fever. He’d caught the tropical disease on their honeymoon, which they’d cut short immediately after the resort doctor in Punta Cana diagnosed him. “Bad luck,” the doctor had said. The disease wasn’t exactly rare, but there also hadn’t been an outbreak in years.
They’d been back for three days now and the marriage was off to a rocky start. The reception had been a disaster, the honeymoon was ruined, and Mina was beginning to resent the long hours at the hospital. This was not how she had envisioned her new life. She spent as much time with Sam as she could, reading in the uncomfortable plastic chair under the glare of the fluorescent lights while her new husband tossed and turned, his eyes glassy, moaning and sweating through his pajamas. In his brief lucid moments Sam complained about the pain in his limbs, the heat, the all-too-real nightmares. Even when he slept, the moaning didn’t stop.
Dengue fever could be fatal, but the smug New York doctor had assured Mina that Sam would be fine. He told her to go home. There could be another week before the fever subsided, and she should take care of herself, rest. Mina thought the doctor was too eager to touch her arm. She was attractive, a little short but busty. Men tended to underestimate her.
The Greenpoint one-bedroom seemed smaller to Mina than ever. They had lived together for almost a year before getting married, and now the apartment was a mess, every open space crowded with wedding gifts — blenders, toasters, sheets, and silverware. The kitchen counter was covered with unopened mail. She hadn’t unpacked their suitcases yet.
FOR WILHELMINA KOBLITZ.
Belated wedding presents from a distant relative? The last time she’d heard her full name had been at her college graduation, almost four years ago.
Mina pushed aside a stack of magazines and lifted the canisters onto the kitchen counter. Picking one at random, she popped its twin latches and opened the lid. Inside were four reels of film.
She opened the second container. Three more reels, kept in place by a jammed-in Styrofoam wedge. Sturdy plastic held black celluloid wrapped around the center. Wasn’t this stuff flammable? Mina pulled a reel out of the case. She set it on the counter and wheeled it around until she found the end of the film strip, locked down with a pin that held the sprocket holes in place. She carefully unwound it, thinking how odd it was that even though her grandfather had been a filmmaker she’d never held celluloid before.
Oh, she thought.
Did this have anything to do with her grandfather?
Mina had never known the old man, a German director who had emigrated to America during the Second World War. He’d made one big flop inHollywood that still showed sometimes on late-night cable. All his German movies had been lost, and he’d killed himself before Mina was born. Her father refused to talk about him.
The celluloid in her hands was entirely black, and Mina kept unrolling it, unable to stop. She tried to wrap it around the fingers of one hand and turn the reel with the other, but the film kept slipping off. She let it stack up on the counter into a loose loop that curled on its own. After two more revolutions she hit a logo, something like a coat of arms. Then, white words on black: the credits. She held the film up to the neon kitchen light, but the letters were too small to read. She kept unwinding it further, and some of the celluloid slipped off the counter and onto the Swiss espresso machine they’d gotten from Sam’s boss. The words grew bigger until there were only two lines, and now she could make out letters, repeated on every advancing frame:
EIN FILM VON
Into the empty apartment’s silence, Mina made a surprised noise, not unlike her husband’s feverish moans. She was holding in her hands one of her grandfather’s lost films.
Subject: Please Don’t Hate Me
Date: Saturday, May 10, 2003
Oh baby. I want you to know how horrible it felt leaving you in that hospital bed this morning. Your doctor assured me that the worst was behind you, and I’ll be back in three days. I promise. We set up a screening for Sunday, and then I’m flying right back to you. I tried to explain, but you seemed pretty far gone and I don’t know if you caught any of it.
I came home last night to what looks like one of the movies my grandfather made in Germany before the war. There were no stamps and when I asked Mr. Palomino who’d brought it, he shrugged. A “messenger boy” who’d made sure he put them inside the apartment. I talked to somebody at the Museum of the Moving Image, and she gave me a number at UCLA and I ended up talking to a guy at the Kinemathek in Berlin, Dr. Hanno something-or-other. He had the worst accent and he was rude, too. I’d forgotten about the time difference and woke him up. But you should have heard him when I mentioned my grandfather’s name. Suddenly I was royalty. He asked me all kinds of questions about the film, the condition it’s in, the reels, the cans—apparently they’re called “cans”—and he asked me to measure the width of the celluloid, and how far from one sprocket hole to the next. He got really worked up. He thinks it’s The Tulip Thief, my grandfather’s first film, made in 1927.
That’s a big deal if it’s true, Sam. All of his German movies were lost, or at least that’s what we thought, and suddenly, there’s one sitting in the hallway of our apartment in Greenpoint. I asked how much it’d be worth, but he didn’t want to say.
Now here’s the thing: it’s an old kind of negative, and it’s in a weird format, something called “Doppelnockenverfahren.” It’s like the Betamax of film. You need special equipment to show it, and the only remaining projector that can handle it is in Berlin at this film museum.
You see? I feel like shit for leaving you and coming over here, but I hope you understand. If this is for real, it’s worth a *lot* of money. Maybe enough for a brownstone with a little garden where we can drink our coffee outside. I could pay off my student loans. Lucy and Josh promised they’d come and visit you every day. I haven’t told my parents—my Dad’s probably still mad about the wedding, and grandfather is a touchy subject with him anyway. Well, I guess everything’s a touchy subject with him.
I left in such a hurry this morning, Sam, I simply grabbed my suitcase from the trip. I hadn’t unpacked yet, so why not just take it, right? Wrong. It’s fucking cold here and I don’t even have a coat or a pair of warm shoes. Instead, I have three bathing suits, my mask and snorkel, and a pair of fucking flippers. I’m such an idiot. I guess it’s all been a little much. I don’t even speak German. Getting here was awful, too: they made me take off my shoes again at security, and there were five babies on the plane. I counted. Five. I took a Xanax and drank some wine but there was no way I could sleep. My mind kept spinning. Now I’m completely whacked and it’s not even noon. Technically, we’re still on our honeymoon. We should be making love in the honeymoon suite, drinking piña coladas, and snorkeling in the clear blue water.
Get better quick. Call me.
I love you,
The man from the film museum, Dr. Hanno, walked into the hotel lobby at precisely 5 PM. 17 o’clock, he had called it on the phone. He was younger than Mina had expected, handsome, barely 30. He had short blond hair, wore rimless glasses, and carried a leather backpack over one shoulder. His last name was Broddenbuck, and when he said it he eyed Mina conspicuously as if he expected her to make a joke. She didn’t know what was funny and just looked back at him blankly.
Mina was wearing a cotton skirt, t-shirt and a denim jacket, and right away, she went into a monologue to explain her unseasonable outfit — the aborted honeymoon, the dengue fever, her cluttered apartment, the reels, and the suitcase, the stupid suitcase she didn’t think to repack.
“Until I can shop for warmer clothes,” she said, suddenly worried that she was speaking too fast for the German. His expression was blank. “Is it ok if we stay here? If this lobby’s no good, we could go up to my room?”
Now Dr. Hanno lowered his eyes and fidgeted with the car keys in his hands. He was flustered.
“Oh, I am sorry,” Mina said. “No funny business—I’m happily married.” She wiggled the fingers of her newly-ringed left hand at him, but that only made matters worse.
“Frau Koblitz,” he said with a stilted German accent. “I made reservations at a restaurant. We were going to have dinner and talk about your grandfather, no?”
Mina sighed. Flexible this guy wasn’t. There was a cool draft and she was getting impatient. In fact, she was freezing cold standing in the damn hotel lobby. Outside, Germany seemed impossibly cold and grey. She didn’t know what she was doing here, when she was supposed to be with Sam. “Isn’t there anything we can order in? If you come upstairs, you can take a look at the movie.”
Dr. Hanno’s confidence returned at the mention of the movie. “Yes,” he said. “With pleasure. Do you like Turkish food? I could pick up something and return?” Mina grinned her best grin. She could take control of the situation. “Meet me upstairs,” she said and gave him the room number.