Helmut Krausser: The Great Bagarozy – Der grosse Bagarozy (1997)


To enjoy this novel you don’t need to be a fan of Maria Callas but you should at least be interested in her life, as The Great Bagarozy – Der grosse Bagarozy is to a large extent an homage to the late Diva. (When you look at the German cover you’ll notice that they chose to make that fact obvious. Not so for the English cover.)

Cora Dulz is a psychiatrist. A very bored one and not exactly someone you’d call compassionate. She’s bored with her marriage to a cardiac tax consultant whose greatest interest is to collect morbid obituaries. There is nothing else in his life he’s this passionate about. Although some hints tell us that he likes to hire cleaning women who perform their tasks naked.

Cora is equally bored by her patients whose ailments make her either yawn or laugh. When two of them commit suicide, she fears for her practice. During this troubled time a new patient appears. Stanislaus Nagy, a man who is obsessed with Maria Callas and states to have known her very well. He pretends to be the devil himself and maintains that he has accompanied Maria during most of her life in the form of a black poodle.

Now this is a story that wakes up Cora. Not only is she interested in this new patient’s story, no, she also falls in love with him and fantasizes constantly about having sex with him. When he doesn’t turn up anymore she looks for him and ends up chasing him until she finds him on the stage of a music hall performing as The Great Bagarozy.

Kraussers novel deliberately blurs every line and confuses assumptions. Is Nagy ill? Or maybe Cora is far more obsessed than he is? Is he really the devil? Could that be?

Whether Nagy is just a devilish man playing tricks on a bored psychiatrist or whether he really is the devil is for you to find out. In any case, he pushes Cora to commit something quite horrible in the end.

I found this novel to be interesting, witty, funny, full of symbolism and extremely well-written. Krausser has a way with words, many of his sentences are worth quoting, and his descriptions are unusual like when he says the sky was the grey of poisoned doves. I’ve always been fascinated by Maria Callas. The woman and the legend and the fact that she’s actually not that good a singer but was considered, and still is considered, one of the greatest. Her life was tragic until the end. If you’re interested in her you’ll learn quite a lot about her life. I loved that Krausser chose to add the macabre obituaries Cora’s husband collects. It added a Six Feet Under feel to the story. He also chose to add many photos of Maria Callas, which add another layer. It’s interesting how her pictures seem to mirror her voice. She could be so beautiful on one photo, and look really rough on the next. When she was younger she managed to sing quite a pure soprano (especially in Tosca) but later on she was much more of a mezzo-soprano (as in Carmen), which, as far as I know, was her true voice type.

The Great Bagarozy is a funny, wicked, entertaining book and a great homage to Maria Callas.

The book has been made into a movie directed by Bernd Eichinger.