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.


29 thoughts on “Helmut Krausser: The Great Bagarozy – Der grosse Bagarozy (1997)

  1. Thanks for the review, Caroline. I have this on the shelf and bought it after reading EROS (and really liking it) by the same author. I’ll get to this hopefully soon. Funnily enough, I was looking at it just this weekend. I’m sure I’ll like it just for the psychiatrist angle alone. And thanks for the film tip.

    • That’s a coincidence. I still haven’t read Eros. He’s an extremely prolific writer but it doesn’t look as if anything else but this and EROS have been translated. The psychiatrist angle made me laugh although it doesn’t take up a lot of space. It’s very heavy on Callas but I enjoyed that.
      I would love to see the film, not sure if it’s avaliable in English – it’s called The Devild and Mrs D?

  2. This is one of those pre-blog books that I’ve always meant to reread for review purposes. A terrific, if wicked read. I didn’t know about the film so …. i can feel a book to movie post coming on.

  3. I saw the film some years ago. It wasn’t bad, but not great. I felt it was self-conscious of its own weirdness. You know, trying too hard, instead of just getting on with the movie. Sometimes trying to be clever or hip instead of just being the story it was. Til Schweiger was definitely unexpected in this kind of movie.

    Anyway, probably still worth a look if you’ve read the book. There are some funny and creative scenes.

  4. What an unusual premise. I do like that quote about the sky, but am not sure if I’d like the novel. Years ago I read a biography about Callas and couldn’t believe how tragic her life was. I’m not a huge fan, but she is wonderful at putting emotion into an aria. Some say her 80-pound weight loss ruined her voice.

    • I’m not sure this would be for you. It would depend on your mood.
      That weight loss was considerable but it shouldn’t affect your voice that way. It would be problematic for singing WAgner but lyrical soprano? But maybe it did something to her voice chords.

      • Supposedly she strained her voice because she no longer had the support she needed. Renee Fleming is not heavy and does fine as a soprano, so I’m not sure if the theory holds. In the “old days” many opera singers were quite large.

  5. Wonderful review, Caroline! I don’t know much about Maria Callas and so went to Wikipedia and read about her. It looked like inspite of being a talented artist and a famous celebrity she had a tough life and her relationship with her mother was quite troubled. Does Helmut Klausser explore that in this book? I liked that description that the sky was the grey of poisoned doves. Very interesting image. Thanks for this interesting review. I learnt new things after reading it.

    • Thanks, Vishy. She’s a very interesting person but in a tragic way. Krausser focusses more on her talent, her legend and her tragic love story with Onassis.
      I have a biography of her here which I mean to read. The book offers a lot of original lines and imagery. I’ve got so many of his books, I really should read them but unfortunately most of them haven’t been translated.

  6. I would have to know more about the life of Maria Callas to really get this I think. She truly was brilliant talent. There are many great examples of her work accessible online.

    The plot here does sound fascinating. Based upon your commentary, there seems to be shades of the “Sell your soul to the devil for talent” theme.

    • The problem when you don’t know a lot about it is that you’ll be questioning things all the time and would have to read up on her to make sure. Apart from that you’d be able to like it whitout much knowledge.
      From a singer’s point of view I’d say she had something, something special but she was a flawed talent.
      The book is full of symbolism. The black poodle is the form the devil takes in Faustus and in Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus the artists sells his soul to the dvil. Krausser played with all this.

  7. It does sound rather good. I’ve never been particularly interested by Callas though and in fact know almost nothing about her, which makes it sound good but perhaps not for me. Nice review as ever though.

    • Thanks, Max. You don’t need to know all that much. I doidn’t think it helped me undertsand the book more, I just knew he didn’t make the details up. I think if you are overfamiliar with her life, it could feel a bit like lecture.

  8. This sounds interesting–about Maria Callas in a roundabout sort of way–and interesting, too, how the covers are so different and which aspect of the novel each publisher decided to focus on. Are you choosing books with a music theme or is it just chance? I am not very knowledgeable about music–just last night I was thinking about a book I have about the Schumann’s and went in search of it-but couldn’t find it after a cursory look at my messy book piles–then thought better that I didn’t as I already have plenty of books on the go. This one sounds intriguing!

  9. “a cardiac tax consultant whose greatest interest is to collect morbid obituaries.” Wow, that’s a lot of symbols for boredom for one man. I’m surprised he’s not an accountant. Usually, writers choose bald and fat accountants with a bow tie when they want a dull character. 🙂

    The characters sound really intriguing and the style interesting.
    I don’t know much about opera and opera singers (I’m afraid classical music in almost every form is lost for me) so I don’t think I’d get as much from it as you did.

    Your pick for GLM seems very good so far.

    • I was very pleased with this one. And some of the others.
      I don’t know how much you need to know about music to enjoy this. It’s very biographical.
      His writing style is great. He has written tons of books, only not a lot has been translated into English. But, as I just saw, quite a lot has been translated into French. Also the one Guy mentions Éros.

  10. Pingback: German Literature Month III – Author Index | Lizzy's Literary Life

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