Andrea Maria Schenkel’s award-winning debut novel, Tannod (The Murder Farm), is an exploration into the nature of sin and crime. Inspired by the unsolved Hinterkaifeck murders of 1922 in which a whole family had been found brutally murdered, Schenkel’s novel too describes the savage murder of the Danner family.
Comprising of five people: Old man Danner, the ruthless patriarch; his wife Frau Danner who knows that her husband married her only for money and who has been ill-treated by him right from her wedding-day; their daughter Barbara who is as proud as her father and whose husband deserted her one fine day; Barbara’s kids Marianne and Josef whose parentage is a matter of gossip in the village, the family lives in a desolate farm and is not really liked by the other villagers. Then just like that, they are found murdered. The PM report reveals that they had been murdered a few days previously to the finding of their bodies, on the day in fact when a new maid had come to work for them. Could that have any bearing on the murders or is it that old secrets had come calling on that fateful day?
The novel’s structure is disjointed. The narrator is a stranger to the village who had spent some months in the village after the war, which that time ironically was an island of peace, one of the last places to have survived intact after the great storm we had just weathered. The narrator goes on interviewing people who had known the family. As everybody gives his/her views of the family, with no view quite similar to the other, what emerges is a varied view of a dysfunctional family. Interspersed are the views of the murdered members presenting an alternate view of the reality. This trope of kaleidoscopic view is one of the strongest features of the novel. However, the narrator doesn’t really present his views and could have done away with since s/he doesn’t even reach the conclusion which the reader gets to know only through a particular confession.
That small irritant aside, the novel is a powerful page-turner that makes one reflect on the nature of sinning and crimes. Are crimes only the ones that are announced in screeching headlines? What about those crimes that go on behind shut doors? That we are perhaps aware of but do nothing about since we do not want to get involved in the personal matters of others. Who is a sinner? One who takes away a life? What about the person who abuses his/ her powers in ways that are perhaps socially accepted?
Setting it in a Germany not tortured by the vicissitudes of Versailles but by its own horrific Nazi past allows the author to present a picture of a shattered country. There are mentions of POWs from both sides, of teenage boys defending their country against advancing forces, of times under Adolf. The use of the dictator’s first name rather than his (commonly used) surname is a masterstroke since it makes everything so real, so lived, so near.
There are certain touching passages in the novel as when a young girl thinks of her missing father and dreams of him coming to rescue her, or when a girl has to leave her sister because of economic considerations. Also the use of the possessive pronoun ‘our’ while referring to someone near and dear is so much like that in India where we are so possessive about our loved ones.
A remarkable read. Much recommended.
First Line: I spent the first summer after the end of the war with distant relations in the country.
Title: The Murder Farm
Original Title: Tannod
Author: Andrea Maria Schenkel
Translator: Anthea Bell
Publication Details: London: Quercus, 2009
First Published: 2006
Trivia: Winner of (among others) the German Crime Prize, Friedrich-Glauser Prize, and Martin Beck award.
Read as part of the German Literature Month
The book can be easily purchased online. I was lucky enough to get my copy as part of the German Literature Month.
Submitted for the following challenges: Books in Translation, European Reading, Free Reads, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Unread Book