Geiger, Arno. “The Old King in His Exile”, translated by Stefan Tobler, Restless Books, 2017.
Father and Son
Arno Geiger’s memoir is a look into his private and somewhat personally sacred his relationship with his father, August. This relationship was the result of Geiger’s own desire to share his father’s solitude first and then share it with us next. Geiger wanted to see those places where his father’s spirit was broken and where it thrived and as we read this memoir, we realize just how much father and son love each other. Like their relationship what we read here is tender and beautiful.
We see that Geiger’s father was never an easy man to get along with or to just know. He was born in Austria to a farming family and was drafted into World War II when he was only 17-years-old. He held his grudge about the past. But then he started to change and son just naturally assumed that this was because his marriage of thirty years came to an end as well as his father getting older. However, it turned to be so much more than that. His father had Alzheimer’s.
“Alzheimer’s is an illness that, like everything of significance, tells us about a lot more than just itself”. There is no doubt that we all get confused in the world today but imagine, if you can, what the world is like when things are magnified out of proportion. Alzheimer’s does just that—it enlarges human characteristics and the mores of society. When we look at society with a clear mind, we see that the difference between the healthy and the sick is simply the degree to which they are able to conceal the confusion on the surface. Geiger knew that his father would not ask for help—he was not that kind of man and this what pushes his son to decide that he wants as well as needs to know his father better. He stays with him and hangs onto every word that his father utters and thus discovers a new kind of poetry. He also sees that his father is self-assured, even with his illness, and he has charm and a sharp wit.
Alzheimer’s is such a sad disease and one that we do not have much information about Yet, reading this reading we discover that it is possible to leave the ailing person and re-enter the real world when we feel we cannot take much more of the devastation that Alzheimer’s brings around.
August Geiger is an intelligent and charming man who has been dealing with an awful long and drawn out illness that is, in affect, a death sentence. His world is getting smaller everyday and his love for language is diminishing. His children can no longer take care of him and caregivers who can handle what he is dealing with are hard to find and so they decide to put him in a home. As they clear out the family home (that August built himself by hand), they become aware that their father never threw anything away and they begin to close down everything but two rooms in the family home. They keep those for when he visits home on special occasions.
Arno Geiger retells the story of his father and he also shares the horrors of Alzheimer’s. He tries now to get to know his father but knows that there is just not enough time to do so but he wants to try and that is commendable. Something happened between father and son years ago and Arno wants to pick it up from that point.
August waited until the end of his life to show that he was someone special and far from ordinary. In reading about Arno and August we learn about what is important in our lives and where does family and home fit in. It is more than a look at the relationship between a dying parent and his son; it is a thoughtful look at those events in life that are difficult to deal with. Geiger writes with respect and humility and as we read, we feel his love for his dad.
He has written his father a love letter and he writes about what makes life worth living regardless of all else. We see just how far we can get with the kindness that is in each of us.