The book blurb reads: Mathematician and writer, Leopold Perutz (1882-1957) could have remained known only for the algebraic equation which is named after him, if Borges hadn't rediscovered his books, bringing to the public attention the eleven novels that Perutz wrote in the interwar period.
He was named a picaresque Kafka
and his works were admired by writers like Borges, Italo Calvino, Ian Fleming and Graham Greene, but nowadays his novels seem to be more popular in Europe than in the US. The Swedish Cavalier
, Perutz' best known book, is a strange mixture of historical fiction, parable, fantasy and mystery. I had the feeling that I was reading a medieval tale, although the setting is the XVIII century Silesia (historical region of Central Europe located mostly in Poland, with smaller parts in the Czech Republic and Germany). The atmosphere is engrossing, the reality is intertwined with myths and popular beliefs, to a point where one can't tell the difference between them.
The novel begins with a seemingly true fact, the memoirs of Maria Christine von Tornefeld. She recounts the strange disappearance of her father, who was killed on the battlefield, but whom she had seen at her window after
he was buried. Before his departure to the battle, she - a mere six year old - had sewn a satchel with soil and salt inside his tunic, so that his father would always be bound to return to her.
Starting from this 'historical' fact, Perutz creates an amazing story of identity theft and deceit, a puzzle where all the pieces fit smoothly together. Two fleeing men cross their paths one winter: a thief (known as Fowl-Filcher) who is hiding from authorities and Christian von Tornefeld, a knight who has deserted the army. What follows is a foul deed made with good intentions, which triggers a switch in the destinies of the two men.
I would say that, if you can find this novel, you should definitely read it! I know I've enjoyed it quite a lot.