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Hominid is a novel by Austrian writer Klaus Ebner. The story takes place millions of years ago and tells some days in the life of a group of hominids who live in Central Africa. The book was published by the Viennese publisher FZA Verlag in October 2008.
Hominid takes place several million years ago in the Central African region between rainforest and savanna. The main characters are australopithecus afarenses, a hominid mostly living on trees that existed before the use of tools and fire. The story is told in the first person by the main character, Pitar. In thinking about his social and natural environment, Pitar decides to lead his family to civilization: "Hence I decided to shed some light on the darkness, to light a candle following the motto Let there be light and so on". His linguistic knowledge, thoughts and sayings are those of modern man, including a big knowledge about history, politics, philosophy and literature. Several comments made by Pitar about a particular object that has not been invented or developed yet, add to the funniness of the scenario. Pitar's close friends are Carpediem, who says Latin phrases and quotes the writers of Classical Antiquity, and Lao, who often refers to Chinese philosophy.
Although it is difficult to convince the other characters to follow him, Pitar manages to persuade the patriarchal leader of the clan, Costello, who has taken over leadership from Thorn, who had died shortly before. The group builds windbreaks so that they may descend more often from the trees, which has a higher risk of being attacked by wild animals on the ground. Costello and Re are rivals. Re not only questions the leading abilities of Costello, but also wants to possess Costello's females. To calm down the arising quarrel, Pitar tries to found a parliament in order to settle conflicts peacefully. Whereas Costello thinks the parliament would be a forum in which he can strengthen his power, quoting from famous speeches by Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, the other members ruin the idea because they have no discipline and feel indifferent.
One of the subplots of the novel shows the love between Pitar and Maluma, a female member of the group. Costello pretends the group of females would be his personal harem, but when Maluma falls in love with Pitar, she breaks off her relationship with the leader. On each day, the characters discover new things. On the seventh day, everyone is exhausted from their work and needs rest. However, the calm is broken by the attack of a saber-toothed cat. Several members of the family are killed, including Costello, which allows Re to come to power. Pitar and Maluma decide to leave the group, saying: “We should leave in time, leave Re and his new Reich, which, when I'm taking into account Thorn's previous reign, would be the Third over here.” Pitar and Maluma leave toward the savanna in a move that remembers both the expulsion from paradise and the Out of Africa theory.
The novel has seven chapters, "Day 1" to "Day 7", with the action of each chapter taking place on consecutive days. The chapter titles refer to the seven days of the biblical Creation. Only odd-numbered chapters tell the love story. Writer Karin Gayer mentions in her review that the love story of Pitar and Maluma, and its positioning within the text, offers "a second interpretation of the beginning and the end".
- Akshaya: The name stems from Hindi (specifically Sanskrit) and signifies "the indomitable". Akshaya is a female character with a firm personality. She belongs to the group although she often acts against Costello. In a certain sense she represents the matriarchal form of governance.
- Bongo: African people and language, place names in several African countries; Remembers Adriano Celentanos movie “Bingo Bongo”; forest antelope. The novel presents Bongo as a clownish, male young man.
- Carpediem: Latin for "seize the day", or literally "pluck the day"; this phrase stems from a poem by Horace. Carpediem is Pitar's closest friend. He uses Latin quotations and other sayings.
- Costello: English-Italian family name. Costello is the patriarch of the clan. Interested in remaining in power, he understands that Pitar's ideas might help him. For this reason he helps Pitar.
- Djamila: A female character who belongs to Costello's harem. Her name stems from the Arabic language meaning "the pretty one".
- Ischa: A female character who belongs to Costello's harem. Together with Djamila she woos the clan leader. Her name stems from the Semitic languages meaning "woman".
- Konrad: Old High German for "bold or good adviser". He is a follower of Re.
- Lao: Depending on the intonation, the word is Chinese for "firm, solid" or "old". This also remembers the Lao people who live in Southeast Asia. The character Lao quotes Chinese philosophers and is a friend of Pitar.
- Lucy: Remembers Lucy, the skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis found in 1974 in Ethiopia. Lucy is the mother of most children of the family. At the end of the book she leaves for East Africa with Lao.
- Maluma: Maluma is an artificial word from synesthesia, representing round and smooth shapes.
- Manisha: This name stems from the Hindi and Sanskrit language, signifying "the wise"; Hinduism knows her as the goddess of the mind. Among the clan's women, Manisha has a similar role as Lao among the men.
- Pitar His name stems from Sanskrit and means "father"; its word accent lies on the second syllable: Pitár.
- Re: Italian for "king"; remembers the ancient Egyptian sun god Re or Ra. Re is Costello's rival and enemy. An aggressive character, he understands Pitar as an enemy because of Pitar's support for the clan leader. The attack of the sabre-toothed cat, which kills Costello, allows Re to become the new leader at the end of the novel.
- Rhododendron: Greek for "rose tree"; a flowering plant. The character Rhododendron is a male member of the group with a sense for nature.
- Ruth: Hebrew for "companion". Ruth is a female clan member with a strong character.
- Thorn: The name stems from the Germanic languages and is the denomination of the rune Thurisaz “Þ”, pronounced as “θ”. Thorn is the eldest of the clan and considered a wise man. He appears only in the first two chapters and dies at their end. He was the leader of the clan before Costello.
History of the book
The idea to give prehistoric characters present-day knowledge and a modern language already arose in 2006. Since the author believed that this topic would not be enough for a longer novel, he did not continue working on it at first. The final impulse came with the literature prize Wiener Werkstattpreis in February 2008. The publication of a book offered by publisher FZA was an integral part of the award, and the publisher limited this book to 100 pages. For this purpose Ebner wrote and finalized his story and published the book in October of the same year. Publisher FZA introduced the work to the public in Vienna.
Criticism and interpretation
Heinz Gerstinger means the book would be a “history of the awakening of the spirit of mankind”. The author has the events glided “into the playful by his gently irony”. Several reviewers underline the novel's ironic and satirical aspect. The names of the characters, Latin quotations and idioms add to this as much as the parallelism between the seven days of Creation and scientific hominization. Ingrid Reichel points out the perfect publication date, just in time for the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's evolution theory. Like other reviewers, who had written about Ebner's earlier books she underlines the complex use of a detail rich language which is “steeped in subtle insensitive humor”.
The many expressions in foreign languages, mostly in Latin, are untranslated in the first edition. In her review, Ingrid Reichel invites the publisher to add a glossary to a new edition. The author published such a glossary on his own website.
Despite many clear allusions to several world religions, Ingrid Reichel says that the novel is a book for “readers with humor, for reasoners (…), for darwinists, on no account for creationists, to a lesser extent for people of faith, but rather for atheists, … and fundamentalists drop out entirely”. Another aspect is identified by Karin Gayer when mentioning the parallel evolution of the patriarchal hierarchy in the story's society and the social matriarchy, the first resembling Chimpanzee communities and the second those of Bonobos. In addition, she points out the strength of the women characters. With regard to these underlying comparisons she says: “On another level we are struck by the permanent verbal mix of the ape-like and the human, a combination which leaves us pensive and asks the legitimate question where we, who consider ourselves sapiens in a double sense, should finally classify man.”.
Books and articles
Other books and articles
- Carbonell, Eudald; Moyà, Salvador; Sala, Robert; Corbella, Josep. Sapiens. el llarg camí dels homínids cap a la intel·ligència. Edicions 62, Barcelona 2000.
- Gamsjäger, Sonja. "Gespräch mit Autoren. Dr. Sonja Gamsjäger im Gespräch mit den Autoren Martin Dragosits und Klaus Ebner". Arovell-Kulturzeitschrift. Musik&Literatur&Kunst. Nr. 72. Gosau-Salzburg-Wien, 2009. p. 16-18
- Gerstinger, Heinz. "Review on Hominide". Literarisches Österreich. Nr. 01/09. Vienna, 2009. p. 21-22
- Reichel, Ingrid. "Es lebe die Satire!". etcetera. Nr. 36. St. Pölten, 2009. p. 76. ISSN 1682-9115
- Carbonell, Eudald; Moyà, Salvador; Sala, Robert; Corbella, Josep: Sapiens. El llarg camí dels homínids cap a la intel·ligència. Edicions 62, Barcelona 2000, p. 50
- Cf. Book announcement by the publisher, retrieved on 2009-06-25.
- Ebner, Klaus: Hominide, p. 9: "Also beschloss ich, ein wenig Klarheit ins Dunkel zu bringen, meinen Leuten eine Kerze anzuzünden, nach der Devise, es werde Licht und so."
- Gerstinger, Heinz: Review on Hominide. In: Literarisches Österreich Nr. 1/09, Vienna 2009, p. 21-22
- Gayer, Karin. "Schöne neue Welt der Hominiden". Kultur Online, Verein artCore, Bregenz (AT)/Binz (CH) 10.07.2009. Retrieved on 2009-07-14.
- Ebner, Klaus: Hominide, p. 96: “Wir sollten rechtzeitig wegkommen, von Re und seinem neuen Reich, das, wenn ich Thorns frühere Herrschaft einrechnete, hier das dritte war.”
- Gamsjäger, Sonja: Gespräch mit Autoren, p. 17.
- Reichel, Ingrid: Es lebe die Satire! Review on Hominide. In: etcetera, St. Pölten 2009, p 76.
- Gamsjäger, Sonja: Gespräch mit Autoren. In: Arovell-Kulturzeitschrift. Musik&Literatur&Kunst. Nr. 72. Gosau-Salzburg-Vienna 2009, p. 16-18.
- "Glossary of foreign language expressions". Klaus Ebner's Official Website. Retrieved on 2009-06-25.
- Gamsjäger, Sonja: Gespräch mit Autoren, p. 16.
- Invitation of publisher FZA to the public reading, retrieved on 2009-03-22.
- Gerstinger, Heinz: Review on Hominide. In: Literarisches Österreich Nr. 1/09, Vienna 2009, p. 21-22: “Geschichte vom Erwachen des menschlichen Geistes.”
- Gerstinger, Heinz: Review on Hominide. In: Literarisches Österreich Nr. 1/09, Vienna 2009, p. 21-22: “(...) durch sanfte Ironie ins Spielerische gleiten.”
- Reichel, Ingrid: Es lebe die Satire! In: etcetera (ISSN 1682-9115) Nr. 36, St. Pölten 2009, p. 76.
- Cf. Götz, Hermann: Lob dem Quickie. In: Schreibkraft (ISSN 1606-7169) Nr. 18, Graz 2009, p. 66; Rafael, Julia: Review on Lose. In: Literarisches Österreich Nr. 1/08, Vienna 2008, p. 27-28; Ratz, Wolfgang: Review on Auf der Kippe. In: Literarisches Österreich Nr. 2/08, Vienna 2008, p. 20-21.
- Reichel, Ingrid: Es lebe die Satire! In: etcetera (ISSN 1682-9115) Nr. 36, St. Pölten 2009, p. 76: “(...) von einem sensiblen und feinen Humor durchwachsen (...)”
- Reichel, Ingrid: Es lebe die Satire! In: etcetera (ISSN 1682-9115) Nr. 36, St. Pölten 2009, p. 76: “für Menschen mit Humor, für Denkende (...), für Darwinisten, auf keinen Fall für Kreationisten, weniger für Gläubige, eher für Atheisten, … Fundamentalisten scheiden völlig aus.”
- Gayer states: “Auf einer anderen Ebene fällt die stete begriffliche Vermengung und Durchmischung von Affen- und Menschenartigen auf, eine Verquickung, die nachdenklich stimmt und dem Leser die mitunter berechtigte Frage stellt, wo wir, die wir uns für doppelt sapiens halten, uns eigentlich einordnen sollten.”