Book summary: The Proof

1997 BY AGOTA KRISTOF

Agota Kristof's first novel, "The Notebook," ended with the conclusion of an unnamed war, reminiscent of World War II, and the separation of the previously inseparable twins who were the book's main characters. The anagrammatically named boys, Lucas and Claus T., had, in the moral vacuum of the war, created their own fearsome morality. The darkly surreal world of "The Notebook" is extended in this less brutal but also less powerful sequel. In "The Proof," Claus has escaped life in the forlorn border town that, like the Hungary of Ms. Kristof's youth, is occupied by a totalitarian regime. The world of "The Proof" is not unlike that of Heinrich Boll's "Group Portrait With Lady," and, like Boll's heroine, Leni Pfeiffer, Lucas, the remaining brother, is something of an aberrant saint. While eking out a living first in his garden and later selling books and stationery, he manages to comfort -- but not save -- others more battle-scarred than himself: the disgraced Yasmine, who has given birth to her father's deformed child, Mathias; Peter, the fearful homosexual bureaucrat; Victor, the alcoholic bookstore owner; Michael, the insomniac widower; Clara, the mad widow. These, especially Mathias, give purpose to Lucas's life, which is otherwise devoted to continuing the diarylike notebooks he and Claus kept as boys. As the novel progresses, the notebooks become more than records of events and characters, emerging as the sole proof of the existence of these desolate people.

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