Translated from the German by Ruth Martin
On the face of it, Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin – two icons of the twentieth century – couldn’t be more different. One the statesman whose resolve led a nation in the struggle against Nazi Germany, the other the world-famous comedian behind The Great Dictator. But they are bound by a dark secret: both suffer from depression.
When a chance encounter reveals what they share, an unusual and unlikely friendship ensues. A series of therapeutic meetings across the world, in Germany, England and America, sees each become the other’s confidant as they talk of their ‘black dog days’. With the eye of a masterfully subtle narrator, Michael Köhlmeier imagines a startling friendship of unique understanding between this extraordinary pair; a friendship of the twentieth century between art and politics, humour and seriousness, but which at heart remains an understanding between two men – the poor tramp and the grand statesman – who bring together the history of the century.
About the author
Michael Köhlmeier is an Austrian writer and musician. His works of fiction have met with critical acclaim and his many awards include the Manès Sperber Prize for Literature and Grimmelshausen Prize.
The novel is built on a pure fantasy. Many archives and correspondences between Churchill and Chaplin are used, as if to prove the reality of this imaginary friendship. The reader, at first lost and doubtful, eventually steps into the “willing suspension of disbelief”, while becoming the link between the two men. To plunge into the private life of these iconic characters, struggling with depression, is very pleasant. A fascinating book playing with the narrative codes.
Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill, one a celebrated comedian, the other a great statesman, shaped the twentieth century in a unique way. In a cleverly designed network of facts and fiction,the Austrian novelist, Michael Köhlmeier, tells the story of their friendship. This was based on fighting Hitler as well as the lifelong struggle against depression, their “inner” enemy. Köhlmeier writes with storytelling brilliance, keen attention to detail and an inexhaustible imagination, and creates not only a gripping portrait of the main characters but of a whole century.