In Search of Klingsor

In Search of Klingsor

by Jorge Volpi


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In his international bestseller In Search of Klingsor, Jorge Volpi takes us from the Institute of Advanced Study to the heart of Hitler's Germany, where the line between truth and lies is all but dissolved.Mysterious, seductive, and immediately engrossing, this startlingly accomplished thriller explores the nexus between science and human nature and how they shaped the world in the aftermath of World War II.

In 1940, Francis Bacon, a brilliant young American physicist, is invited to join the prestigious institute at Princeton, the world's foremost physics research facility. But a series of personal indiscretions forces him to accept a different, more sinister, assignment: uncover "Klingsor," Hitler's top adviser on the scientific work in the Third Reich, including the race to create the first atomic bomb.

Bacon's efforts to expose the truth lead him to Gustav Links, a survivor of the attempted coup against Hitler. With Link's help, he continues researching postwar Germany — in an era when a secret was really a secret and a lie wasn't necessarily a sin — and falls into a complicated relationship with an alluring woman. His search for Klingsor, an ominous and seemingly omnicient adversary, is part mystery, part psychological puzzle, part witty intellectual game. In Search of Klingsor places real people in speculative historical fiction, combining the ingenuity of a scientific investigation with the suspense of a great espionage novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416575139
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 08/01/2007
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt


On September 5, the day they came for me, I was in my house on Ludwigstraße preparing some equations that Heisenberg had sent to me a few weeks earlier. Ever since July 20, when Hitler announced over the radio that the coup attempt had failed and that his life had been providentially spared, I knew that I didn't have much time. My anguish grew as I listened to

the subsequent news reports: the execution of Stauffenberg and of his close friends, the preparations for the trials in the People's Court, and the massive wave of arrests that were made in the coup's aftermath.

Well aware that I could easily be the next in line, I tried to remain calm. But when I learned that Heini -- Heinrich von Lutz, my childhood friend -- had been arrested, I knew for sure that my days were numbered. But what could I do? Flee Germany? Hide? Escape? We were right in the middle of the very worst months of the war. It would have been impossible. All I could do was wait, quietly, for the SS or the Gestapo to break into my house. If I was lucky.

Just as I had imagined, the thugs wasted little time. A few days later, the Gestapo arrived at my house, handcuffed me, and I was taken straight to Plötzensee.

On July 20, 1944, a select group of officials of the Wehrmacht, the Armed Forces of the Third Reich, aided by dozens of civilians, had made an attempt on Hitler's life while the Führer was presiding over a meeting at his headquarters at Rastenburg, about six hundred kilometers east of Berlin. The leader of this group was Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, a young colonel who had been wounded in the line of duty in North Africa. That day, Stauffenberg placed a pair of bombsin a briefcase, which was then deposited underneath the Führer's desk. Stauffenberg waited for the bombs to go off, the signal for the coup to begin, the coup that would put an end to the Nazi regime and, possibly, the entire Second World War.

The tiniest, most infuriating logistical error foiled Stauffenberg's plan. Either one of the bombs hadn't been activated or the suitcase had simply been placed too far from where Hitler had been sitting. The Führer escaped with a few scrapes and not a single one of the high commands of the party or the army was seriously wounded. Despite the failure of their first operative, the conspirators fully intended to move ahead with their plan, but by the early hours of the next day the Nazis had regained control of the situation. The main orchestrators of the coup -- Ludwig Beck, Friedrich Olbricht, Werner von Haeften, Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim, and of course, Stauffenberg -- were detained and killed that night in the general headquarters of the army, on the Bendlerstraße in Berlin. Hundreds of others were quickly arrested following the strict orders of the Reichsführer-SS and the new minister of the interior, Heinrich Himmler.

The news of the plot came as a shock to military insiders and civilians alike, thanks to the startling scope of people implicated: military officers, businessmen, diplomats, members of the army and the naval intelligence forces, professionals and merchants. In the aftermath, Himmler had all the conspirators and their relatives arrested, on the theory that the source of evil travels through bloodlines. By the end of August of 1944, some six hundred people had been arrested -- some for aiding and abetting the conspirators, others simply for being related to them.

Hitler was livid about the coup, and unleashed his vengeance upon all the people who had turned against him during the very worst moments of the war. Scarcely a few weeks had passed since the Allied invasion of Normandy, and already there were people ready and willing to do away with him and place the entire Third Reich in jeopardy. So, just as Stalin -- his enemy -- had done in Moscow in 1937, Hitler decided to stage a great trial so that all the world could see just how vicious his enemies really were. Before it began, Roland Freisler, the chief justice of the People's Court of the Greater German Reich, and the executioner who would carry out the punishments were summoned to his headquarters, the "Wolf's Lair." There, Hitler advised them of the following: "I want them hanged, strung up like butchered cattle!"

The trials began on August 7, in the great hall of the People's Court in Berlin. On that day, eight defendants accused of conspiring against Hitler's life were brought before the court: Erwin von Witzleben, Erich Hoepner, Helmuth Stieff, Paul von Hase, Robert Bernardis, Friedrich Karl Klausing, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, and Albrecht von Haden. They were not permitted to wear ties or suspenders, and their own lawyers even urged them to declare themselves guilty. Flanked on either side by two enormous Nazi flags, Freisler ignored their protests, one after the other. Their crimes were so patently evil in nature that any and all declarations were inadmissible. Without flinching, Freisler condemned each of the eight defendants to death. He directed his gaze upon them:

"Now we can return to our life and to the battle before us. The Volk has purged you from its ranks and is pure now. We have nothing more to do with you. We fight. The Wehrmacht cries out: 'Heil Hitler!' We fight at the side of our Führer, following him for the glory of Germany!"

By February 3, 1945, the day I was to appear before the People's Court on Bellevuestraße, Freisler had already delivered scores of death sentences. That day five of us were to stand trial. The first among us to face the judge was Fabian von Schlabrendorff, a lawyer and reserve lieutenant who

had served as a liaison between various resistance leaders. He had been captured shortly after July 20, and since then had been held at the Dachau and Flössenburg concentration camps. As was his habit, Freisler interrupted him regularly, to ridicule him and the rest of the defendants, calling us pigs and traitors and proclaiming that Germany would emerge victorious -- victory in 1945! -- if he were able to successfully eliminate scum like us.

But then something happened, and if I hadn't witnessed it myself, I would have thought it some kind of miracle or hallucination. Suddenly, the antiaircraft signal rang out, loud and clear, and a red light went off in the hall. After a second of total silence, we heard a loud roar followed by what seemed like an endless series of explosions that reverberated through the courthouse. Bombings had become a daily fact of life in Berlin during those months, so we tried to remain calm and waited for it to end. We would never have guessed that it was anything other than a typical air raid, but it turned out to be the most intense bombing the Allies had launched since the start of the war. Before we even realized what was happening, a powerful crash blasted through the roof of the People's Court. Plaster fell from the walls like giant blocks of talcum powder, and a torrent of smoke and soot swept through the courtroom as if it had suddenly begun to snow. The plaster fell from the walls in chunks, but that seemed to be the extent of the damage. Either we would wait for the proceedings to continue or the judge would call a recess until the next day. When the smoke cleared a bit, we saw that a heavy chunk of stone had fallen onto the judge's bench, and next to it lay the head of Judge Roland Freisler, split in half, with a river of blood spilling down his face and staining the death sentence Schlabrendorff had just received. Other than Freisler, no one was injured.

The court security guards ran to the street in search of a doctor and after a few minutes returned with a little man in a white jacket who had sought shelter from the bombs in the courthouse vestibule. As soon as he approached the body, the doctor announced that nothing could be done: Freisler had died instantly. The rest of us remained exactly where we were, dumbfounded, as the security guards glared at us with hatred in their eyes, not knowing what to do next. That was when we heard the doctor's firm voice: "I won't do it. I refuse. I'm sorry. Arrest me if you want, but I won't sign that death certificate. Call someone else." Later on we found out that the doctor, a man by the name of Rolf Schleicher, was the brother of Rüdiger Schleicher, who had worked in the Institute for Aerial Legislation before being condemned to death by Freisler a few weeks earlier.

Following Freisler's death, the trial was postponed again and again as the Allied bombings continued to destroy the city. In March 1945, I was transferred from one prison to another until an American regiment finally liberated us shortly before the Nazis surrendered in May. Unlike most of my friends and fellow conspirators, I survived.

On the afternoon of July 20, 1944, a stroke of luck saved Hitler's life. If Stauffenberg's second bomb had gone off on that afternoon, or if that briefcase had been placed just a bit closer to Hitler, or if there had been a chain reaction, or if Stauffenberg had made absolutely certain to plant himself closer to Hitler...On the morning of February 3, 1945, a similar kind of luck saved my own life. If I had been tried on some other day, or if that bomb hadn't dropped precisely when it did, or if that piece of rock had fallen a few centimeters to the left or to the right, or if Freisler had dodged the blow or run for cover somewhere...I still don't know how logical -- or sane -- it is to establish a connection between these two events, but I do. Why do I insist, so many years after the fact, to connect these two unrelated incidents? Why do I continue to present them as one, as if they were two manifestations of one single act of will? Why do I refuse to admit that there is nothing hidden behind them, that they are no different from any other human misfortunes? Why do I cling so obstinately to these ideas of destiny, fate, and luck?

Perhaps because other unforeseeable circumstances, no less terrible than these, have forced me to write these words. Perhaps I string together these seemingly unrelated events -- Hitler's salvation and my own -- because this is the first time that humanity has been such a close witness to such catastrophic destruction. And our era, unlike other historical moments, has been largely determined by such twists of fate, those little signs that remind us of the ungovernable, chaotic nature of the realm in which we live. I propose, then, to tell the story of the century. My century. My version of how fate has ruled the world, and of how we men of science try in vain to domesticate its fury. But this is also the story of several lives -- the one that I have endured for over eighty years and, more important, those of people that, once again by uncontrollable acts of fate, became intertwined with my own.

Sometimes I like to think that I am the thread that connects all these stories -- that my existence and memory and these very words are nothing more than the vertices of the one all-encompassing, inevitable theory that brought our lives together. Perhaps my goal seems overly ambitious, or even insane. It doesn't matter. When your everyday existence becomes marked by death, when all hope is lost and all you see is the long road to your own extinction, this is the only thing that can justify your remaining days on Earth.



NOVEMBER 10, 1989

Copyright © 1999 by Jorge Volpi

English language translation copyright © 2002 by Simon & Schuster, Inc., and Fourth Estate, Ltd.

Original Spanish language edition published in Spain in 1999 by Editorial Seix Barral, S.A. as En Busca de Klingsor.

Table of Contents




Laws of Narrative Motion
LAW I: All narratives are written by a narrator

LAW II: All narrators offer one, singular truth

LAW III: All narrators possess a motive for narrating

Crimes of War

Hypotheses: From Quantum Physics to Espionage
HYPOTHESIS I: On Bacon's Childhood and Early Years

HYPOTHESIS II: On Von Neumann and the War

HYPOTHESIS III: On Einstein and Love

HYPOTHESIS IV: On Gödel's Theory and Marriage

HYPOTHESIS V: On Bacon's Departure for Germany

Brief Autobiographical Disquisitions: From Set Theory to Totalitarianism
DISQUISITION I: Infancy and the End of an Era

DISQUISITION II: Youth and Irrationality

DISQUISITION III: The Arithmetics of Infinity

DISQUISITION IV: Liberty and Lust

DISQUISITION V: The Search for the Absolute

The Uranium Circle

Parallel Universes

The Quest for the Holy Grail


Laws of Criminal Motion
LAW I: All crimes are committed by a criminal

LAW II: Every crime is the portrait of a criminal

LAW III: Every criminal possesses a motive

Max Planck, or a Lesson in Faith

Reasons for Discouragement

Johannes Stark, or a Lesson in Infamy

The Game of War

Werner Heisenberg, or a Lesson in Sadness

The Dangers of Observation

Erwin Schrödinger, or a Lesson in Desire

The Laws of Attraction

The Liar's Paradox

The Dimensions of Affection

Niels Bohr, or a Lesson in Will

Chain Reaction

The Uncertainty Principle

Hidden Variables

Kundry's Curse


Laws of Traitorous Motion
LAW I: All men are weak

LAW II: All men are liars

LAW III: All men are traitors

Dialogue I: On Those Forgotten by History

The Conspiracy

Dialogue II: On the Rules Governing Chance

The Bomb

Dialogue III: On the Secrets of Destiny

The Realm of the Occult

Dialogue IV: On the Death of Truth

The Betrayal

Dialogue V: On the Privileges of Insanity

Klingsor's Revenge

End Note

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