In a Dark Wood

Mar­cel Möring

By – August 25, 2011

Scan the pages of In a Dark­Wood, by Mar­cel Möring, a Dutch author, and you will real­ize at once that this nov­el demands review in terms of form as well as con­tent. Mar­cel Möring uses graph­ics, word play, and typo­graph­i­cal manip­u­la­tion designed to stim­u­late and call atten­tion to visu­al sound; in addi­tion, this nov­el con­tains the merg­ing of lan­guage per­haps designed to draw atten­tion to key points, for exam­ple, fromwhen­wew­er­estil­ly­oun­gandthe­world­was­good,” but also to invite the read­er to slow down, sep­a­rate, decon­struct, and then pon­der each state­ment. And then, there are eight unnum­bered pages of a com­ic strip nes­tled between pages on which only a closed paren­the­sis appears and one that con­tains con­cen­tric cir­cles, only. Lat­er on, the read­er finds a graph­ic of the word splat” and then a page devot­ed to words in var­i­ous fonts and sizes. One won­ders why these visu­al strate­gies need be includ­ed in a nov­el so art­ful­ly writ­ten, first in free verse, and then as a nar­ra­tive — that is, until the tale is told in its entire­ty. That’s when they all seem to fit, and the visu­al noise resonates. 

Möring tells the sto­ry of Jacob Noah, who emerges from a cave in which he has hid­den for three years after the con­clu­sion of World War II. The set­ting is Assen, a Dutch town, and what Noah encoun­ters upon his entry into the real new world caus­es trag­ic and haunt­ing reac­tions to what he sees: the world as he once knew it is gone and has been replaced by polit­i­cal, social, and eco­nom­ic con­di­tions that he can nei­ther ratio­nal­ize nor under­stand. Hence, his search begins. Read­ers can think of him as the wan­der­ing Jew,” always seek­ing peace of mind, always seek­ing self actu­al­iza­tion, and ulti­mate­ly learn­ing that despite all efforts, one nev­er real­ly for­gets. But, it is the spir­i­tu­al jour­ney upon which he finds him­self after a car acci­dent and his chance meet­ing with Mar­cus Kol­pa that changes his life and enables him to pro­found­ly con­nect with the his­to­ry and iden­ti­ty of the Jew­ish peo­ple.

Malv­ina D. Engel­berg, an inde­pen­dent schol­ar, has taught com­po­si­tion and lit­er­a­ture at the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el for the past fif­teen years. She is a Ph.D. can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Miami.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think Möring used as his inspi­ra­tion for this book? 

2. What are the novel’s key themes? How does Möring express such themes? 

3. How does Mar­cus help Jacob Noah rec­on­cile the impli­ca­tions of his Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and under­stand his expe­ri­ences from World War II

4. What is the sig­nif­i­cance of Assen as the book’s setting? 

5. In a Dark Wood address­es ques­tions of guilt that are com­mon among sur­vivors of the Holo­caust. How do Jacob Noah and Mar­cus attempt to rec­on­cile their feel­ings of guilt? What do they do dif­fer­ent­ly? Do you think either of them succeeds? 

6. The Dutch title of the book is Dis,” the per­ma­nent posthu­mous home for all types of sin­ners referred to in Dante’s Infer­no. Do you think that the Eng­lish trans­la­tion should have kept the same title? Which title do you think serves the book better?

7. Are the book’s cen­tral themes — guilt, fear, loss, and sal­va­tion— par­tic­u­lar to a post World War II Ger­many and the unique­ness of the Holo­caust? Is there any par­al­lel to it in the Amer­i­can experience? 

8. How does this nov­el leave you feel­ing and think­ing? Is it hope­ful or ulti­mate­ly despair­ing? If you have read oth­er Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture, how does In a Dark Wood compare?