Between fiction and reality: "Lukush" plays with the supernatural

Between fiction and reality
“Lukusch” plays with the supernatural

By Sebastian Schneider

In “Lukusch” author Benjamin Heisenberg mixes fiction with reality. It tells the story of a boy who fled Ukraine because of the Chernobyl disaster. Lukusch discovers his talent for chess in Germany, until he suddenly disappears.

Jane Fonda has probably seen quite a bit. But this evening, September 30, 1989, is remarkable. Oldenburg, “Wetten, dass…?”, Thomas Gottschalk and right in the middle a Hollywood star: the concentrated Federal Republic of Germany in the 1980s. Add to that a bet that’s as weird as they’ve always been on the ZDF show. A blindfolded boy claims he can solve a chess puzzle that two grandmasters have previously failed to solve. The 15-year-old wants to do it in under a minute. And of course he can do it too.

The scene feels like a retelling when reading Benjamin Heisenberg’s debut novel “Lukusch”. The young Gottschalk makes Gottschalk sayings, the translation has trouble keeping up. Everything as always. And there is even a photo supposed to show the boy with the presenter. If there weren’t one crucial catch: the evening never took place like this. Jane Fonda was actually sitting on the couch in Oldenburg that Saturday, the performance can even be seen on YouTube. But her betting godfather was a farmer from the Baden-Württemberg province – not a chess prodigy from the Ukraine.

Heisenberg uses this method throughout the novel. From numerous details he puzzles together a fictional reality. Normally, creating images is his job too, he usually works as a film director. “Lukusch” was also supposed to end up on the big screen. But his fascination with deepfakes and the paranormal was too complicated for the cinema, said Heisenberg in an interview with the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”.

Fled after reactor catastrophe

And so he created the total work of art around Anton Lukusch as a novel. The teenager, it quickly becomes clear, is a strange fellow. He doesn’t speak much, sometimes bows in greeting. A year after the reactor catastrophe in Chernobyl, he comes from the Ukraine to the Bavarian province. Inseparable at his side: his unequal companion Igor. The nuclear accident creates a supernatural connection between the two and gives Lukusch additional paranormal powers. These skills make him a chess prodigy whose talent is already revealed on the bus ride to Germany.

From the slowly disintegrating Soviet Union he ends up in Germany in the late 1980s. There it goes steeply upwards. Lukusch beats Chancellor Kohl at chess, joins “Wetten, dass…?” and is also supposed to defeat a Japanese high-performance computer in Osaka. Heisenberg illustrates all of this with supposed original sources: an edited photo here, a fake article there. A dubious consulting firm becomes aware of Lukusch. And as quickly as he and Igor showed up in Germany, they disappear again.

Heisenberg’s 267-page novel begins almost three decades later. He himself appears in the foreword and claims to be the editor, but no longer after that. It’s a clever trick: The book is a collection of short stories that tells the search for clues to Lukusch from the perspective of Simon Ritter, son of the Ukrainian chess prodigy’s host family. Years later, Ritter researches Lukusch and Igor, but disappears in the Ukraine himself.

Nike shoes, Nintendos, former chancellor Kohl

As can be the case with collected works, it does not have to result in a straight story. The structure provides a framework for accommodating a reasonably sorted collection of sources. Heisenberg’s method is peppered with Nintendos, Nike shoes and former chancellor Kohl. Even when it comes to Lukusch’s supernatural abilities, Heisenberg creates an environment in which the characters discuss them in a comprehensible way – also because there are supposed medical reports in the book.

It can sometimes be exhausting for the reader to follow this flood of information and thus the story. It also doesn’t help that Heisenberg is constantly changing the format: sometimes there’s a first-person narrator, sometimes someone else is narrating, and sometimes you suddenly find yourself in a script.

He’s causing confusion: If it’s up to the author, it’s also desired, he told the FAZ. He must also be aware that he expects a lot from his readers. Most of the time, however, the irritation is lost when looking for clues and the associated question of what happened to the Ukrainian chess prodigy. And so this fictional story, Heisenberg really succeeded, sometimes doesn’t feel so unreal.

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