Cover image for All that counts
All that counts
Oswald, Georg M., 1963-
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Uniform Title:
Alles was zählt. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
166 pages ; 22 cm
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"Thirty-something Thomas Schwarz is certain that he is soon to become department head of Liquidations and Foreclosures at the bank where he works. He proudly compares his job to that of an undertaker: "We aren't really bankers, we're grave diggers. We have to make the best of other people's demises." With ruthless wit, he takes us along on his loathed commute, his mornings spent playing "Virtual Corporation" on the computer to fuel his motivation, and his afternoons spent serving people warrants and seizing their property." "Then he fumbles a particularly byzantine property case and his life begins to unravel. His female boss gleefully fires him and his wife Marianne, an advertising executive, walks out on him. Within moments, the bubble of his complacency is pierced and he becomes giddily acquainted with the thrill and anxiety of a life unmoored. Having noticed that the financial district in his city - as in most cities - is side by side with the nexus of the drug trade, Thomas falls in with a cocaine-fueled crowd of money launderers who set out to exploit him. When the gang is busted, he seizes his chance to escape with the profits and, in a final breathless move, exposes once and for all just how precarious the trappings of society really are."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Oswald's story about a bank official dismissed from his job who finds salvation working for criminals in the urban underworld of an unnamed city in Germany will surely strike a chord with the newly downsized white-collar workers here in the U.S. Thomas Schwarz, an official in the foreclosures department of a major bank, finds himself and his career drowning in an interminable investigation of a delinquent client. Ultimately, the situation costs Thomas his job, his wife, and his self-respect. In his own mind, little separates himself from the decay and destitution that litter his urban landscape: the homeless in subway stations and the drug addicts who congregate on street corners. Desperate and disillusioned, he begins a business relationship with two underworld figures who reside in his neighborhood, a relationship that may lead to his salvation or self-destruction. No cloud has a silver lining in Oswald's portrait of work and waste, which becomes a personal indictment of modern life. --Ted Leventhal

Publisher's Weekly Review

German novelist Oswald proves that it's a small world, after all, by writing a bitter sendup of consumerism and corporate culture that's every bit as shallow, ham-fisted and self-congratulatory as anything penned by his wannabe-hip American or British counterparts over the past decade. This tale of avarice, societal malaise and anomie is narrated by Thomas Schwarz, an upwardly mobile young bank executive. Deputy manager of the department of foreclosure and liquidation, Schwarz is leery of his co-workers, bored with his wife, Marianne, and hostile toward most of humanity. In Oswald's eyes, this makes him the prototypical yuppie for the new millennium. Schwarz is a jaded, cold-blooded creature who relishes the ersatz power that his job affords him: while dealing with a couple who run a comic book/music store, he sneers, "I'm going to have to teach them a bit of reality, with a good hard dose of compulsory repossession." The novel chronicles Schwartz's ultimate ruination, precipitated by a jealous superior, Frau Rumenich. She assigns him to the massive, insoluble Kosiek case, a twisted morass of financial wrangling and ancient paperwork reminiscent of Dickens's classic Jarndyce v. Jarndyce lawsuit. Of course, Schwartz fails to instantly untangle it and is fired. For the rest of the novel, he spins out of control bickering with his wife, sleeping with a materialistic call girl and getting involved with Uwe and Anatol, a pair of bottom-feeding drug dealers. Oswald's all-out assault on the soullessness of big business and the pervasive numbness and lack of direction of today's young professionals is largely unsuccessful, full of uninspired sociological observations and peopled exclusively by militantly unpleasant characters, making for a short but onerous read. (Sept.) Forecast: Don't count on sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One I go to the office every day.     You probably say the same about yourself, if you happen to have a job, but it's true for me because I'm there on Saturdays, too, and Sundays if necessary. I'm deputy manager of the department of foreclosure and liquidation, and I plan to become manager of the department of foreclosure and liquidation. That would mean: one hundred thousand a year basic plus bonus plus company car (third-class BMW).     And that would be good.     I wake up, and Marianne, my wife, isn't lying next to me, but her side of the bed is still warm. The weather forecaster appears on the television screen, a little Sony cube. She's beaming, as though something wonderful has just happened to her. My wife likes to switch on the television the minute she wakes up, and then go to the bathroom or the kitchen.     I roll onto my stomach and pull the pillow over my head.     Marianne calls, "You can use the bathroom now. I'm making coffee."     I roll back onto my back and first look at the ceiling, then at the thin, rather dirty cotton curtain over the window. I think, "Yes, I really am one of those people who can get worked up about dirty curtains." I've talked to Marianne about it. She claims that no matter how many times she washes that curtain, it's always dirty again as soon as she hangs it up. It's all because we live on this street. And in any case--she can't help saying this to me--I can shove my dirty curtains up my ass. You probably think that's funny. I don't.     The commuter traffic is already up and about. There's a traffic jam by the lights at the nearest crosswalk. I imagine you and people like you sitting in your cars, still a bit sad because you couldn't stay in bed, but already pissed off with your line manager.     I take a shower, shave, comb my hair, get dressed. I start thinking about the office.     Marianne has cut out ads for apartments and houses from the paper, and describes them to me at the breakfast table. She notices I'm not listening, and asks me what I'm thinking about. It really is that tired old exchange out of the cartoons. "Darling, what are you thinking about?" "The office."     She asked the question, so I give her the answer. I say, "The office."     More to the point, I'm thinking about why Rumenich told me she wanted to talk to me about the Kosiek case. I'm wondering whether it might be some kind of plot that could affect my position, my market value. But it's not anything that really concerns me, it's trivial.     From one second to the next Marianne and I get into a furious argument, because I asked her--in an irritated voice, she claims--when her aunt Olivia was coming to visit. I decide to divorce her, as I always do when we fight. We maintain a hostile silence for a while, but then suddenly we find ourselves back in a normal conversation. It's about real estate again. I've got to go. I say, "I was going to say something else, I've forgotten what. I'll call you."     Don't go thinking that my days begin any worse than yours do. Just be honest, and then I can save my breath on the subject.     I enjoy my daily trip to work. It's long enough to get a clear notion of what's to come, but too short to get bored.     Marianne complains about the area we live in, that it isn't "representative" enough of our income bracket for her. I like it, because what they call "simple" people live here. You can tell the simple people because they're the ones who live in the most complicated circumstances. They're always preoccupied with getting ahold of money. And because they don't have jobs, or don't have well-paid jobs, they're constantly coming up with new and hopeless ways of getting ahold of it. Of course they haven't the first notion about doing business, and they get ripped off by the first shyster who comes their way. Their lives are governed by debts and by the lies they have to invent to get those debts. First rule in my business. You've got debts, you lie. Always.     There's a fitness center on our block. That's what it says on the door, anyway. First of all it used to be run by a Serb who would make Marianne special offers for the use of the machines. He would make those offers in the corridor, on the elevator, in the street, wherever he happened to bump into her. I know one of his former customers. He told me there were always five or six hookers hanging around the bar waiting for customers. When the Serb had figured out that my wife was married--to me--he changed his tactics. Now he would come on like a gentleman, even when I was there, to stress that his intentions were entirely honorable. In the summer, heavily tattooed bikers would sit outside his place. They would sit in the sun, drink beer from cans and gaze devotedly at their chrome motorcycles, which they had parked on the pavement. They were about as interested in fitness as the hookers were. Although maybe the hookers and the bikers belonged together. I've no idea what the Serb had to do with them, he never told me. One morning I met him with two other guys in the elevator, and it looked as though he was having problems. He wasn't at all polite or friendly to me, as he usually was, and he gave me a look as if to say, "If you know what's best for you, you'll keep your trap shut."     A day later the fitness studio was cleared out by the police. My acquaintance said it had something to do with a truckload of undeclared jeans on the Slovene-Italian border, with illegal gambling and, of course, pimping. The Serb had fled. A few days later there was a different sign on the door of the studio, a cardboard sign, written carefully but rather clumsily in red felt pen: VALUED CUSTOMERS! FOR FINANCIAL REASONS WE HAVE TEMPORARILY CLOSED. IN A FEW WEEKS WE WILL REOPEN FOR FANTASTIC SPECIAL OFFERS! YOURS TRULY, THE FITNESS TEAM. The fantastic special offers never happened, of course, and the Serb never showed up again. His successor, a deep-tanned, muscle-bound moron called Uwe, had a great idea. He opened up a new health center, Ladies Only, so he could make sure he could dedicate himself entirely to his customers.     Right next to Ladies Only is Period Furniture Paradise, in which copies of Louis XVI and plush nineteenth-century German furniture, porcelain man-high fountains for the sitting room, phony antique cutlery, gaudy crystal glasses, and who knows what all else, is offered at hair-raising prices. Marianne says she's never seen a single customer in the shop, and neither have I. I'm willing to bet that the Serb, with all his hookers and bikers and Fantastic Special Offers, never had half so much crap in his place as the invisible owners of this amazing Period Furniture Paradise. It's about money-laundering--dealing in either drugs or guns, I'm sure of that. I know what I'm talking about. I happened to know the man who used to run the shop through my job. It's a company called Furnituro Ltd., currently in bankruptcy proceedings. The directors are nowhere to be found, as is so often the case. But no one in the street, apart from me, knows about that. I've tried to enforce the bankruptcy action. Without success, unfortunately, because the new owner of the shop claims to have nothing to do with Furnituro Ltd.     I'm interested in every single detail of stories like that. It's part of my training, because in my job you learn to extract the important bits of information. Do you know what your neighbors do? Of course you do, you'll say, they've told me. But do you really know? Believe me, you'd never get over the astonishment if you knew how the people next door really made their money. And you'd think your debts were nothing if you knew how many they had. Chapter Two I think I can vaguely remember a time when things were peaceful, when I wasn't pursuing any goals, or when I was pursuing them in a different way, I don't know how to put it. I was more aware of living in the present. Today it's as though I don't feel anything for weeks, not a single sensation that really belongs to me, nothing that I feel as Thomas Schwarz, and yet at the same time I find myself in a state of floating unease. "Floating unease," that's what I call it.     Recently everything's been happening all at the same time. Stress, stress, stress--you know what I'm talking about?     I was describing my trip to work. You'll be familiar with it in some form or another, I'll bet.     Every morning, as I pass next door's garbage cans, I light a cigarette. "Officially" I stopped years ago, but I'm so fired up every morning that I would die without a cigarette, on the spot.     A group of adolescents, between sixteen and eighteen or so, come toward me. They go to the technical school next door. They're extraordinarily interesting people. They're all dressed to the nines, very expensively. That's remarkable in itself, because they don't come from the kind of background where there's cash to spare for dressing up. You'd have to assume that a considerable proportion of their parents' income goes toward this gear. Some of them wear American-designer sportswear and have fashionable hairdos. They're the ones who watch MTV and Viva. They believe in pop culture and pay for the feeling of being part of it. The others dress like successful people in American TV series and movies. The boys wear grey pinstripe suits with white shirts and tasteful ties, the girls wear grey or dark blue suits. And they've got severe but stylish hairdos and classically fashionable shoes. Fine so far. What fascinates me is the touchingly vivid way in which these young people express their desire for social recognition. And I really find it oppressive that not one of them will escape the same crappy life in a two-room apartment for which they so bitterly reproach their parents. How do I know that? These kids are going to the technical school, and anyone who does that today is lost. They know that as well as I do. Of course I know you're not supposed to say it out loud, and if one of them manages to be halfway successful, everyone points at him and shouts, "Look! Anyone can do it!" although he's the one who proves that not everyone can do it, that for the nine hundred and ninety-nine others, the dream of happiness is irrevocably a thing of the past, even if they still have a long way to go before they figure it out.     I spend my time with these reflections on my way to the subway, until I pass the immigration office, whose entrance is on the other side of the road. Every morning it's besieged by hundreds of people trying to get in. What can I say? Thank God the entrance is on the other side of the road. The people are standing around for papers, for money. They want to legalize their status. Fine as far as I'm concerned, nothing to do with me, it's not going to get them anywhere, anyway. Of course, if anyone asks me I say, like everybody else does, the immigration problem has to be solved one way or the other. But in fact I don't see it that way. I just see the people who are in already, and the people who want to get in. And it would be a stroke of bad luck if the ones who are already in couldn't keep the next lot out. So what's the problem? A battle for territory, with clearly assigned roles and all the opportunities on one side, none on the other. I hurry to get down the stairs to the subway. I wouldn't like it if one of them got it into his head to switch platforms and talk to me. I wouldn't much like to be confronted with annoying requests, and it wouldn't get them anywhere, anyway.     This first serious depression of the day takes hold of me as I'm riding the puke-stained escalator down through this collection of vermin who get up my nose with their bad breath, their unwashed (Continues...) Excerpted from ALL THAT COUNTS by Georg M. Oswald. Copyright © 2001 by Georg M. Oswald. Translation copyright © 2001 Shaun Whiteside. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.