I listen to Rumo by Walter Moers as I wash the dishes, and I remember. I remember buying a one-way ticket to Frankfurt, Germany. I remember that Frau Cole* met me at baggage claim in a long skirt and that I, befuddled by the change of time and place, didn’t even flinch when she introduced me to the family’s driver. I remember buying a copy of Faust at the bookstore between the Zeil and the River Main to indulge my fantasies of reading it in the original (it is still sitting on my to-read shelf). And I remember asking the Cole’s oldest son to recommend a good German science fiction or fantasy book for me to try reading. He gave me Rumo.
I read the first couple of pages. With a dictionary. Over the course of several weeks. Six years later (my six year anniversary in Germany was yesterday), and Walter Moers is one of my favorite authors. I have read all five of the books he has written about the fictional continent Zamonien at least once, and listened to them many times more. Listening to the first chapter of Rumo—the same chapter that I struggled with and ultimately gave up on six years ago—is a water mark of how far I’ve come. When I arrived I would have said (and did say) that I could speak German. And I could. But the more you know, the more you realize that you don’t.
When a friend tells you “You’ve changed,” it tends to be with a note of accusation, as if to change is to become worse. Though it sometimes can be (generally a matter of perspective), I tend to think of it as positive and thrive on it. And there is an easy way to tell the difference between the good changes and the bad ones. When a change feels false, like a betrayal of that ephemeral thing we call our “self,” it is probably a negative thing. But when it feels like a journey that takes you closer and closer to living as that “self,” it is positive, an evolution, a boon. In the Dictionary of Gorilla to change is to learn and to grow and to find fulfillment, however temporary.
There is also a brand of change that I wouldn’t categorize either way—situational changes as generally irrelevant as a change of clothes, circumstancial things that one grows accustomed to and internalizes. And the last six years have had their share of both. Changes in taste, in outlook, in habit, in lifestyle, in friendships, in habit, and in behavior. I am more outspoken, yet more reserved in talking to strangers. I have let the cultural mores that I liked rub off on me, and the rest I gaze at in wonder, glad that I can still look around this place and find something that feels as new and different as it did on the day I arrived.
*Name changed to protect the guilty, of course. You can read more about the Cole’s and my adventures au pairing for their five-year-old twins by clicking here.
**Nope, those stars aren’t attached to anything in the text. But I wanted to tell you a little more about Rumo. Rumo is a book about a dude (he’s actually this crazy breed of walking, talking, badass-fighting dog that lives in Zamonien, but that is really besides the point) who starts his life a kidnappee of cyclopses who only eat creatures that are still alive, escapes, falls in love, and has a lot of adventures in the above and underworlds. Though I hesitate to call it “fantasy”—Moers books simply feel too all-encompassing to be reduced to just one genre—if you like fantasy, you’ll probably like Rumo. (Or adventure, or romance, or or or.) There are fantastical creatures, but it isn’t about a bunch of dudes with swords. There are trolls, but there aren’t any elves. And there are a lot of dark, deeply disturbing adventures. In short, it’s fantastic. I’ve also written about my all-time favorite Walter Moers book, The City of Dreaming Books, here.