When the flood disaster struck Germany last year, Kall in the Eifel was one of the hardest hit communities; the Kall that the writer Norbert Scheuer, who lives here in the Keldenich district, has turned into a fantastic literary place.

He had recently even proved to be a prophet. In his 2017 novel At the Bottom of the Universe, a dam collapses and Kall is engulfed by “a brown tidal wave.”

The “grey heads”, the storytelling choir from Kall, to which the 70-year-old Scheuer naturally also belongs, sit in “Mutabor” as always in the supermarket cafeteria right next to the train tracks and know all the stories and events from Kall and the surrounding area .

They keep an eye on their new cars, which have been paid for by the insurance company, as well as the comings and goings on the premises of the renovated supermarket, and they talk about what happened: “The blame for their losses, for the numerous drowned people, the destroyed livelihoods , the destruction, in short, the decline of Kall and the Urftland they give only to Caspary and Raimund Molitor, they all agree on that for once.”

Caspary and Raimund Molitor are characters from “At the Bottom of the Universe”, one a building contractor, the other a deputy director of the local bank. They wanted to turn Kall into a tourist paradise with an enlarged reservoir and a holiday park, and then the dam just broke. “Mutabor” takes place at the time of the 2017 novel and afterwards, in the present, and once again Norbert Scheuer mixes reality and fiction, times and spaces.

As in “At the bottom of the universe”, the main characters are Raimund Molitor’s mother, Sophia Molitor, and above all, as the first-person narrator, the young Nina Plission, who now, for good reason, no longer has a last name. Nina grew up without parents, her mother ran away early and left her with her grandparents. She delivers newspapers, looks after Paul Arimond, who has returned from Afghanistan with serious injuries, works in the Evros bar and suffers from epileptic seizures, as well as visual agnosia, an alexia: she can write, but she can’t read what she wrote.

As a child, she filled exercise books “with strange, almost indecipherable symbols”, and Scheuer, as a passionate crossover artist between reality and fiction, was entrusted with “her stories together with the enigmatic school exercise books”, as he says at the end.

At the heart of these stories, which Scheuer is now telling, is Nina’s search for her true identity, that of her mother. Because Ruth Plission, Sophia Molitor’s former student, doesn’t seem to be her mother at all. At least Nina can remember her grandparents: the grandfather she liked and who always drove to Byzantium with her in his old, light-blue Opel Kapitän wanted to.

To the grandmother who didn’t like her because she hit her. For Nina, the grandmother is the “Graie”, one of the three gray-haired and one-toothed people from Greek mythology, who decisively structure Scheuer’s novel, even more than the many literary traces and references from Annie Ernaux to Virginia Woolf to Sappho. (Orlando is the name of Nina’s turtle)

The grandfather often told his granddaughter about the Greek myths. But it is Evros in particular who wrote down these myths on beer coasters of all things, in the form of prose poems. They appear in “Mutabor” as the second strand, illustrated in the tried and tested manner by Scheuer’s son Erasmus.

Scheuer believes in his acknowledgment that they would help “understand the intricate events of the stories as the result of a very idiosyncratic way of thinking.” Well then…

It’s actually not that easy to follow the stories in this novel, Nina’s intricate thinking. Dream sequences and real events often overlap, the young woman literally floats through this novel. Horses and storks populate her dreams, which seem to mix with those of Sophia Molitor.

Sophia often fantasizes about her long-dead husband, who in turn may have had an affair with Nina’s mother – and who, transformed into a stork, could have carried Nina away with him. And then there is also talk of the fact that everyone from the Arimond family, the parent family of Norbert Scheuer’s novels, “have a birthmark that resembles a flying bee”.

Nina also has such a bee mark. You find out in the most brutal scenes of this novel. First she is abused by her supervisor, “she touches me between my legs and kisses my bees”. They later rape several boys, “and I feel his tongue licking my mole, he biting my bee.”

You then know why Paul Arimond, with whom Nina has fallen in love, disappears without a trace after a night of love – she is an Arimond, she could be his sister. Like her, Paul was abandoned by his mother, just like Gregor, Nina’s missing brother in “At the Bottom of the Universe”.

It is no coincidence that the novel is called “Mutabor”. Mutabor is from the Latin verb mutare, to transform, the first person singular of the future tense, passive: “I will be transformed”. And in Wilhelm Hauff’s fairy tale “Kalif Stork” the storks call out “Mutabor” to the sun, “and in no time they were transformed.”

Metamorphoses are the major theme of this novel, which has become Scheuer’s most beautiful, poetic and whimsical, but also most difficult and, in passages, most impenetrable.

One has the impression of coming home to Scheuer’s well-known narrative cosmos with its familiar characters, from the gray heads to Vincentini, from Nina, Evros and Paul Arimond to the Molitor clan. And yet this impression is deceptive. Scheuer’s characters and personalities are always changing, and when these changes take place in their dreams.

The mysteries of Nina’s origins and the activities of Sophia’s husband Eugen are only partially solved. In “Mutabor” the foundation of the universe has faltered. Finally, Nina states that words are “the only magic” with which I can transform myself.”

And the tide? It is coming, it must come: “There was hardly anything left of Kall and the many villages of the Urftland.” But despite all the disorder, all the disaster that it leaves behind: some things never change in Kall. This includes the unquenchable longing of many Scheuer characters to break out and discover the world. This also applies to Nina, which is why the ending of this novel is a happy one for her.