Dea Loher
Bugatti Turns Up

Dea Loher’s novel Bugatti Turns Up takes an existential perspective on the meaning of life in the face of an utterly senseless death.

This striking story weaves together two separate plotlines, both based on actual events. During carneval celebrations in Locarno, Switzerland in 2008, a young man is beaten to death by a group of teenagers. The more meticulously the events of that night are reconstructed, and the closer we get to solving the puzzle of clues, the more ambiguous and blurry our sense of what really happened (and why). Despite clear evidence, identifying the party at fault is more difficult than imagined, and the challenge of atonement ends up on par with the crime itself.

A friend of the victim’s family is looking for an alternative resolution, through the town’s collective memory of a car accident that left a legendary relic—a Bugatti Brescia race car—buried at the bottom of Lago Maggiore 75 years ago. All previous attempts to recover the vehicle have been unsuccessful. Now, new attempts at diving into the depths—of the lake, and of one’s own abysses—launch us on an unpredictable adventure.

A third plotline is drawn from the World War I–era diaries of the sculptor Rembrant Bugatti, a relative of the race car’s designer, and connects the two present-day portions of the story. This harrowing first-person account of profound alienation is a testament to the tragedies of war and, although set over a century ago, its reflections remain frightfully relevant today.

No contemporary German dramatist has had more plays brought to the stage as frequently and successfully as Dea Loher. Her theatrical works have been translated into dozens of languages and produced in 31 countries. Following her highly praised short-story collection Hundskopf (Wallstein, 2005), Bugatti Turns Up is her first novel.

• Shortlisted for the German Book Prize, 2012


The author: Dea Loher is a contemporary German playwright, short-story author, and novelist based in Berlin. Her plays have won numerous awards, including the 1990 Hamburger Volksbühne Prize, the 1997 Jakob-Michael-Lenz and Gerrit-Engelke Prizes, the 1998 Mühlheimer Prize, the 2005 Else-Lasker-Schüler Prize, the 2006 Bertolt Brecht Literature Prize, and the 2009 Berlin Literature and Marieluise-Fleißer Prizes.

In addition to her many plays, her literary publications include the 2005 short-story collection Hundskopf and the 2012 novel Bugatti Turns Up, which was shortlisted for the German Book Prize.



December 1913

I went out with Elise. She laughed at me when I told her what I do for a living. Not outright, with a loud laugh, nor with a giggle, which would’ve been childish and embarrassed us both. But I could tell, as she briefly started, then smiled at me and said, “That’s not much of a job!”

I suppose she might have been put off by the idea that I have nude models in my studio, that must’ve been her first thought. How was she to know that the presence of a female body, forced to keep an exact pose for hours on end—which is undoubtedly arduous for the woman—is something I generally find unbelievably tedious, as I have to concentrate so hard and rush to sculpt the entire figure in a single sitting, or at least finish a rough sketch of it. (My approach: I want the model out after one sitting—I can do the rest from memory.) Sure, there are some exceptions . . . (I didn’t mention that.)

I briefly considered telling her that my models aren’t stark naked, that I usually have to ask them to keep their stockings on; the sight of filthy feet paralyzes me, and causes a roaring in my bad ear.

I thought Elise wouldn’t understand, or would get the wrong idea, so I merely implied that I share a rented studio with Hugues and left it at that, asking that she please not jump to conclusions—I think I rather muddled that bit—and pointing out that most of the time I’m not in studio anyway, I usually work elsewhere: namely, at the zoo, in the stalls or outside the pens, where I study the animals.


January 1914

Dr. V. prescribed some new pills for my hearing problem. The infection keeps flaring up again, he calls it a nervous inflammation. I don’t want to see him anymore. His office smells of chloroform and metal and old smoke, his assistant has black fingernails—not just the border, the whole nail—is it some kind of nail polish or an actual disease?
(Or maybe someone slammed the cover of a piano keyboard on them…)
V. thinks more exercise would cure my melancholy.
I go out even in the rain, by evening I smell like crap, what the hell does he want from me?
Sometimes I sleep in the elephant house. At night the noises are calming, so calming.


February 1914

Sometimes I imagine no one knows anything about me. (Nobody knows me.) The only thing anyone would find out about me, all that would remain when I shall be dead, are the animals.
The animal figures.

They can be considered independent of me, but then one would also have to consider them as if looking at me, or at the best, most faithful expression of my very life, no mysteries, no secrets (they are what they are: animals).


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November 15, 2016