Seven-year-old Katharina is fascinated by the story of Noah’s ark, the first part of which she heard in Sunday school, before being sent with her little brother to stay with her granny on the hill until her new brother or sister is born. She is a bright and somewhat withdrawn girl, reflecting on such mysteries as how babies are made and how it is possible to die of goitre, rather than playing blind man’s buff with other school children. Her vivid fantasy and fantastic dreams are often brought to us in convoluted, multi-page single sentences that meander from some present article or incident through all kinds of fanciful loops until she is interrupted by a shout from granny … or falls into deep sleep.
The fact that the stairs creak, as she climbs to her bedroom, prove that she is no longer just a little girl. That being the case, it falls to her to carry her and her brother’s chamber pots down to the outhouse and then rinse them at the fountain, but also to scrub out the pan that her uncles were too tired or too tipsy to clean the night before. A doll’s house with figures made of bones and pine cones provides endless scope for her imagination.
But all the while a lingering dread hangs over her: the frequent rockfalls suggest that one day her village may be entombed and everyone crushed. While the menfolk just argue about how life could go on if the cantonal forester decides the slate mine has to be closed, the family cat Züsi, the neighbour’s hens and the sparrows have the sense to escape up the mountain.
Before disaster strikes.
(I read the book in the original German)