In 1988, to commemorate Austria’s annexation by Adolf Hitler fifty years earlier, a new play was commissioned from Thomas Bernhard. The author of eleven novels and more than twenty plays, Bernhard had a well-deserved reputation as the country’s most provocative postwar writer: he spent his career alternately mocking and mourning Austria’s Nazi legacy, which, with typical bluntness, he once represented as a pile of manure on the stage. At first, he declined to participate in the commemoration, saying with caustic humor that a more appropriate gesture would be for all the shops once owned by Jews to display signs reading “Judenfrei.” But the author of plays like “The German Lunch Table,” in which family members gathered for a meal discover Nazis in their soup, could not resist such a rich opportunity to needle Austria’s political and cultural élite. “All my life I have been a trouble-maker,” he once wrote. “I am not the sort of person who leaves others in peace.”
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