Book Review: Romance in Switzerland

A Perfect Waiter
Alain Claude Sulzer
I can’t remember where or when I bought A Perfect Waiter. I came across it on my bookshelves the other day having had completely forgotten its existence. I had been prompted to pick it up at the bookstore by the striking cover image–surely the dapper waiter on the cover must be gay. Reading the synopsis on the inside flap of the book jacket confirmed my literary gaydar. Even though, gay lit helped me come to terms with being gay back when I a teenager in the 1980s, I am not one to spend much time looking for fiction with gay themes. What piqued my interest in A Perfect Waiter is that the book is set in the 1930s and 1960s. I am always interested to read about how same sex attraction played out in the days before the Stonewall Riots.
In this case, the protagonist Erneste, working in a Swiss resort town in the 1960s, gets a letter from Jakob, someone he hasn’t seen since 1939. The novel is a series of flashbacks that tells the story of Erneste and Jakob who were roommates and co-workers who shared an intense but short relationship. The 1960s Jakob is in trouble and writes to Erneste for help. But helping Jakob means that Erneste needs to confront his past and seek help from the person he least wants to talk to. But there isn’t much more I can say without spoiling the plot.
Although the book presents a totally believable snapshot of what life would have been like for a homosexual in the 1930s, that isn’t really what the book is about. It is more a tale of love and betrayal set against the formal, regimented backdrop of a Swiss resort. As I get ready to go to Switzerland for the first time, Sulzer’s evocation of the era and setting is bound to shade my expectations of what I will find when I arrive in Interlaken and environs. Images of steamer trunks and dressing for dinner will, no doubt, be quickly replaced with the reality of backpackers, unruly families, and my own casual way of traveling. But a little part of me will be imagining, perhaps even looking for, Erneste and Jakob–living their personal drama out behind the scenes and under our noses.

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