Inside the Forest (“El bosque en silencio”; “Waldinneres”) revolves around a small oil painting of the same name by Gustav Klimt, whose whereabouts are unclear. In the novel by Mónica Subietas, several characters try to seize it, with different motivations. Two generations are involved, from the 1940s to the 2010s, narrated in alternating chapters going back and forth in a pendular movement.
In the opening scene, Max Müller, a famous Swiss painter, lies unconscious on the floor of his studio in Zurich. Somebody has shot him with a nail gun. A few months earlier, Gottfried Messmer, owner of the Café Glück, receives his father’s legacy: a cane and a sealed letter put in a safety deposit box in a Swiss bank. The cane hides a valuable painting, “Inside the Forest”, and the letter, written in 1960 by his father Hermann, urges Gottfried to find its rightful owner: a Jew whom Hermann helped to enter Switzerland illegally in 1942, when the Confederation closed the border to those seeking refuge on racial grounds. But Gottfried is afraid of going over old ground. He had a complicated relationship with his father, who committed suicide when Gottfried was still a child. Therefore, he hangs the painting on the wall in his café. Soon several persons show an interest in the small work of art. Among them is his friend and regular client at the Café Glück, the painter Max, and an anonymous caller, who ends up being Max’ gallerist, Lucas Steiner. The first suspects that his father was the owner of the painting, while the latter needs money and already has a buyer in the USA. Gottfried removes the painting from the wall, but only when the caller starts threatening him making allusions to Gottfried’s girlfriend Julia, he is ready to take action. In a conversation between the two friends and with the help of a signet ring as proof, it turns out that Max is the son of the Jew whose life Hermann tried to safe. At the end of the novel Max will die from the nail gun attack, but his still unborn son is identified as the legitimate heir of the painting, and so Gottfried can finally fulfill his father’s wish. He comes to terms with him and his past, and also comes closer than ever to Julia, looking now to the future with an optimism that is unusual for him.
The novel is a caleidoscope of characters intertwined with each other in a complex and peculiar way, every detail of its construction is in place. In the process, the reader learns about the true role of Switzerland during the Second World War, the traffic in looted art and the origin of the numbered and dormant accounts. Inside the Forest fascinates the reader with a modern love story and a constantly increasing tension. Last but not least, it is a plea for the importance of memory and justice, of friendship and loyalty.