Brought up in the anonymous confines of the California suburbs, Felix Pfeifle always suspected there was more to life than what he’d been shown. When he inherits an archive of mysterious letters between an ordinary American, a Mr. Herbert Hinkel, and the last heir of the Holy Roman Emperors, he begins to think he’s right—and it’s just the beginning of a transformative life-journey equally remarkable for the rollicking folly, sincerity, and tragedy along the way.
The trove of imperial correspondence leads Felix on a trip across the United States and over the Atlantic—to Austria, Bosnia, and Germany—as he sets about the seemingly impossible task of gaining an audience with the last crown prince of Europe’s most ancient and storied royal dynasty, Archduke Otto von Habsburg. But just as the past promises to bring redemption, the harsh realities of the present threaten to wipe it all away. Back at home, Felix’s father is dying of a fatal brain disease: Huntington’s. And Felix himself has a 50 percent chance of developing the devastating illness within the next few years.
Convinced of the importance of his quixotic task, and in the face of overwhelming obstacles, Felix wins his audience with the aging Archduke. Refusing a test that would tell Felix whether he has the disease or not, Felix soldiers on with his imperial cause. He delves deeper into a history that has fascinated him all his life; a history of alliances and culture played out in castles and museums. Meanwhile, his father lies at home, increasingly ill, in the aptly named humble town of Modesto, California. With the end of life looming all around Felix, his eventual place in the inner circle of the Archduke’s milieu emerges like a fantasy island set against the shocking realities waiting back home.
Told in verite format and supplemented by interviews with friends, historians, doctors, and psychologists, Felix Austria! spans two continents and hundreds of letters between the Archduke and another, mysterious Habsburg admirer. Felix Austria! is a once-in-world-history story told in the context of a single person’s life-defining passions, fears, and triumphs.