In his hugely ambitious second novel, German wunderkind Schulze (Simple Stories, 2000, etc.) aims to capture the complexity of East Germans’ response to reunification through one man’s transition from police state rebel to capitalist entrepreneur.
The postmodernist author maintains he is merely editing the writings of a disgraced businessman whose post-unification newspaper empire collapsed in the late 1990s. Schulze has “discovered” a series of letters written by Enrico (aka Heinrich) Türmer between January and July of 1990, a period of tumult surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall. By “publishing” these letters Schulze claims he has created the novel Türmer was not talented enough to write—if this sounds confusing, it is meant to be, in a work complete with random footnotes and an appendix including the fictional Türmer’s fiction and poetry (frankly worth skipping). Türmer’s letters address three disparate readers. To his beloved older sister Vera, who has escaped to the West, Türmer writes as a younger brother, showing his insecurities and concern with family matters—his mother, his stepson, his soon to be ex-wife. To his best friend Johann, he writes man-to-man about his newspaper work in the heady days when an independent press first becomes possible, detailing the politics and business intrigues as an idealist facing business realities. And to Nicoletta, a woman he barely knows (and a blatant literary device), he recalls the everyday reality—tastes, smells, sounds—of his boyhood and young manhood before and during the fall of East Germany. The letters are crammed with details about German politics that assume a familiarity with German history most Americans lack, but anyone who has spent time in a political movement, or in a start-up business, will recognize the comedy of egos with its cast of con men, hangers-on and the occasional genuine talent. For all his comic foolishness, Türmer represents the book’s conflicted heart, asking “What were the ways and means by which the West got inside my brain? And what did it do in there?”