First-novelist Schneider (The German Comedy, not reviewed) gives a polished, sardonic view of life and love in Berlin shortly before unification, as a biologist and his artistic friends probe the boundaries between commitment and liberation. Equipped with a scientist's passion for order and a pessimist's passion for disaster, Eduard has gathered data convincing him that pairings in the city, including his own, can be expected to last less than three and a half years. In despair but not without hope, he continues with Klara--whom he met by design in the courtyard of their apartment building as she was dumping her trash--while adding his date to the mix of routine cafâ€š musings between him and friends Theo and Andrâ€š. Theo, an East Berlin poet who seems able to pass through the Iron Curtain at will, has his share of cohabitational chaos: His lover concocts an elaborate ruse using an imaginary American graduate student who writes steamy letters from abroad, then has him running all over the city in a series of aborted meetings, all to see how far he'll go to keep her. At the same time, Andrâ€š, a composer with a growing reputation, is already engaged to Esther, and the wedding goes off as planned--leaving him free, he thinks, to court any pretty face he fancies. Eduard, meanwhile, fearing himself sterile, has been tested and has had his fear confirmed, so that when a palm-reader tells him he always has women in threes, he throws caution to the winds--with the unsettling result that both the Italian opera singer Laura and Jenny, a Botticelli angel in leather, are soon pregnant by him. Much more than a witty chronicle of the ins and outs of romance in Berlin, Schneider's debut conveys, from a distinctly male perspective, a feeling for the complex ambience of the once divided city, where pride and guilt mingle to curious effect in the lives of those who call it home.