A lively debut novel with a cheerfully cynical narrator, first published in Germany in 2008, from Russian-born Bronsky.
The focus of the narrative is the consciousness of Sascha Naimann, a 17-year-old émigré from Russia to Germany. She’s skeptical, witty, loving, intimidating, vulnerable—and understandably furious that her stepfather, Vadim, murdered her mother a few months before the story opens. What enrages her most is that he’s in prison and thus out of reach of her fury, but she nevertheless plots revenge with feverish intensity. Sascha is now more or less in charge of her two younger siblings, the precocious Anton and the adorable Alissa. They all live in the Emerald, a disjunctively named public-housing project that is scarcely the jewel of Berlin. After a breathless and almost admiring article about Vadim appears in a local rag, Sascha shows up at the editorial office to set the record straight. There she meets Volker, an older man she quickly becomes enamored with and seeks out as a refuge from her wretched life in the projects. When Volker takes Sascha home, she gets more than she bargained for because she also meets Volker’s son Felix, a weak and chronically ill teenager who in turn becomes smitten with Sascha. They both quickly lose their virginity, and later that same night Sascha is accosted by Volker. Although “nothing happens,” he’s ashamed of his behavior and still courts Sascha’s friendship. At one point Peter the Great invites Sascha to “Broken Glass Park,” a wooded area known as a place where sketchy characters smoke dope and do other dark deeds, but it also becomes a metaphor for the unassailably bleak landscape inhabited by the narrator. Sascha becomes infuriated when she learns that Vadim has supposedly repented for his crime and then hanged himself in his jail cell, but she also finds that this act liberates her into the possibility of a more positive existence, one not based on a desire for bloody vengeance.
A touching story, both tough and tender.