Berlin in December 2001 is the mournful backdrop of Winger's debut novel.
Walter Baum is Tom Cruise's voice. He's one of the German actors who represent specific American actors in films and TV series that are dubbed into German. In the early ’80s, Walter was the heartthrob of a successful German TV series, but after a brief, unsuccessful stint in Hollywood, he never acted again. Fed up with dubbing, he plans to ask Cruise to help him make a Hollywood comeback when the superstar is in Berlin to premiere “their” latest movie. Walter's neighbor Hope, a native New Yorker, is grieving the stillbirth of a child and the traumatic events of 9/11. When they meet in their shared lobby, Walter is drawn to Hope's gentle spirit and helps her navigate Berlin, both geographically and emotionally. Walter ultimately abandons his Hollywood fantasy and comes to grips with his past, but Hope's evolution as a character is disappointing, characterized by passivity, even in the face of a bullying husband who gives her ample reason to rebel. The star of the book is Berlin itself. Winger deftly reveals its history and cultural significance: the secrets of the elegant 19th-century building where Walter and Hope live; the playground located in the footprint of a building bombed during World War II; West Berlin as an insular beacon of democracy; the role of a new Berlin after German unification. References to Berlin's vanished Jewish community and German attitudes toward Jews form a tenuous thread throughout the story, culminating in a touching scene in which Walter and Hope make peace with the past. Against this robust portrait of a city, however, the companion theme of 9/11 comes across as gratuitous, a momentous event reduced to I Heart NY T-shirts.
An intriguing if somewhat uneven look at Germany as it wrestles with its past and future.