A debut novel concerning a young Mexican woman’s lonely sojourn in Berlin.
The opening is a knockout. In 1986 Tatiana’s parents take their children on vacation to Europe. After attending a protest against the still-intact Berlin Wall with her family, Tatiana is convinced she sees Hitler disguised as an old woman on a U-Bahn train. Aridjis beautifully captures Tatiana’s conflicting sense of certainty and impossibility. In 2002 Tatiana returns to Berlin to study German. Years later, she has settled into an expatriate lifestyle, subsisting off stipends her parents send between jobs. Through family connections she is hired as a transcriber by Dr. Weiss, an elderly historian who specializes in “the phenomenology of space”—how buildings retain the spirit of what went on in them. Obviously, lots of bad things went on in Berlin’s buildings. Tatiana spends her days alone with his recorded voice while he works in his study. She spends her nights either traveling the city alone or at home, where noises from the empty apartment above her keep her awake. Dr. Weiss sends her to interview Jonas Krantz concerning a picture Krantz drew as a child in East Berlin. Krantz, now a meteorologist in his 30s, invites Tatiana to a party where she ends up briefly trapped in a former bowling alley and surrounded by ghosts, either Gestapo or Stasi. She tells Weiss that her experience confirms his beliefs about buildings’ energies. Krantz wants a real relationship and offers intimacy, but she is not interested—although she does meet her sexual needs with him. After she and Dr. Weiss pay Krantz a visit, they are attacked by thugs. Dr. Weiss is badly injured, but they are saved by a mysterious fog that overtakes the city. Tatiana returns to Mexico. In this novel of ideas, Aridjis and Tatiana’s love-hate relationship to physical Berlin (the buildings, the U-Bahn, the bread) is evoked with more emotion than is allowed the human characters who remain bloodless, even skeletal.
A brief, introverted story.