A visitor to Berlin accumulates the haunting stories of its residents.
When a nameless traveler comes to contemporary Berlin, to learn about the city and about herself, she confronts first the challenge of language and then, once that is conquered, the challenge of understanding. As she meets more people, walks more streets, her diligent recording illustrates how an interloper can learn by listening, observing, asking. As one character astutely and elegantly notes, “When one no longer belongs to a tribe—or is a newcomer, a visitor, like you—everything reveals itself.” Along the visitor’s way she meets characters of all kind, their binding attribute the lasting effects of the desperation, trauma, and violence of World War II: a Jewish woman who hid for 37 days, buried in a sarcophagus in a church graveyard, surviving on poetry; a man who lived through the war as a “homosexual decoy, recruiting foreign informants”; a woman whose mother tried to kill her three times—once by “stuffing an oil-soaked rag down her throat,” once by abandoning her in a jungle, and once by slashing her with a blunt machete—who is now pregnant with her own child; a man who traveled to Alabama for the Nazi Party to research the preaching abilities of African-American pastors so their skills might be adapted for the Führer. García, author of Dreaming in Cuban (1992), which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and more recently King of Cuba (2013), is a skilled writer, crafting a complete story from the threads of many glimpses. In the assembly of these glimpses, she has created a vivid portrait of a decimated yet surging Berlin since World War II, of individuality and humankind, of terror and resilience. It is beautifully written in a fluent and evocative prose. It is the story of how people live with their pasts.
A stunning collection of memories, snippets, and specters.