Dense and descriptive, this debut coming-of-age tale is set against the fascinating background of German reunification.
It's the summer of 1990, and the
Berlin Wall has just come down, but in the countryside of East Germany, life
remains largely unchanged since the war. Sixteen-year-old Maria is living with
her boyfriend, Johannes Brendel, at his family’s house, one of the two independent
farmsteads remaining in the area. The Brendels are successful farmers and
accepting of wayward Maria, who has stopped going to school and made herself at
home on the farm. She occasionally lends a hand but mostly reads The
Brothers Karamazov and makes love with Johannes. Down the road, Henner’s
farm is unkempt and wild, like Henner himself. He lives there alone and is
known to drink to excess. The simplicity of Maria’s narration reveals her cleareyed
awareness of those around her. Members of the Brendel family become plain as
day with economic, descriptive grace. But despite her awareness and the stories
she tells of her past—absentee father, ineffectual mother, the “honor” of
attending a strict communist summer camp—Maria’s inner landscape, and her
future, are unknown territories. She and Henner are drawn to each other with a
blinding strength, and their collision and resulting affair are complicated and
passionate. Maria fears and craves Henner; he in turn ranges from gentle to
beastly. Their need for each other is absolute, even if the reasons behind it
remain a mystery. The juxtaposition of Maria’s personal turmoil with the
broader changes in the way of life around her pulls an unyielding line of
tension throughout the novel.
Timed with the political and cultural momentum of East Germany’s dissolution, this deceptively elegant story reveals great emotional and cultural upheaval.