Fragmentation and disintegration—in the body politic and in the realm of human relations’seem to be the themes of this frustratingly cryptic debut novel by the prizewinning young German author (stories: 33 Moments of Happiness, 1998). Schulze employs a structure similar to that of his collection. Here, we get a piecemeal portrayal, in 29 interrelated chapters (each prefaced by a brief summary of its contents), of a dozen or so inhabitants of the town of Altenburg, in the decade (the 1990s) following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s supposed “reunification.” Each chapter presents a conversation or confrontation, begun in medias res, involving two or more Altenburgers whose daily lives and destinies are entwined in ways that are only gradually—and even then incompletely—made clear to the reader. For example, we’re introduced to Renate Meurer and her depressive, unemployable second husband Ernst during their vacation in Italy before we hear about her former husband, a physician whose political allegiances provoked their separation, or about Renate’s son Martin, a widower still mourning his wife’s death in a traffic accident and incapable of raising their two sons—the younger of whom lives with Danny, a journalist—whose rocky relationship with Edgar, an ex-Communist Youth activist turned “ad rep” echoes several other stalled or combative marriages, love affairs, and family situations. The story’s best moments are those that express its central concerns with either dramatic directness (as in the case of Doctor Barbara Hotlitzschek, married to a politician too cautious to condemn even neo-Nazi violence) or with wry symbolism (the accident-prone trials of “wannabe writer” Heinrich “Enrico” Friedrich, who “had come to . . . [the] realization that nobody wanted to read his stuff, and . . . thrown himself head over heels down the stairs”). A first novel that impresses with its cleverness, but ultimately disappoints: Schulze has neglected to create characters interesting enough to make us care what happens to them.